Good jazz is like a good movie; every time you experience it, you notice something new. A line of dialogue you missed the first time, a new saxophone phrase, an interesting shot, or a creative harmonic. Bitches Brew is a perfect example; where there are so many musical ideas in just one piece of music that you could listen to it a thousand times and never get bored. There’s that much creativity in it.

This review is a monumental task, such is the level of artistry involved in the record in question. Esteban Alvarez’s Tico Groove is boiling over with musical ideas.

Not in the same way Bitches Brew is, there’s no clutter on Tico Groove. Each idea perfectly compliments the others. One second, you’re marvelling at Ignacio Berroa’s drum solo on Caballito Nicoyano Ticas Lindas, and the next Alverez’s majestic piano playing has taken you to experience levels of virtuosity you never thought possible.

Pervading the album is the Latin groove of Tico’s native Costa Rica. But, it never descends to a cheesy second-rate “cha-cha-cha.” This is as authentic as it gets.

Latin-jazz is a tricky genre to pull off. The balance between the Latin influence and the jazz needs to be just right. Too much of one or the other and it just becomes a dilution of the original form.

So it’s a testament to Alvarez’s musicianship that he never overdoes it on either side of the scale; never too much jazz, and never hamming up the Latin side.

‘Cause he doesn’t need to. This music is clearly as natural to him as breathing. That Latin influence is there in his blood. And the jazz he acquired through years of study under many of the greats.

And that’s the trick; to mix what feels natural with what you’ve learned. That’s why, to give a rock n’ roll example, The Rolling Stones are so good at what they do.

It’s partly what comes naturally to them and partly their collective years studying those RnB 45s they loved so much in their youth.

That’s what Tico Groove is; a melding of the natural with the learned. A great musician makes it look easy. Alvarez makes playing the piano sound simple. We all know it’s far from that. But such is the ease with which he tickles the ivories that it seems like that level of talent is right there, just out of reach.

But it took him years to get this good. And it’ll take years of study just to begin to comprehend the level of skill on Tico Groove. Challenge accepted.

James Fleming


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