Luis Bonilla
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Luis Bonilla


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I Talking Now! (Planet Arts, 2009) presented a brazen bonanza of trombone playing from Luis Bonilla. That high energy outing—filled with intense, outspoken instrumental wonders—contained great music that was, to some extent, one-sided in the way that it portrayed Bonilla and his quintet.

Twilight, on the other hand, is a well-balanced feast for the aural senses. The majority of the personnel from his prior recording is kept intact—the only major roster shift coming at piano, with Bruce Barth <> taking on the role that Arturo O'Farrill <> formerly held—and fans of Bonilla's raunchy and aggressive side will still find much to love. "The Moon And The Sun" features some wildly fluttered fare from Bonilla and tenor saxophonist Ivan Renta <> , though the song initially presents itself as a relaxed, wandering piece. Once the initial episode ends, a bass riff joins with drummer John Riley's modernized Mozambique-like groove, in seven, and all bets are off as the horn players dig in. The title track is another example of misdirection, with sleepy Barth-based work and beautifully textured horn lines leading the way before a more outwardly aggressive section of music takes hold.

The other material is a mixed bag of styles, with different intentions and ideas at play. The dramatic, momentary tempo shifts on "Vertigo" are seamless and impressive. Riley's stripper shuffle on "Cork Grease," along with Barth's organ sounds, give the music a barroom blues tint. The drummer's slow swing gait, shifting between measures of four and five, is a treat on "Double Trouble," and Barth slips some blues-drenched licks in between horn statements. Reverence and soul meet head-to-head on "Let It Be Said," with Barth providing a gentle, church-inspired bed of sounds beneath some trombone playing that defines grace and gentility. Renta's work is sleek and soulful, without being clichéd. "Visions" might begin with an eerie, foreign presence and chilling wind, but the horn players heat things up, with guest French Hornist Vincent Chancey <> joining the group.

Twililight is the dawn of a new day for trombonist Luis Bonilla. - All About Jazz


The cover art for I Talking Now gives a visual demonstration of how trombonist Luis Bonilla's father took control of conversations at the family dinner table. When things got a little too animated for him, Bonilla's dad would bark out his signature admonishment, "You Chuttup! I talking now!" Both Doctors Phil and Spock would probably take issue with that approach. However, it is, in essence, the same approach Bonilla has taken with his PlanetArts debut.
Along with being part of the many-headed monster called the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra, Bonilla has worked with Lincoln Center's Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra and the Mingus Big Band. All these experiences come together spectacularly here, as Bonilla merges Latin and urban aesthetics with Charles Mingus' tradition of making a relatively small unit sound like an army. As a result, Talking is a knock-down, drag-em-out, attention-snatching brawler... with a heart of gold at its center.

The brawling element becomes evident in the first three seconds of the opening title track, as pianist Arturo O'Farrill and drummer John Riley are broadsided by a joint primal scream from Bonilla and saxman Ivan Renta. That's the starting gun for a multi-voiced musical argument that could easily pass for a bar fight. Bonilla's trombone comes on like gangbusters, blasting out a litany of notes and progressions that would stun a charging rhino. Renta isn't having any of it, though, breaking off onto his own musical rant while Riley urges him on. O'Farrill's sound is cooler, though no less passionate—in fact, his right hand eventually starts fighting with his left! Bassist Andy McKee gets his licks in, too, firing off a solo towards the piece's end that may be soft, but its message is as strong as Bonilla's roar.

McKee asserts himself again on "No Looking Back," breaking up its pastoral intro with a touch of rumbling reality. The aggression on Talking is as Noo Yawk as it gets, with "Uh, Uh, Uh..." even bringing the city itself onstage. The band musically simulates the sound and spirit of the Big Apple, with Bonilla and Renta engaging in frenetic dialogue, O'Farrill's counter another country heard from, and all of them seemingly unmindful of the bustling metropolis surrounding them. The mercurial "Fifty-Eight" keeps things in the city, with the piece's speed changing at almost every turn as Riley turns the drama up and down.

The heart of gold gets its side of the story, though. The loping "Triumph" is a heartfelt tribute to the works and spirit of tennis star/activist Arthur Ashe; Bonilla revives Old School romance with "Closer Still," a love letter to his wife Luz; and "Luminescence" and "Elis" are tender odes to Bonilla's niece and daughter, respectively.

I Talking Now is a musical examination of Luis Bonilla's life experiences—some sweet, some dysfunctional, all of them engrossing and very, very real. It's a life worth listening to... even when someone isn't shouting to be heard over dinnertime conversation. - J. Hunter-All About Jazz

"Concert Review: Seton Hall"

A deeply talented musician, Luis Bonilla is a jazz-and-beyond trombonist, composer and arranger who delivers his engaging artistry with decided spirit and a welcome sense of fun.

A key member of the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra (VJO) who has also played with Arturo O’Farrill’s Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra, Bonilla splendidly displays his gifts on his recent Now Jazz Consortium CD, “I Talking Now!”

Bonilla and the fellows on the CD — saxophonist Ivan Renta, pianist O’Farrill, Montclair bass dynamo Andy McKee, and drummer John Riley — played a buoyant release party Tuesday at the South Orange Performing Arts Center (SOPAC) in South Orange. The affair was part of the 2009-2010 season of “Jazz ‘n the Hall,” presented by the Seton Hall University Arts Council.

The often intense though clearly accessible program, like the CD, revealed Bonilla to be a consummate composer and arranger. He manages a deft trick in building his unique pieces in a mix of Latin and jazz foundations, then opening those pieces, taking them in fresh and surprising directions.

Take “Elis,” a number dedicated to his daughter that came later in the performance. It began as a heartfelt waltz, where Bonilla’s orchestration made five players sound like 10 and where Renta scored with a boisterous soprano solo. Then the groove moved to funk, which nicely set off the rhythm section. Then the number switched again, to a 5/4 rhythm, adding more interest.

“Luminescence” mixed modern jazz swing with a Latin pulse, the theme at points sounding like something you might have heard from Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers. Part of this latter effect comes from the enticing blend of Bonilla’s lustrous sound and Renta’s glowing tenor tone.

Here the trombonist, as he did throughout the concert, soloed with aplomb, telling a musical story with bold, spaced notes, technically virtuosic streams, and more, all underpinned by the pliant, ebullient rhythm team. Renta, on tenor, scored with an array of powerhouse remarks, as did O’Farrill and McKee, who played one hip idea after another with a meaty, resonant sound.

“Uh, Uh, Uh,” dedicated to South Orange-based trombonist Doug Purviance (a producer of the concert) moved from lines that had a gospel hue to a free-form section to fast swing to Latin. Towards the end, Riley soloed mercurially over a band vamp, zealously running from snare whaps to cymbal sizzles.

A welcome softer number was “Closer Still,” where the horns soloed together at one point, and which ended with horns and piano settling into silence. - Zan Stewart- The Star Ledger


A trombonist who has played in jazz and Latin groups, Luis Bonilla is interested in exploding the usual structures of both kinds of music. So Terminal Clarity (Now Jazz Consortium), a live CD by his sextet TromBonilla, opens up each piece for fresh, exploratory improvising by the musicians, including Mr. Bonilla and the saxophonists Donny McCaslin and Peter Brainin. Sometimes the songs become raw and skeletal; sometimes they accumulate a thick pile of melodic lines, while the rhythm section keeps each piece steady. - New York Times


Luis Bonilla, longtime collaborator with the Mingus Big Band and underacknowledged sideman for great jazz and salsa bandleaders alike, shows his remarkable creativity and versatility with his new album, Terminal Clarity (New Jazz Consortium). Recorded live more than two years ago at the Jazz Standard with his group TromBonilla (featuring Donny McCaslin, Peter Brainin, Ricardo Rodriguez, Patrick Forero and Pernell Saturnino), Terminal Clarity is an exhilarating exercise of free-spirited yet disciplined harmonic, melodic and rhythmic brilliance.
Bonilla’s exquisite work on the trombone is the lead voice of a multivocal chorus engaged in a long-winded conversation with the possibilities of jazz improvisation. McCaslin and Brainin take turns blurting out saxophone truths (listen to the interplay on “That’s How They Get You” and the ethereal “Up Easy”), pushing the rhythm section until Bonilla puts the often-elusive theme into perspective. For the purist Machito-ista in your crew, “Mambostinato” deconstructs the mambo break into a simple repeated melodic figure and allows the horns to flow rhythmically until your brain is dancing as hard as your feet. - New York Newsday


“Terminal Clarity” is a deceiving album at first glance. A brief look at Bonilla’s discography, which mostly consists of mainstream ane Latin jazz sessions, the lack of an established avant-garde musician in the group, the name of the ensemble itself – none of these factors imply that the music will be of the cutting-edge, creative, free jazz variety. However, trombonist Luis Bonilla, who has played with artists ranging from Dizzy Gillespie to Lester Bowie, demonstrates more of the influence of the latter on this album, incorporating lively creative freedom inspired by groups like the Art Ensemble of Chicago and Brass Fantasy ensemble, of which he has been a member. Unlike the AEC, though, which drew mainly from African-American musical traditions, Bonilla presents a refreshingly inspired take on the Latin jazz tradition. With the moving percussion styles of a Cal Tjader ensemble, Bonilla incorporates a wealth of satisfyingly knotty arrangements for himself and the two saxes. Furthermore, Bonilla demonstrates why the trombone is well-suited for more avant-garde takes on jazz, drawing from both melodic and percussive improvisation. - WNUR


"I Talking Now!" (Planet Arts/Now Jazz Consortium) is an album that conveys the exclamatory brashness of its title but with superior musical grammar.

Trombonist Luis Bonilla -- a member of the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra, the Mingus Big Band and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Afro-Cuban Orchestra, and a teacher at Temple University and the Manhattan School of Music -- leads a quintet here in arrangements that almost invite a big band setting. In other words, Bonilla accomplishes much: rhythmic variety and complexity, melodic interplay and harmonic richness -- with only trombone, tenor saxophone (doubling on soprano), piano, bass and drums.

While Bonilla, saxophonist Ivan Renta and pianist Arturo O'Farrill share a Latin American heritage that courses throughout this album, bassist Andy McKee and drummer John Riley adapt and connect like Latin soul mates. Riley, most familiar from his Vanguard Jazz Orchestra recordings, proves especially surprising and hip in this context.

The tunes, all Bonilla originals, are often full of kaleidoscopic changes: a blustery, saw-toothed trombone solo that breaks into a trombone-and-tenor conversation, a ballad-like ensemble introduction that bursts into a funky groove, a swinging piano solo that erupts into tectonic rhythmic shifts, a pounding bass solo rising in an unexpected place. It's evident throughout this album that Bonilla has not settled for the same old combo routines. - Owen Cordle-News Observer


The exuberant, New York-based, trombonist Luis Bonilla has been recording as leader since 1998, when he released Pasos Gigantes ("giant steps") on Candid. I Talking Now! is his fourth album. But he is still probably best known for his work with other artists. Currently a member of trumpeter Dave Douglas' Brass Ecstasy, Bonilla began the 1990s with trumpeter Lester Bowie's Brass Fantasy and has since worked with a string of illustrious leaders including pianists McCoy Tyner and Toshiko Akiyoshi, trombonist Willie Colon and singer Astrud Gilberto. Much of his experience is in big, or biggish, bands and he is a member of the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra and, under the direction of Arturo O'Farrill, the pianist on I Talking Now!, the Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra.

It's a career profile Bonilla shares with the other members of this quintet. All but O'Farrill are known for sideman rather than leader recordings, and all have extensive experience with larger line-ups. Like Bonilla, O'Farrill, saxophonist Ivan Renta, bassist Andy McKee and drummer John Riley are comfortable with the intricate-going-on-tricky charts used on I Talking Now! and each is used to seizing the high ground when it's time to solo. Renta is the relative newcomer, but already the 29 year-old has notched up an impressive work record with straight-ahead and Latin bands.

From Bonilla—who wrote and arranged all tracks—through Riley, this is an ass-kicking band which delivers fiery pieces like "I Talking Now," "Uh Uh Uh," "Fifty Eight" and "Luminescence" with passion and aplomb. Solos are shared equally between trombone, tenor saxophone and piano; bass and drums are in the main concerned with driving things forward, which they do with a power that could propel a space shuttle launch let alone an acoustic jazz quintet. The soloists are more concerned with maintaining cooking heat than extending harmonic boundaries, but O'Farrill introduces enjoyable suggestions of dissonance, in particular on the title track and "Fifty Eight."

The quintet is also at home with more balladic arrangements, and "Closer Still" (inspired by trombonist Bob Brookmeyer's "First Love Song") and "Elis" are among the album's highlights. But the most memorable track is "Triumph," inspired by the late tennis player and AIDS activist, Arthur Ashe. It begins joyously, with supple muscularity, becoming quieter and poignant towards the end. There are touches of electronica, but the chief interest is the ongoing dialog between Bonilla and Renta, which simultaneously evokes an ostinato-driven New Orleans band and one of bassist Charles Mingus' Workshop groups with trombonist Jimmy Knepper. At 5:34 it's one of the shortest tracks, which is a shame. - Chris May - AllAboutJazz


The trombonist Luis Bonilla hears jazz as playful, rough, cathartic, chaotic, tender, swinging, funky and inherently, demonstrably Latin. At any point in “I Talking Now!” his quintet usually satisfies at least three of those descriptions at once.

Mr. Bonilla, who wrote all the music here and plays in strong percussive blasts and fully articulated bebop phrases, has for nearly 20 years been a soloing trombonist in several New York repertory big bands. For this record, his fourth, he’s drawn his quintet from colleagues in those bands. (There’s Arturo O’Farrill, the pianist, and Ivan Renta, the tenor saxophonist, both from the Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra; the bassist Andy McKee from the Mingus Big Band; and the drummer John Riley from the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra.) These are all players used to projecting. Nobody here is shy or academic-sounding.

So the album — whose title comes from Mr. Bonilla’s Costa Rican father, shouting to silence a noisy dinner table — suggests live jazz in New York from about 20 years ago, when jazz often sounded a little more vernacular than it does now, with more loose aggression, and a common will to play loud and let it rip.

Letting it rip can be dull in limited circumstances, with too much repetition and formulaic writing or arrangements. But this is a varied record, as a whole and within its parts. Some pieces, like “Uh, Uh, Uh” and “No Looking Back,” keep shifting into dramatically new rhythmic sections: Latin, free, four-four swing and much else.

Each section establishes its own mood and character. If that sounds schematic or dispassionate — variety for its own sake, the dreaded eclecticism — it isn’t. The band plays with rough gusto, even the sentimental ballad “Closer Still,” echoing Bob Brookmeyer’s big-band writing, in which the powerful flow of written music threatens to undermine the solos.

Given a limited budget Mr. Bonilla has even used the properties of the studio a bit. In “Triumph,” toward the end of the record, with a slow, polyrhythmic Coltrane-quartet groove, the track gets spacey with echo and scraping-string noises. By that point he has established the right context for this to happen, and it works perfectly. BEN RATLIFF

- Ben Ratlif-The New York Times


Solidly muscular big apple jazz in the modern/progressive mode with solid cats jamming it out hard core behind the leader on trombone. Not a lot of space/skronk but some serious honking and envelope pushing powers this session. Hitting you with an amphetamine buzz right out of the gate, this is a date that high octane jazzbos will love. - Midwest Record Review


On Bonilla’s new disc, his creative concoctions are a heady, freewheeling blend of free jazz, swing, rock, funk and ballad loveliness.

With his balance of rigor and vigor, Bonilla and his all-star studio band can pivot instantly from free jazz to funk, from generating a few bars of pure avant-garde noise to streams of steamy, straight-ahead passages.

Bonilla leads a simpatico swat team that takes absolutely no prisoners. His collaborators include: keyboardist Arturo O’Farrill, who ranges from unleashing furious vortexes of sound to basking in sanctified gospel grooves, and saxophonist Ivan Renta, a high-energy player and ideal foil for Bonilla’s irrepressible exuberance. Adding to the quintet’s firepower are Andy McKee, a quick-witted bassist, and John Riley, a resilient, resourceful drummer.

Bonilla’s kaleidoscopic talent includes his ability to compose soft, pastel portraits, exhibited on the new disc by his loving tonal homages to his wife, two-year-old daughter and niece. - Owen McNally - Hartford Courant


As a Leader
Luis Bonilla "Twilight" (2010)
Luis Bonilla "I Talking Now" (2009)
Luis Bonilla & TromBonilla , Terminal Clarity (2007)
Luis Bonilla, ¡Escucha! (2000)
Luis Bonilla, Paso Gigantes (1998)

Lester Bowie Brass Fantasy, When the Spirit Returns (2003)

Tom Harrell, Wise Children (2003)

Astrud Gilberto, Jungle (2002)

William Cepeda, Branching Out (2001)

Toshiko Akiyoshi Jazz Orchestra, Monopoly Game (2001)

Freddie Hubbard, New Colors (2001)

Tony Lujan, You Don't Know What Love Is (2001)

Lucia Pulido, Lucia Pulido (2001)

Alejandro Sanz, MTV Unplugged (2001)

George Gruntz Concert Jazz Orchestra, Global Excellence (2001)

Africando, Mandali (2000)

Hector Martignon, Foreign Affair (2000)

Wanda Nieves, Enamorada de Ti (2000)

Gerry Mulligan, Art of Gerry Mulligan (2000)

George Gruntz Concert Jazz Orchestra, Merryteria (2000)

Lester Bowie, Odyssey of Funk & Popular Music (1999)

Mikey Perfecto Angel, Perdido (1999)

Charlie Cruz, Imaginate (1999)

Paquito d'Rivera, Tropicana Nights (1999)

George Gruntz Concert Jazz Orchestra, Live at Jazzfest Berlin (1999)

DMP Big Band, Potpourri (1998)

Charlie Cardona, Mi Propia Aventura (1998)

Gerry Mulligan, Triple Play (1998)

William Cepeda, My Roots and Beyond (1998)

Miles Peña, Mis Ideas (1998)

Servando Y Florentino, Primera (1998)

Ina Kaina, Hija de Nueva York (1997)

Jon Lucien, Endless Is Love (1997)

Yolandita Monge, Mi Encuentro (1997)

Frankie Negron, Con Amor Se Gana (1997)

Nora Nora, Electric Lady (1996)

Billy Childs, Child Within (1996)

DLG (Dark, Latin Groove), Dark Latin Groove (1996)

DMP Big Band, Carved in Stone (1995)

Garcia Brothers, Jazz Con Sabor Latino (1994)

La India, Dicen Que Soy (1994)

Tito Nieves, Rompecabeza: The Puzzle (1993)

Miles Peña, De Que Me Vale (1993)

Toshiko Akiyoshi Jazz Orchestra, Desert Lady/Fantasy (1993)

Marc Anthony, Otra Nota (1993)

Lester Bowie’s Brass Fantasy, Fire This Time (1992)

Matt Catingub Big Band, I’m Getting Cement All Over Me (1990)

Ashley Alexander, Seems Like Old Times (1987)

Management & Booking:

Mariah Wilkins Artist Management LLC
315 East 86th Street, Suite #2EE
New York, NY 10028
Phone: 212.426.3282
Cell: 646.361.3515
Fax: 646.290.6180
Skype/IChat: wilkinsm86

Chris DiGirolamo
Two for the Show Media
Phone: 631.298.7823



If ever an artist could be called an octopus, Luis Bonilla is it. The California raised, Costa Rican trombonist, composer and arranger has sought out, taken in and mastered an incredible array of musical styles. His success as a sideman with such greats as McCoy Tyner, Dizzy Gillespie, Lester Bowie, Tom Harrell, Freddie Hubbard, Astrud Gilberto, Willie Colon and Toshiko Akiyoshi attests not only to the skill and variety of Bonilla’s talent, but also to a mind restlessly committed to exploring some of the most complex and demanding music of our time.

Yet there is nothing rarefied about the Bonilla experience. He has worked as a studio musician with Tony Bennett, Marc Anthony, La India and Mary J. Blige and understands and exploits the liveliness of pop as well as the rhythmic sway and punch of Latin Jazz. Currently a member of the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra, the Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra under Arturo O’Farrill’s direction (both 2009 Grammy winners) and Dave Douglas’s latest group (Dave Douglas & Brass Ecstasy), Bonilla is one of those rare artists whose work is always expanding, taking in more and more while remaining singular and focused: “Bonilla may be a trombonist used to handling that big long sliding thing, but when it comes to execution of his ideas, he lets nothing slide” (All About Jazz).

Critics praised his first two albums on the Candid label, Pasos Gigantes (1998) and iEscucha! (2000), acknowledging Bonilla’s ability to give voice to radically different musical sensibilities with an ease and seamlessness that belies the rigor and sophistication of the music. Pasos Gigantes made Jazziz’s top ten Latin list of 1998. Even as early as these first two albums, critics noted Bonilla’s leadership and sophisticated use of tonal colors. As a faculty member at both Temple University and Manhattan School of Music, Bonilla has an intuitive sense in how to bring out the best in those working with him. Listen to any of his albums and you will hear an extraordinary level of trust and inspiration in each band member’s playing. As the critic for All About Jazz noticed, “Bonilla gives his colleagues ample space to breathe, adding momentum to the flow of his compositional ideas.”

His next album, 2007’s Terminal Clarity was a celebration, reflection and aesthetic extension of his years working with Lester Bowie. While retaining the brash harmonic structures of his mentor’s work from Brass Fantasy to his earlier and justly famous work with the Art Ensemble of Chicago, Bonilla adds a “contagious exuberance” (Jazzwise magazine) that is at the heart of his artistic vision. Without in any way diminishing Bowie’s audacity , Bonilla manages to balance “the cerebral and the down-and-dirty (Jazz Times), taking “bold steps to merge Latin genres, free jazz and a variety of other influences (Latin Jazz Corner).

In Bonilla’s latest album, I Talking Now! (2009), he pushes these disjunctions even harder, politely demanding that we feel connections between wildly disparate styles of music. A heady mix of swing, rock, free jazz, funk, movie soundtracks, avant-garde noise and ballads, I Talking Now, for all its musical diversity, speaks with one voice. It is a distinctly American vision, a gentle craziness that suggests that every one and every sound can co-exist if we just keep on taking in more and more. Luis Bonilla is moving in directions that are expanding our notions of jazz and leading us into startling new realms with “remarkable creativity and versatility” (Newsday).