Sometimes I see the structures underneath my contemporary jazz reviews veer toward the formulaic. I realized that when I reviewed the new album from guitarist Juan Carlos Quintero, Table for Five! A casual listen would have made the usual impressions, a veteran jazz performer leading a skilled ensemble, allowing each member to shine while this leader still puts his personalized stamp on the arrangements. It’s a mixture of the Great American Songbook with heavy Latin influences mixed with a nod to folk music from around the world.
All of those assumptions quickly fled the room once Juan Carlos Quintero and his quintet settled in for the first tune, “Alone Together,” and I immediately felt passion and precision, the way this group plays flawlessly together, and then Quintero’s electric guitar comes in. His tone is full with experience, the relaxed way he bends his notes and adds just the hint of a crack in a human voice. It’s poignant, but fast and athletic at the same time.
Juan Carlos Quintero is famous for his work with nylon-stringed acoustic guitars–he’s been putting out albums since 1988. Table for Five! is his first recording with a hollow-bodied electric guitar, but you wouldn’t know it from his ease and confidence in manipulating its tone. But because this was a “new direction,” he asked for the greatest quintet he could imagine, “my bandmates, my brothers, had my back in every way.” Bassist Eddie Resto, pianist Joe Rotondi, drummer Aaron Serfaty and percussionist Joey DeLeon never let up, however, and always match Quintero’s sense of adventure.
The best way to describe the sheer excellence of Table for Five! is that I often play a contemporary jazz and if it reveals any sort of Latin influences my brain tends to immediately categorize it as Latin jazz, and the rest of the journey is viewed through that tinted lens. In the case of Juan Carlos Quintero and his smooth, distinctive and playfully expressive guitar, it simple doesn’t matter if he’s playing original compositions or old standards. It just matters that he’s playing, and that he keeps doing so.