When we think of fertile soil for jazz, Mexico isn’t the first place that comes to mind. Yet the country has a jazz scene all its own, and drummer Tino Contreras is there to bear witness to this. Now 96, the guy has travelled through the history of Mexican jazz, from the swing era to today, through bebop, hard bop, modal jazz, and even psychedelic jazz in the ’70s. It’s a real book of musical history that the famous British DJ Gilles Peterson now flips open on his label Brownswood.
Peterson – who’s helped London jazz upstarts such as Shabaka Hutchings, Kamaal William, and Nubya Garcia grow and make names for themselves – is a great music lover who got his hands on an old Contreras album during a trip to Japan. He then met the musician in Mexico and offered to record a new album for his label. Contreras assembled an octet to lay the groundwork for La Noche de los Dioses, an opus inspired as much by his own eventful life as by the deities of Aztec folklore, which lend themselves here to a ritual of his imagination.
This “night of the gods” is a compendium of the legendary artist’s entire musical career. It combines post-bop, blues, exotica, and even Middle Eastern influences on the excellent “El Sacrificio”. This suite, which has a cosmic feel to it, is devilishly well executed. Hats off to the pianist. And Contreras himself? He’s definitely not lost his touch! This aplomb in the interpretation, as well as the mysterious sonorities that punctuate the work in order to evoke the world of the spirits that inspired it, reveal much more than a simple summary of the history of Mexican jazz.