Although Paquito D'Rivera is best known for his saxophone playing, he has played the clarinet as a second instrument. But on The Clarinetist, Vol. 1 he pleasantly surprises us by playing the clarinet exclusively. The CD is also surprising in that it isn't strictly a hardcore jazz effort; this time, the Cuban musician also draws on everything from classical to tango. On a more typical D'Rivera album you will hear hard swinging bop or post-bop with a strong Afro-Cuban influence -- in other words, Latin jazz. But Latin doesn't have to mean Afro-Cuban, and on Astor Piazzolla's three-part "Aconcagua/Concerto for Bandoneon" he acknowledges another Latin form: tango. Arguably the Charlie Parker of tango, Piazzolla was a major innovator whose music contained both jazz and classical influences. Piazzolla's instrument was the accordion-like bandoneon, but D'Rivera's arrangement of "Aconcagua" contains no bandoneon -- and a concerto for the bandoneon becomes a concerto for the clarinet. Also quite compelling are two D'Rivera originals ("Brussels in the Rain" and the Dizzy Gillespie-minded "Dizzyness") and a lush arrangement of Ray Tico's "Habana." D'Rivera brings a lot of sentiment to the alluring "Habana," which isn't surprising -- he was born and raised in the city that inspired Tico's melody. Those who have admired D'Rivera's clarinet playing should make a point of hearing this chance-taking CD.
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AllMusic Review by Alex Henderson