In his first trip to Washington as a band leader, saxophonist Paquito D'Rivera proved himself a jazz artist of the very first order at Blues Alley last night.
D'Rivera played here before as a member of the Cuban band Irakere, and last year he emigrated here from Cuba to make his first American album and first American tour under his own name. His association with some of New York's top musicians has finished the jazz education he began in Havana. His composing and performing show not only dazzling technique but an all-too-rare emotional vitality.
This was most obvious on his tune "Song to My Son." D'Rivera stated his own enchanting melody on the alto sax with the overwhelming tenderness of fatherhood. He then inserted musical digressions -- sudden octave leaps and fast tangential runs -- into the lush ballad much like a parent who thinks a dozen things at once about the same child. This ability to sustain several trains of thought at once was even more impressive on the up-tempo "Chucho," dedicated to Irakere leader Chucho Valdez.
D'Rivera introduced two other major jazz talents from Havana, electric guitarist Rene Luis Toledo and conga drummer Daniel Tonce. Toledo also sustained several simultaneous voices as he applied his Latin phrasing to his ingenious post-bop variations.
The Paquito D'Rivera quartet returns to Blues Alley tonight.