Downbeat CD Review – “Bolero Nights for Billie Holiday,” Brian Lynch Afro Cuban Jazz Orchestra (May 2010)

So easy to recommend almost all of the 15 albums Brian Lynch has made under his own name since turning heads with the release of his strong hard-bop launch, Peer Pressure, in 1986. (Exceptions: 1989’s Back Room Blues and 2007’s fusion fluke Fuchsia/Red). His newest comes filled with perhaps his most expressive trumpet and flugelhorn playing to date.

This time out, recording for a Japanese label in late 2008, he shares the New York studio with special guest Phil Woods and eight other colleagues, all of whom confidently mix Afro-Cuban rhythms and African-American jazz. Confused by the album title? Don’t be. Lynch is a fan of Lady Day, and he delights in bringing Latin musical components to a few of the songs she sang at the controversial finish of her recording career in 1958. Also here are songs recorded by other jazz worthies of that era plus his own “Afinque” and Raphael Lopez Gonzalez’s “La Sitiera.”

It is a privilege to listen to Lynch for his rich tone and exquisite time, his command of instruments, his imagination and his conviction. Folding together heartache and rapture, he plumbs the emotions at the core of “You’ve Changed” and “I’m A Fool To Want You,” both famously or infamously part of Holiday’s Lady In Satin record. Like Holiday, Lynch is no stranger to musical intimacy. The New Yorker imparts an easy-rippling urgency to “Fire Waltz” and there’s a special life-affirming quality to his playing throughout “Lat Sitiera.”

Every bit the esteemed elder statesman, Woods brings his clear and personal aesthetic to the Lady In Satin material and Charles Mingus’ “Celia.” Ivan Renta provides evidence in solos here and there why Lynch’s collaborator-friend Eddie Palmieri has dubbed the young Puerto Rican alto player “the new Caribbean phenom.” Still, Lynch rules the roost. Benefiting from a calmly intelligent, soulful Latin rhythm section, and never predisposed to mawkishness or flamboyance, he’s the one whose work invites return listens. Art and the pursuit of mastery are the twin engines of what he does here. Lynch inspires superlative.

Frank-John Hadley (****)

Downbeat, May 2010