Jazz drummer Tino Contreras is one of Mexico's national cultural treasures. He is an award-winning composer, arranger, and bandleader, whose percussion-centric approach is almost always melody-based with tempos usually suitable for dancing. For more than 60 years Contreras has recorded and performed internationally, creating an original, adventurous sound in the process. He blends music from across Latin America with jazz and other international sounds. He made his recording debut with 1953's Volado por los Merengues. On 1962's Jazz a Paris, he used big-band and mariachi to approach French café music. Since then, he's recorded many albums using jazz as a gateway to explore including 1966's Flamenco Jazz and 1988's En Cuautitlan Izcalli. In 2011, England's Jazzman issued the compilation El Jazz Mexicano de Tino Contreras. It introduced his music to younger audiences globally. In 2015, he issued the collection México Blues & Jazz Standards. Fortino Contreras González was born into a musical family in Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua, Mexico on April 3, 1924. Contreras formed his first band, Cadetes del Swing, at the tender age of 15 and made his professional debut with Luis Arcaraz's Latin swing orchestra in the early '40s. During this period, he also played with fellow Mexican jazz and exotica maverick Juan García Esquivel. In 1953, Contreras cut Volado por los Merengues, his debut outing as a bandleader. Musically inspired by a trip to the Dominican Republic, it was clear from the outset that he was never going to be a straight-ahead jazzer. The recording received national radio play and won Contreras a historic invitation: In 1954 he was asked to helm the drum chair on the first modern jazz recording from his own country. It was released as the triple-length Jazz en Mexico on Orfeon. In 1957, Contreras formed the first iteration of his long-lived quartet. The subsequent stream of releases reflected an almost bewildering range of influences as he strove to meld jazz with Latin musical forms and instrumentation -- including Mesoamerican religious choral chants. He also explored lounge, European dance traditions, and folk music from every corner of the globe -- especially those from the Indian subcontinent and North Africa. These fusions reflected his band's globe-trotting itinerary. In 1960, he issued Mexico en la Noche, his U.S. debut for Polydor that wed mariachi and cumbia to hard bop. Other key albums from the original international period include Jazz Tropical and Jazz a Paris (1962), Jazz Ballet (1963), and Misa en Jazz (1966). Despite his imaginative and extravagant experimentation, Contreras remained a champion of the jazz form in Mexico. He won the National Festival of Jazz award each year between 1959 and 1966, taught in schools and universities, and opened his own nightclub. His recorded output includes titles cited as historic by Mexico's national library, including 1962's Percusiones Mexicanas, 1964's Jazz en Riguz, 1966's Flamenco Jazz, 1978's Quinto Sol: Musica Infinita (an experiment in jazz psychedelia, beloved by DJs), 1984's Yumare Sinfonia Tarahumara en Jazz, and 1988's En Cuautitlan Izcalli. In 2011, Jazzman issued the career-spanning compilation El Jazz Mexicano de Tino Contreras. In his nineties, Contreras continues to tour, record, and perform at his club nightly when he is home. In May 2015, he premiered the large-scale jazz masterwork Misa en Jazz Coral at the Auditorium of Centro Cultural Tijuana. Ecstatically received, he also performed it the following year at the Cathedral of San Miguel Arcángel de Orizaba in Veracruz, and once more in 2017 at Teatro Ocampo in Cuernavaca. That same year, he issued Live Sessions with Javier Batiz on Centro Cultural Tijuana. In 2019, DJ and producer Gilles Peterson reissued Contreras' psychedelic jazz classic Musica Infinita on his Arc Records label. In September 2020, the 94-year-old released the single "El Sacrificio." Recorded in Mexico City, it appeared with six more contemporary works on the full-length La Noche de los Dioses. The album was released by Peterson's Brownswood label in October.
© Matthew Garbutt & Thom Jurek /TiVo
© Matthew Garbutt & Thom Jurek /TiVo
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Latin Jazz - Released October 23, 2020 | Brownswood Recordings
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 shape-shift 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 Amanecer" is a humid collision between modern son -- with wild piano montunos from Reyes -- exotica, spacy post-bop, and grimy electric guitar blues. Closer "Niña 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. © Thom Jurek /TiVo