It's difficult to believe that after 26 years of playing in name jazz ensembles -- most notably Dizzy Gillespie's from 1980-1990 -- that Codes is Ignacio Berroa's debut album as a leader. Berroa is one of the most in-demand session and concert drummers in jazz, having played with everyone form Chick Corea to Chico Baurque, from Charlie Haden to Tito Puente and João Bosco. And on Codes, the title's meaning is reflected in its contents: jazz itself is a coded language, one that contains hints, traces, specters, pronouncements, and about what's informed it, and how it in turn reacts and informs its culture. Berroa's ensembles are as various as the musical languages he speaks, yet they are all, he says in his beautiful liner essay, his vision of Latin, or, he refers to Mario Bauzá's tag, Afro-Cuban jazz. And so they are. Jazz was Berroa's early love; his heritage, however, is Latin, and he has always, wherever he has appeared, brought both to bear in some fashion in his playing. On Codes, he seeks to express that wide, bountiful basket of color, freedom, experiment, and of course rhythm; he employs two saxophonists, David Sanchez and Felipe Lamoglia, separately and together; pianist and keyboardist Gonzalez Rubalcaba, and pianist Eddie Simon likewise contribute; both John Pattitucci (acoustic bass) and Armando Gola (electric and acoustic bass) are on this date. There are no less than five percussionists who appear variously. Berroa mixes his languages and creates codes through the album. On the opener "Matrix," both synth and acoustic piano are employed, as are acoustic and electric basses and dual saxophones. Here, post-bop and Latin rhythms touch on knotty funk grooves. The bebop of Gillespie meets the immediacy of post-bop and striated Cuban rhythm on "Woody 'N' You." But the album's true hinge piece is the nine-and-a-half minute "Joao Su Merced." Here electric and acoustic keyboards, three percussionists in addition to Berroa's drums, electric bass, and Lamoglia's soprano begin with Afro-Cuban rhythms engaging groove, funk, and electric jazz Miles-style. Bebop cuts in on the dance for a bit at the halfway point, the outside struts in and blows on the soprano solo, the grooved-out soul-jazz reenters for a bit before the cut is taken out in a percussion and chant orgy of rhythm before whispering into the post-bop "La Comparsa," a ballad done with counterpoint This cut alone makes the album worth the purchase price, but there isn't a single seam in it; not one substandard moment. This is fresh, compelling, visionary music. Let's hope this is the first of many offerings for Berroa as a leader.
AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek