Yosvany Terry Quartet at ShapeShifter Lab 12/12/17 (by Dan Lehner)

PERSONNEL: Yosvany Terry (alto sax, soprano sax, chekeré), Manuel Valera (piano), Daryl Johns (bass), Marcus Gilmore (drums)

SET LIST: Ancestral Memory, Mid Day, Subversive, Hymn, Rampa Abajo (all by Terry)

HIGHLIGHTS: Terry’s incredible skill on chekeré indicated the depth of his knowledge of Afro-Cubano music, and used it as a jumping point for further explorations of the idiom.

Yosvany Terry, like his peers Arturo O’Farrill and Elio Villafranca, is a studied incorporator of folkloric musics into his own conception of Afro-Latin jazz. However, similar to the bata drum cycles he’s so well-versed in, his quartet performance took its time getting there. The set at Shapeshifter Lab was mostly involved, effervescent post-bop, gradually working in grooves by way of bass line hooks and rhythmic excitement.

As an alto saxophonist leading groove-heavy music, Terry has some similarities to his peers, recalling Miguel Zenon’s wide range and Steve Lehman’s skittered, rhythmically-free upper structures. However, Terry’s sound is weightier and imbued with a vocalistic sense that’s bluesy without sacrificing modernity. His soprano playing has similar depth, reaching both Coltranesque fever pitches and the flowery, songbook poeticisms (not to mention the tinges of NOLA’s various Caribbean disporas) of Sidney Bechet.

There was a similar frenetic energy and alternating gentleness found in pianist Manuel Valera. Valera sat in Terry’s compositions beautifully with supportive montunos and tippin’, bluesy block chords, but his ace cards were a series of time-defiant right hand runs in increasingly higher registers (a technique employed with similar deft by pianist Theo Hill).

Marcus Gilmore’s ride cymbal and intermittent tom strokes would still keep a potent swing even as he would stop, start and jumble the rhythm, the kind of sound that’s both aerated and authoritative.

The quartet’s performance was part of The Jazz Gallery’s “Mentorship Series” and Terry’s mentee, the 21 year old bassist Daryl Johns, was given time to shine on his beautiful rubato solo on Terry’s Martinique-inspired ballad “Hymn.” Johns’s resonant, woody sound recalled Charlie Haden in his sloping, affable interpolation of the melody of the tune, framed with functional root notes.

Wisely saved for the end, Terry used his world-class chekeré playing (inspired by the rhythm and chants of the transcontinental abakuá culture) as an intro to “Rompa Abajo”, a blithe but intense Afro-Cuban tune in 13/8, switching to 4/4 to lead the audience in a spirited clave rhythm clap-a-long.

— by Dan Lehner