Latin jazz fans braved below-freezing temperatures to check out trumpeter/congalero Jerry Gonzalez and The Fort Apache band as they played a one-night-only gig at New York's Town Hall in benefit of The Bronx High School's performance and stagecraft program. The band did not disappoint, performing two lively sets that warmed up the audience, making most of us forget how frigid it was on the outside.
Looking like a cool jazz character from a 1950s, Jerry Gonzalez led the Fort Apache band - Joe Ford (saxophone), Larry Willis (pno), Andy Gonzalez (bs) and Steve Berrios(drums), opening with a cool jazz groove that soon gravitated into a more mambo-driven mode. He switched from the trumpet to the congas as the musicians showcased their talents - Andy Gonzalez kept it slow on the bass at first, coming into his own by doing a solo without any accompaniment. There were no pyrotechnics, but he showed command of the instrument with a funk-Latino call that was followed by a conga solo by the bandleader.
The second number had a Chet Baker-ish West Coast feel to it. The highlight of the number was Larry Willis, who tipped his hat to Duke Ellington by doing a bit of "Caravan" during his solo, which was well received by the audience.
As the evening progressed, the band took the numbers to a more straight jazz groove, often returning to Latin-esque direction. During one number, the band switched the rhythm with no previous notice, which completely surprised the audience.
On the second set, Willis ran his hand through the piano's strings during a bass solo. The effect was quite strange but pleasant to the ear. As the band went into a Cuban groove, the crowd - which was formed by several fans from a Latin background - responded with warm applause.
The music went into several directions over the course of the sets, going from a more traditional jazz feel, going into a mambo-esque direction every now and then, blending familiar and not very well known tunes. The only negative thing was that there was almost no communication with the audience. Gonzalez did not talk at all except when he introduced the band and thanked the fans for being there. He did not talk about the songs he was playing at all, moving along from song to song without much interruption.
I was very impressed with bassist Andy Gonzalez. He maintained a steady backup for the entire performance. He does not have much of a showy technique, and that is a plus in my book. Pianist Larry Willis discreetly stole the show with his spontaneous style and his great emotion while playing. It was certainly an evening to remember.