Live in Chicago
Release Date: February 9, 2024
Label: Desafío Candente

The mark of a truly great live release is that it moves past its initial intention as a mere document of a performance, and captures a musical moment that transcends time. Such is the case with Cortiñas’ Live in Chicago

This musical excursion reflects Cortiñas' decade-long musical exploration with his sextet, and his compositional journey leading towards a sound that seamlessly marries the jazz idiom with the sounds of his upbringing in Mexico. The bandleader remarks, “The title superficially means a live performance in Chicago, but more than this, it celebrates over a decade of my being in Chicago and the growth and imprint that it has had on me and my music and hopefully vice versa. It is no accident that the amazing artwork for the album made by Sam Kirk is a fusion between Mexico City and the city of Chicago, representing that complicity and relationship between these two cities that mean so much to me and that I have come to call home.”

The concept of the album stems from Cortiñas' desire to explore the magic of live performances and treat his original compositions as living standards. The live recordings were captured at Constellation in Chicago, IL, on the night of December 15th, 2022. They are raw and unedited, attempting to capture the spirit of the moment; a Snapshot, of a moment in time.

Cortiñas points to several standout tracks on the album, each with its own unique story and emotional resonance. "Hanaki," a medium tempo blues from the first record Snapshot, showcases the group's range, featuring a mesmerizing drum solo over a walking bass line. "Arete" from the second record opens with a killer trumpet intro by Drew Hansen, transitioning into a huapango-inspired 6/8 vibe with captivating solos. The composition is a contrafact of Cortiñas' reharmonization of "Cielito Lindo," paying homage to his Mexican roots.

Other notable tracks include "La balada del leon," a touching ballad dedicated to Cortiñas' father, "Ruta de regreso," an African-inspired piece in 12/8, and "Wish I could be there now," a 7/4 composition dedicated to a friend affected by violence in Mexico.

Cortiñas expresses deep appreciation for the musicians on the record, highlighting their unique qualities. Kitt's supporting bass anchors the band, Joaquin's technical prowess and mastery of textures elevate the music, Matt Davis brings fire and soul to the trombone, Artie's saxophone defines the band's sound, and Drew Hansen's harmonic and melodic approach drives the horns.

Desafío Candente invites listeners to join the celebration of Live in Chicago and experience the magic of Gustavo Cortiñas and his ensemble. This love letter to the windy city cements Cortiñas as one of the preeminent jazz composers and drummers of our day. 

Kind Regards – Saludos Afectuosos
Release Date: September 2, 2022
Label: Desafío Candente Records

Chicago bandleader and composer Gustavo Cortiñas has a talent for conceiving and executing projects that are ambitious in scope. His 2021 release Desafío Candente, a sprawling meditation on Latin American life and struggles, earned a well-deserved spot in Jazziz Magazine’s list of the 2021’s Best Releases among other critical praise. Now, Cortiñas builds upon that foundation with his fourth release as a leader, Kind Regards – Saludos Afectuosos. 

The subject matter on Kind Regards focuses on the immigrant experience in the US — its cover depicts an image of two children on each side of the border wall between the US and Mexico. “Kind Regards gives life, through music, to words that attempt to build bridges and understanding in times of borders and ignorance; words that focus on our feet and the dust on which they walk, instead of the stars under which they dream,” the bandleader explains. And words are indeed the fundamental focus of this music, as the album is a collection of songs in which the bandleader was both the composer and lyricist in its entirety, representing a significant departure and evolution from previous work.

The opening track “I Hope You Have a Good Phone Call Today,” evokes a nostalgic and empathetic feeling for anyone who has spent significant time away from their homeland. One verse poignantly declares, “Dear Stranger, World of tears, smiles and thoughts. Far removed from loved ones.” This sentimental sensation permeates the album ideologically, while the tracks are performed with a deep connection to optimism, steering away from melancholy. The ensemble shines as a close knit unit, often favoring group interplay over excessive individual soloing.

Striking a satisfying balance between a breathy voice and one of depth and body, vocalist Meghan Stagl assumes a compelling responsibility of singing the ten originals (with lyrics in both English and Spanish) while also playing piano. Tracks like “Libertad” and “When I leave you” find Stagl overdubbing dense harmonies against the main takes to great effect.

Stagl finds an able partner in Emily Kuhn on trumpetwho complements the main verses of each track in a game of call-and-response between horn and vocals. Kuhn’s lengthy solo on “Emigraste” showcases an aptitude for lyricism, making strong and calculated melodic choices while showcasing her warm and inviting tone.

Guitarist Erik Skov proves to be an important piece in the puzzle as he fulfills a variety of roles in this compact collection. At times, he plays funky muted lines, while other moments find the guitarist amid lush soundscapes and solos wrought by his strong grasp of bebop vocabulary. His versatility, however, is on paramount display for “Libertad,” where his acoustics brush over a rhythm reminiscent of a Mexican Huapango, a style not commonly mastered by jazz musicians.

Cortiñas has a comprehensive knowledge of Latin American rhythms that, matched with his synergetic interplay with bassist Katie Ernst, allows this music to dance. Ernst plays with a robust sound and rhythmic assertiveness, providing a strong support for the anchor ensemble on this recording. Displaying profound maturity and restraint in their playing, each instrumentalist surrenders himself to the music without indulging in flashiness.

Embracing a multicultural language, while investing in a variety of disciplines within the music itself, composer, bandleader, drummer and now lyricist Gustavo Cortiñas continues to surpass himself in the breadth of his work. Kind Regards is a stellar outing in the career of an expansive artist who will continue to defy categorization in many years to come.

Desafío Candente
Release Date: March 24, 2021
Label: Woolgathering Records 

For over a decade, Gustavo Cortiñas has been an active member of the Chicago music scene as a sought after drummer, a prolific composer and bandleader. On his previous releases (Snapshot, 2013 and ESSE, 2017) he combined his expansive creativity as a composer with an aptitude for large ensemble writing. With his forthcoming third release Desafío Candente, Cortiñas presents his most ambitious project to date: a Magnum Opus designed to explore the impact of colonialism, imperialism, and neoliberalism that has struck Latin America through centuries. This audio recording is also a visual album, as each track partners with an accompanying music video.

His sweeping new release uses the writings of Uruguayan author Eduardo Galeano‘s book “The Open Veins of Latin America” (a fundamental text in Latin American literature) as a template for the construction of these riveting new works. At its core is a jazz septet – Cortiñas is joined by Kitt Lyles on upright bass, Joaquín García on piano and Artie Black on a variety of reeds, as well as Drew Hansen on trumpet, Euan Edmonds on trombone and versatile guitarist Matt Gold. 21 musicians and 13 guest speakers from 11 different countries augment each of the 14 tracks which take listeners on a journey through a different part of Latin America and its history.

Inspired by Túpac Amaru’s Rebellion, the Mexican Revolution, and the Zapatista Movement in Chiapas, among other key events of Latin American history, Desafío Candente makes a powerful statement – it denounces the power structures that run Latin America and prey on its people, while also celebrating the resilience, spirit, and creativity of those very diverse communities. The work manages to expand its scope through its interdisciplinary amalgamation of spoken word and printed text directly from the page (with permission of Galeano’s state) as well as the striking cover image by celebrated Mexican painter Carmen Chami.

Cortiñas is highly acquainted with the different musical traditions of Latin America and his work clearly references these styles directly. Tracks like “El Jinete y El Caballo” and “La Nostalgia Peleadora de Túpac Amaru” make use of rhythms lifted from African traditions in the Caribbean and South America, while “Combustible Humano” functions within a clear Brazilian music framework. The recording also features musicians from Mexico playing typical folk instruments, like Jerónimo González’s Jarana Jarocha on “Los Caudillos Campesinos” and Xavier Quijas Yxayotl playing a variety of indigenous flutes on “Abya Yala” and “Un Mundo Donde Quepan Muchos Mundos”.

The ensemble integrates their skill set for jazz improvisation and knowledge of American music on Cortiñas’ cross-stylistic compositions with great ease. On “Pachacuti” a military march gives way to a free improvised section, while “La Mano Invisible” starts with a slow blues dirge before bursting into a dynamic second-line New Orleans style form featuring collective interjections from all horns with veteran Victor Goines soaring on clarinet.

Maintaining a compositional focus, Cortiñas’s interesting arrangements coax a great variety of textures and timbres from the ensemble while the musicians deliver strong performances of the music throughout. The suite is full of musical variety while remaining cohesive and faithful to its subject matter.

Born and raised in Mexico City, Gustavo Cortiñas has been an active member of the Chicago music scene since 2011. As a sought after drummer, he has performed and recorded with Kitt Lyles’ Real Talk, Erik Skov’s Liminality, Imagery Converter, Emily Kuhn’s Helios, the Roy McGrath Quartet, and the Carla Campopiano Trio, among others. A prolific composer and bandleader, Cortiñas is a member of the Chicago Jazz Composer’s Collective, performing regularly for their monthly residency at Chicago’s very own Green Mill. “Cortiñas’ music is uplifting, robust, melodic, and gets your body moving; it’s an exciting blend of the artist’s musical influences from jazz and Latin America, including his native Mexico,” said Downbeat Magazine.

Modern Latin American history has created a phenomenon in which an ever-growing number of people from these countries have ended up living their lives somewhere else in the world, wondering how to integrate their identity with the foreign culture they now find themselves in. The work of musicians like Gustavo Cortiñas aims to expose this existential conundrum that permeates the lives of the Latin American diaspora, organically integrating their traditions into the music they have learned to play in this country. He manages to assert his credibility as a musician that largely operates within the jazz idiom while simultaneously referencing his own culture to create a fresh perspective on the music. Cortiñas is part of an esteemed group of artists that are actively reshaping the narrative of Latin American culture in America and Desafío Candente is an instantly important voice in this movement.

Inspired by Eduardo Galeano’s The Open Veins of Latin America, Cortiñas’ new work explores the history of colonialism, imperialism and neoliberalism in Latin America with 30+ musicians and speakers from 11 different countries over the course of 14 tracks and accompanying video

This project was funded by a grant from The National Fund for Culture and Arts (FONCA), which is the Mexican equivalent of the American National Endowment for the Arts.

For "Live in Chicago"

"For Gustavo, live performance is paramount, and his compositions are calibrated with that in mind. They pique the listener’s curiosity. It is music to be listened to, music that makes us dream, smile, full of generosity. " Read the full review here.

"The blend of jazz and Mexican folkloric is a rarity, rendered superbly with requisite gusto and delicacy by this fine sextet." Read the full review here.

"This one, filled exclusively with original compositions, is the kind of live album that makes me want to hear this music in person." Read the full review here.

"Throughout this superb live album, percussionist Gustavo Cortiñas allows his fellow band members an enormous amount of space, and that is welcome because of their high level of musicianship." Read the full review here.

"“Overture” starts with a simple clave’ rhythm and takes off into all directions from there. The Band is patient, and the compositions are well arranged. " Check out the full review here.

"The jazz that Gustavo Cortiñas makes is a mix of the most modern jazz not exempt from the influences of the popular music of his country, as can be seen in 'Hanaki', which is a reharmonization of 'Cielito Lindo' and 'La balada del león' ', a song dedicated to his father." Check out the full review in Spanish here.

for Kind Regards – Saludos Afectuosos

"'Kind Regards' triumphs both as the bearer of a message that can't be heard enough and as a purveyor sophisticated acoustic pop of arresting beauty." Review here.

"Chicago bandleader and composer Gustavo Cortiñas has a talent for conceiving and executing projects that are ambitious in scope." Check out the piece here.

"Kind Regards (Saludos Afectuosos) showcases a different, more personal, aspect of Cortinas' creativity. Being a multifaceted artist the young drummer maintains a remarkable uniformity of musical excellence while exploring different forms of expression with each release." Read the review here.

Video premiere here.

"Miraculously, Saludos Afectuosos manages to be just as staggering [as it's predecessor]- last year’s Desafío Candente...the kind of once-in-a-lifetime achievement that an artist often needs years to complete, then years to recover from."

"I wouldn’t be surprised if this album also becomes an award winner." Read the review here.

"Genteel gems." Review here.

" The program is centered on the immigrant experience in the US. We enjoyed the sweet vocal harmonies on “If I Learned Today” and “Libertad”, two songs that sooth the soul and try to heal the wounds of that challenging experience."

for Desafío Candente

"Despite Desafío Candente’s despairing explorations of the tragedies throughout nuestra historia, the album left me with a sense of triumph—it ultimately feels like a celebration of the many cultures and peoples who came together, survived against all odds, and continue to create beauty today." Check this review here.


"This is a scintillating ensemble cast performance by musicians who the clarity of Mr Cortiñas’ writing while never losing sight of the work’s profound drama and message of resilience which is perfectly described by Mr Cortiñas as Desafío Candente or Incandescent Defiance."Check this review here.


Discover great new music this weekend with our weekly roundup of new songs and albums! This week’s New Release Cheat Sheet features new music by Archie Shepp and Jason Moran, a new video by Gustavo Cortiñas and more. Check this article here.


"Desafio Candente is innovative, elegant, and relevant. It is socially engaged music with themes that are simultaneously timely and timeless." Check this article here.

The pandemic may have shut down parts of the world, but that has not stopped musicians from an explosion of creativity. For our first new music blast of 2021, we hear from some Alt.Latino faves (Bomba Estéreo and Magos Herrera), as well as some new names and music you may not know (jazz drummer Gustavo Cortiñas and South Bronx's Jarana Beat). Check and listen to this article here.

Inspirado en el ensayo periodístico del escritor uruguayo Eduardo Galeano, titulado Las Venas Abiertas de América Latina, el nuevo trabajo de Gustavo Cortiñas lleva al escucha en un viaje a través de América Latina y su historia de colonialismo, imperialismo y neoliberalismo, con más de 30 músicos y oradores de 11 países distintos, en el transcurso de 14 composiciones originales y videos que las acompañan. Para leer este anuncio presione aquí.


"The wide variety of sounds and moods are like a smorgasbord of atmospheres, with the spoken openings an intimate insight to life a  so close yet so far. A musical museum." Read this review here.


"Cortinas’ music has super-syncopated, Afro-Caribbean beats with cool intoxicating rhythms." Read the full review here.

This week’s Beat Latino explores music that connects the dots between genres, generations, countries and nations, in the most unexpected ways! We’ve got fascinating convergences between psychedelia, tropical beats and the cumbia (Meridian Brothers from Colombia) and Brazilian tropicalia past and present (Luis Gabriel Lopes from Brazil) and folkloric to jazz (Silvana Estrada from Mexico). Expect the Unexpected on this week’s Beat Latino! check and listen to this article here.


Read the 4-star review here.

Read the album announcement in Spanish here.