Mourners for the jazz age often comfort themselves with the illusion that the genre is not only missing, but dead. Or they wail about jazz' having reincarnated itself as Muzak. Or they shake their heads and moan that its moody, dark methods were insufficient to sustain it for very long.
Paquito D'Rivera cheerfully cuts through the winding-sheets and exposes a corpseless sarcophagus. A Cuban multi-instrumentalist who seized his opportunity to defect to the U.S. by hiding out in Spain during a European tour, D'Rivera tends to recognize a reality when he sees one. When he undertakes the blowing away of illusions, he does so naturally, not to mention literally.
"Blowin' " is D'Rivera's first American recording effort, and while it's not a classic in the creative sense, it is some of the freshest, most promise-laden jazz to come along in many years. Further, it shows a maturity and strength not in evidence during the artist's years with the Latin group Irakere.
Here's a Latin American who is as comfortable and uncontrived about rhythm and blues as he is about Caribbean rhythms. Here's a musician who plays soprano sax, fluegelhorn, alto sax, flute and percussion with equal adeptness, yet still has the restraint not to hog the spotlight in self- congratulatory indulgence.
Even more important, D'Rivera can get into a hot funk groove without bogging down in dreaded fusion cliches. There is sensitivity in his work, sometimes sadness, but "Blowin' " is laced with fine humor, the lack of which has consistently been jazz's real death-threat.
D'Rivera wrote five of the eight songs on "Blowin'," and though he covers old standbys like "On Green Dolphin Street" and "Al Fin Amor" with remarkable individuality, it's his self-penned tunes that are the most enjoyable. Particularly striking are "Waltz for Moe," a zippy 6/8 tune that displays his ease in any octave (and which D'Rivera appropriately describes as "le waltz hot"), and "Monga," a stirring flute and sax interaction that points up the technique and discipline that the required simplicity demands.
The triumph of the album, however, is the ensemble playing. There is not a superfluous ham session, not a wasted effort on the entire recording. D'Rivera has surrounded himself with musicians who share his taste for interplay, most notably pianists Jorge Dalto and Hilton Ruiz, bassist Russell Blake and percussionist Ignacio Berroa.
Producers Mike Berniker and Bert de Coteaux are also fully committed to this ensemble, and perhaps the greatest relief is that "Blowin' " is completely devoid of mini-moogs, syndrums, electric handclaps or any of the other gizmos that nowadays clutter and destroy so many jazz albums.
Because jazz is such an interdependent genre, relying on its many parts to accomplish an interesting whole, it rises to its best when it's natural. And when solid talents play give-and-take in such a natural setting, jazz is pulsating, earthy and alive. Not for nothing has D'Rivera been dubbed "Le Roi du Saxophone Sexy."
ON RECORD, ON STAGE
THE ALBUM -- Paquito D'Rivera, ''Blowin','' Columbia FC 37374.
THE SHOW -- Tuesday through Thursday at Blues Alley.