Esteban Castro – In the Making (2012)

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The temptation, with a child prodigy, is to cut him some slack. Lost in the wonder of miniature virtuosity, we tend to forgive the small slip up, the easy cliche. No such accommodations are needed for Esteban Castro, a truly revelatory pianist who plays with wit, emotion and finesse on this debut.

Oh, and who is only 9.

Castro’s opening original on In the Making, “For Chick,” finds the youngster echoing both the improvisational energy and the dizzying range of jazz pianist Chick Corea – even as he stakes out his own corner of the legacy. There is, amid the acrobatic drums of Steve Johns, the same dancing quality that marks all of Corea’s best work, but I was also struck by the way Castro pushed and tugged on the rhythmic structure set forth by bassist Matthew Rybicki during the track’s middle section – going inside and outside the groove. When he returns to the main theme, it is with a sense of renewed purpose, as if Castro has solved some essential riddle.

And, maybe he has. In the Making seems to have completely internalized the ageless lessons not just of Chick Corea – that would be too easy – but of much of the jazz canon. Just as importantly, the New York Jazz Academy student presents them in an energetic manner that never sounds rote or threadbare. His attention to detail is simply enthralling. For instance, the title track (which is presented both in full-band and solo formats) has, in its first reading, a cerulean beauty as Castro offers a series of trickling runs over the lightest accompaniment from Johns and Rybicki.

Castro later returns for the first of two takes on the tune by himself, first echoing his initial mood and then, at album’s end, re-examining “In the Making” with a much more ruminative focus. If the track flowed along like a clear-blue stream before, now it slows to the pace of a rivulet of rain water, slowly draining down a spout. Simply gorgeous. “Painted Face,” the third of 10 originals on In the Making, finds Castro working alongside altoist Julian Lee. The duo format reveals still deeper complexities in Castro’s playing, as he offers perfectly constructed asides while Lee explores his horn more fully. When the pianist finally assumes the spotlight, it is with a bluesy vigor. Castro is later paired with bassist Rybicki on “Dolphin Dance,” and they gallop happily through this fun update of Herbie Hancock’s timeless classic.

Originals like “Trails of You,” “Pri-Priao,” and “Uncle Jay’s Blues” showcase Castro’s warmth and ability to swing like mad. “Curve Ball” is a particular hoot, as the entire quartet bounces joyously along, quite unselfconsciously. “Springtime Maggie” and “Genie’s Wish,” meanwhile, underscore his already impressive command of the fine melodic invention associated with Bill Evans. The covers include a groove-filled version of “Invitation” by Bronislau Kaper, a fleet run through “Lady Bird” by Tadd Dameron and a darkly sensuous rumination on “Black Orpheus,” by Luiz Bonfa.

Lee — he’s just 17, by the way — returns for a boisterous run on Castro’s “The Opposite Way,” and his opening statement is bold, so complete, that it almost feels like a gauntlet has been thrown down. But, as with elsewhere on In the Making, Castro not only rises to the occasion, he surpasses any reasonable expectation – holding his own, then exhorting everyone else to sizzling new ideas. The two tangle and untangle with an exciting sense of drama, and Castro proves all over again that – while the pianist still might, in fact, be just a boy – he is already his own man.

Esteban Castro, who wrote these songs between the ages of 6-9, has begun a Kickstarter campaign to fund his ‘In the Making’ album project. For more information, go here: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/estebanmusic/9-year-old-esteban-castros-debut-album-in-the-maki?ref=search

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has written for USA Today, American Songwriter, All About Jazz, and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the U.S. by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Nick is now associate editor of Ultimate Classic Rock.
Nick DeRiso
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