JAZZ | Peter Margasak
Chicago drummer Frank Rosaly was born to Puerto Rican parents in Phoenix, Arizona, in 1974, and as a youth spent many summers on the island, in San Juan and Arecibo—but until maybe five years ago he was oblivious to its musical culture. Though he was already playing drums by the first of those summers in Puerto Rico, he occupied himself there by surfing and hanging out, not listening to local sounds. It wasn't till the mid-aughts, when he stumbled upon Lamento Borincano (Arhoolie), a reissue of Puerto Rican music recorded in New York between 1916 and 1939, that he had his ethnic awakening.
"You could feel the newness of it, for its time," Rosaly says. "It's mostly plena [music], and there's a life to it and messages that I never felt from salsa." Since then he's been researching the island's musical past—recordings by Efrain "Mon" Rivera, Rafael Cortijo, and Andres "El Jibaro" Jimenez have resonated with him especially strongly. Earlier this month he finally began incorporating that research into his own music, launching a quartet called Bootstrap—it's named after Operation Bootstrap, a controversial midcentury industrialization project the U.S. led in Puerto Rico. The group also features reedist Mars Williams, bassist Nate McBride, and pianist Jim Baker, and it's in the middle of a residency at the Whistler, playing every Tuesday in June.
The group's repertoire consists mostly of new compositions by Rosaly, plus a handful of tunes from Lamento Borincano and the Bad Brains song "Black Dots." Rosaly calls it all "rebel music," because it has a spirit of resistance similar to the one he hears running through the Puerto Rican music he likes best. I saw Bootstrap's debut on June 5, and the sound was unmistakably free jazz, though Rosaly added subtle rhythmic accents from plena and bomba. From his drum throne he cued different pieces from the group's book midperformance—a practice he says he'll use more as the group develops its rapport.
Bootstrap is an outgrowth of a bigger project Rosaly has in the works, which will debut on August 25 in Millennium Park as part of the Made in Chicago series. Called ¡Todos de Pie! ("Everybody Stand Up!"), it's a more explicit celebration of Puerto Rican music; its lineup will include McBride, tres player Alex Farha, flutist and saxophonist Cameron Pfiffner, trombonists Jeb Bishop (who moved to Carrboro, North Carolina, last week) and Nick Broste, and four members of local plena and bomba group Las BomPleneras.