May 28, 2024

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CD review: Tino Contreras – La Noche de los Dioses 2020: Video, CD cover

While in Tokyo in 2018, musical impresario and Brownswood Recordings boss Gilles Peterson found and purchased a copy of Tino Contreras‘ 1979 classic Musica Infinita. The following year in Mexico City, he was introduced to Contreras through record collector and musician Carlos Icaza.

Peterson licensed Musica Infinita to inaugurate his reissue label, Arc Records. He also signed the iconic Mexican musician to cut a new album for Brownswood. With Icaza producing, the nonagenarian Contreras went straight to work and completed La Noche de los Dioses with an octet that included his nephew Valentino on bass and his producer on pre-Hispanic percussion and Arp Harmonic synths.

La Noche de los Dioses displays the hallmark qualities Contreras has developed over 75 years. His compositions meld music from various jazz periods — from swing and hard bop to modal and vanguard — with gritty lounge blues, exotica, and folk musics from several nations. The title track draws inspiration from the Aztec goddess Coatlicue (representing life and death) and the god Huitzilopochtli (representing war and the sun). The tune’s deep blue feel features a grooving dialogue between piano, organ, soprano and tenor saxophones, electric guitar, bongos, and early percussion instruments. “Máscaras Blues” represents the masked rituals between gods in Aztec tradition. It is introduced by Contreras’ tom-tom-heavy kit and Icaza’s instruments before Jaime Reyes’ piano sets a Latin groove. Rhythms shapeshift and expand throughout. “Naboró” is named for the goddess who, Contreras imagines, represents rebellion and feminine strength. The Afro-Latin groove shines with a canny dialogue between Emmanuel Laboriel’s steel and nylon string guitars, guajira piano, swirling organ, bluesy tenor sax, and a steamy, sultry bass line. The modal frame in “Malinche” offers an Afro-Carribean piano vamp that frames spectral electric guitars, metal percussion, and hand drums. Contreras’ deft cymbal feints and fills under Luis Calatayud’s fluid, grainy, emotive tenor sax. Advance single “El Sacrificio” is classic Contreras; it showcases a plethora of Latin polyrhythms, Middle Eastern and North African modalism, and swinging hard bop. “Al Amancer” is a humid collision between modern son — with wild piano montunos from Reyes — exotica, spacy post-bop, and grimy electric guitar blues. Closer “Nina Yahel” weaves many of Contreras’ musical obsessions from guaracha and rumba to psychedelia and funky exotica into a seamless whole with bleating tenor, smoldering organ, snaky electric guitars, a nasty fuzzed-out bass line, harmonic synth, and of course, multivalent layers of percussion. Contreras, ever unintrusive, rolls, fills, lays down unexpected rimshots, and rides his cymbals with elegance while conducting the band from his kit.

La Noche de los Dioses is delightfully accessible to listeners of many stripes. So much so that its welcoming grooves, warm, enveloping production, and rainbow of sounds can initially distract from the sheer musical sophistication on offer. At 96, Contreras remains a vitally creative musician and explorer; the basket of traditions and sounds he creates and weaves are nothing less than astonishing and almost shamanic in their emotional and spiritual power.

01.La Noche de los Dioses (6:23)
02.Máscaras Blues (4:29)
03.Naboró (5:55)
04.Malinche (6:03)
05.El Sacrificio (5:38)
06.Al Amanecer (5:55)
07.Niña Yahel (5:47)

Tino Contreras: Drums
Valentino Contreras: Electric Bass
Jaime Reyes: Piano and Keyboards
Emmanuel Laboriel: Electric Guitar
Luis Calatayud: Soprano and Tenor Sax – Conch Shell and Ocarina Flutes
Eduardo Flores: Bongos
Carlos Icaza: Harmonic Arps and pre-Hispanic Percussion
Marco Gallegos: Acoustic Guitar

La Noche de los Dioses | Tino Contreras

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