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Jerry Gonzalez & The Fort Apache Band

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JERRY GONZALEZ & THE FORT APACHE BAND

When trumpeter and conga player Jerry Gonzalez formed the Fort Apache Band nearly 20 years ago, the idea of wedding jazz and Caribbean music was hardly new. The two genres had been borrowing from each other since the 1920s, and Latin jazz had flowered flamboyantly in the 60s; by the 70s the burgeoning interest in "world music" had focused attention on emerging hybrid idioms, like the music of Airto Moreira in Brazil or Irakere in Cuba. But most artists simply applied Latin trappings to jazz, or vice versa. Musicians with one foot in each world--playing salsa, for instance, with a lifetime's poise, yet also fully versed in the jazz aesthetic of the postbop mainstream--well, they'd always been a rare breed. That's one big reason Gonzalez's ability to blend the two idioms in equal parts turned heads in the early 80s, and though few would've guessed it at the time, this aspect of his music has since had a Promethean effect on jazz--an effect that was fully realized with the arrival of genre blenders like Danilo Perez and David Sanchez in the mid-90s. A Bronx native, Gonzalez first articulated his vision with an album under his own name, 1980's Ya Yo Me Cure, which featured strikingly original arrangements of tunes by Wayne Shorter and Thelonious Monk. He used a five-man percussion section to mimic the sound of son and salsa groups (which pay less attention to melody and harmony than traditional jazz bands do), and the solos could have come as easily from a barrio descarga as from a Village nightclub gig. Gonzalez's inclusion of Monk's "Evidence" also foreshadowed the Fort Apache Band's 1989 album of Monk compositions, which predated Danilo Perez's similar project by seven years. Gonzalez has undoubtedly developed his musical facility by learning to occupy either the foreground of a piece as a trumpeter or its background as a conguero; his bandleading and horn playing have kept him pretty busy over the years, but he easily could've succeeded as a drummer. The Fort Apache Band currently operates as a three-horn sextet, with especially orchestral pianist Larry Willis and only one full-time percussionist; the group has moved toward pure jazz in recent years, but Gonzalez and his two cofounders--bassist Andy Gonzalez, his brother, and drummer Steve Berrios--can still jump from swing to salsa in a heartbeat. Friday, March 23, 9 PM, HotHouse, 31 E. Balbo; 312-362-9707.

NEIL TESSER

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