CHiP BOAZ'S LATiN JAZZ MUSiC REViEWS
Latin Jazz Albums of the Week
by Chip Boaz
JOSE LUiS QUiNTANA "CHANGUiTO"
TELEGRAFiA SiN HiLO
Jose Luis Quintana, better known as Changuito, not only represents an important musician in contemporary Cuban music, he stands as a turning point in Cuban music history. Changuito’s percussion prowess revolutionized both technique and artistic approach towards congas, timbales, bongo, and drum kit. Along with Los Van Van bandleader Juan Formell, Changuito developed a drum kit style that bridged Cuban dance styles and American rock that spawned the songo style. This innovation moved Cuban dance music into the twenty-first century, contributing to the development of timba. Since moving into other realms, Changuito has been a significant sideman across countless salsa and Latin Jazz albums and served as a role model for a whole generation of percussionists. His first album as a leader, Telegrafía Sin Hilo places Changuito’s experience throughout Cuban music history into both dance and Latin Jazz settings.
Traditional And Modern Latin Jazz
Several Latin Jazz tracks reflect Changuito’s innovative vision as they bridge traditional and modern sounds. A familiar flute melody opens “Almendra,” balanced with trumpet player Luis Márquez’s gentle interpretation and some inventive percussion breaks. As the song transitions into an upbeat Cha Cha Cha, a coro introduces flautist Luis Beltrán and Márquez, who both offer rhythmic solos. A harmonized coro trades phrases with saxophonist Luis Beltránover over a sparse rhythm section on “Herencia.” Rodner Padilla offers a subdued Fender Rhodes solo before pianist César Orozco explodes with an aggressive timba montuno. Vocalist Vielka Prieto develops a series of strong pregones through a timba breakdown, leading into solos from saxophonist David Fernández and Changuito. A rubato percussion exchange builds into a funky groove on “Negro’s Son,” until a rhythmic melody transitions into an open descarga. Márquez and pianist Joel Uriola provide strong, energetic solos, leading into an improvisation from conguero Roberto Moreno. Trombonist Alexander Zapata creates a bold statement, leading into a powerful percussion exchange between Changuito and his colleagues. Each song signals a different and historically significant Latin Jazz approach that builds upon Changuito’s broad experiences.
Extensive Percussion and Cuban Folklore
Some pieces integrate Changuito’s virtuosity and deep knowledge of Cuban folklore with sparse jazz ideals. Giovanni Hidalgo, a former student of Changuito, opens “Telegrafía Sin Hilo (Eleggua)” with an unaccompanied conga solo, filled with impressive technique. After Hidalgo’s solo, a bata ensemble plays a song for Eleggua, while Changuito improvises on Timbales. Saxophonist Felipe Lamoglia and Hidalgo engage in a free conversation on “Afrocuban Dream (Olokun)” until the bata ensemble provides a foundation for Changuito’s improvisations. Bassist José Soto and Lamoglia frame Changuitos’ solo with percussive hits, as the rhythm section slowly thickens the texture into a steady groove. Padilla introduces “Sueno Flamenco (Ochosi/Obanloke)” with a ferocious run that transitions into a gentle melody over the bata. As Padilla locks into a consistent rhythm, Marquez creates interlocking phrases with Changuito’s timbale. Each song connects Changuito’s legacy with Cuban folklore while creating ample room for improvisation and creativity.
Dance Music From Rumba to Timba
Several songs visit Cuba’s dance music tradition, bridging both traditional and contemporary approaches. Vocalist Nelson Arrieta lends an energetic voice to the involved arrangement on “De Camagüey Y La Habana.” His pregones boost the band into a high gear, matched only by Changuito’s impressive timbale solo. After more strong vocal improvisations, Fernández leads the song to an end with a screeching statement. A bold mambo moves over a cha cha cha rhythm on “Changuito Se Botó,” leading into the song’s catchy coro. Vocalist Rodrigo Mendoza grounds the song with his deep voice, providing several traditional phrases during his pregon. Solos move between the percussion section, invoking fiery statements from bongó, congas, and timbales. A busy montuno opens into a traditional rumba on “Todavía Queda Limón,” soon switching to a more contemporary feel. A huge coro introduces the vocal improvisations from Ronald González, which ride over a funky bass line and active montuno, firmly grounding the song in timba. Changuito again demonstrates a broad understanding of Cuban music, touching upon a variety of dance music styles.
Changuito The Complete Artist
Changuito’s history shines through the broad spectrum of musical styles on Telegrafía Sin Hilo, and his high level of artistry drives an ambitious musical agenda. Changuito’s use of bata drums throughout the albums link his work directly to Cuban folklore, grounding him in tradition. At the same time, the bata rhythms are always surrounded by modern sounds such as synthesizer and electric bass, adding a contemporary edge. Several dance tunes follow traditional salsa guidelines while others jump into aggressive modern approaches. He emphasizes improvisation throughout the album, finding extensive room for percussion statements. His thorough knowledge of Cuban percussion reveals a true connection to his cultural roots, while his impressive technique shows his innovative edge. Changuito shows both sides of his history on Telegrafía Sin Hilo, from the traditional to the modern; within any context, his musical insight never fades - in any context, Changuito stands as complete artist.
Throughout its long history, jazz has split into many diverse pieces; as a result an artist wishing to establish a distinct voice needs to make a firm statement about culture. Modern artists start with traditional jazz, but eventually integrate their own voice into the music, requiring them to merge a set of cultural aesthetics with jazz. Some musicians add rock or funk ideas into jazz, resulting in fusion; others blend contemporary avant-garde practices, giving us free jazz; and some may mix pop elements into jazz, producing smooth jazz. For artists to successfully merge two musical cultures, they need to find a crossroads that touches all elements of both traditions. Most musicians start with the integration of rhythmic structures into jazz, but a true merger between cultures finds compositions, instrumentations, and performance practices taken into consideration. Vocalist Sofia Koutsovitis thoughtfully integrates South American culture into jazz aesthetics on Ojalá, creating a performance style that elegantly blends cultural aesthetics into a distinctively new sound.
Exploring Composers From Different Musical Cultures
Koutsovitis draws upon influential composers from different cultural traditions, re-imagining their work through her jazz background. Jorge Peréz Albela introduces Cuban composer Silvio Rodriguez’s “Ojalá” with solo cajón, establishing a thin texture as Koutsovitis presents the melody. Her vocal phrasing slides around the Peruvian festejo rhythm while demanding attention through dramatic dynamic shadings. As Koutsovitis builds intensity, the band attacks the song strongly, creating an effective contrast. Soprano saxophonist Felipe Salles and Koutsovitis begin Brazilian composer Paulinho Da Viola’s “Dança Da Solidão” with a winding melody that leads the band into a driving samba. Bass, piano, and percussion support Koutsovitis’ melodic statement, leading into a strong scat solo. Her melodic invention builds tension, until the drum kit enters behind Salles’ improvisation. Intertwining melodies from saxophonists Adam Schneit and Daniel Blake move into Argentinean composer Raúl Carnota’s “Gatito E’ Las Penas,” where Koutsovitis boldly states the melody over a gato rhythm. Blake develops an interesting statement through repeated rhythmic phrases until Schniet follows with a melodic approach. Koutsovitis returns with a passion, firmly singing in the tradition with effective variations. Albela’s cajón provides the background for the jazz standard “You Don’t Know What Love Is,” while Koutsovitis reveals a serious study of traditional jazz vocals. The thin texture highlights her expressive phrasing, and creates impact when bassist Jorge Roeder enters the mix. The communication between Koutsovitis and Roeder as they trade improvised ideas flows into a telepathic unity. Koutsovitis connects with a variety of important composers through these performances, bringing their cultural references together with her personal jazz voice.
Original Compositions With An Adventurous Spirit
Koutsovitis’ original compositions display her artistic vision that organically combines an adventurous spirit with cultural elements. The highly original introduction on “Silence 1_ explores silence and space with Koutsovitis’ voice floating over dissonant chords from the winds. Once the rhythm section enters aggressively, Koutsovitis scats assertive rhythmic lines along with the winds. Trumpet player Jason Palmer explores the harmony with an introspective solo that builds into explosive conversation with drummer Richie Barshay. Upon revisiting the melody, Koutsovitis displays outstanding vocal control, singing dissonant notes against the winds. Roeder’s unaccompanied bass solo leads into “Silence 2,” which slowly grows into a strong cha cha cha. Palmer and Koutsovitis share a melodic duet, traveling into an up-tempo rumba guaguanco. Schneit and Blake collectively improvise into a fiery conversation that explodes back down to silence, appropriately ending the song. Pianist Leo Genovese’s sensitive unaccompanied piano opens “Gris,” until Koutsovitis provides a change with a thoughtful English lyric. The horns accent Koutsovitis’ vocal with an angular rhythm, until the song returns to Genovese’s reflective improvisation work. Koutsovitis then establishes a melodic riff, which the winds soon compliment; altogether the lines gain momentum, moving back into the melody. Her compositional voice bravely brings together several musical ideas, confidently displaying her vision of cultural connections.
An Emphasis Upon Argentinean Culture
Many tracks explore Argentinean culture deeply, moving through musical compositions and written works. Koutsovitis creates a quiet and respectful mood as she interprets Argentinean composer Eduardo Falú’s music and poet Jaime Dávalos’s lyrics on “La Nostalgiosa.” The accompanying horn arrangement stays simple, but lets the vocal shine without changing the mood. The rhythm section establishes a subdued Zamba rhythm as Palmer carefully improvises a delicate statement. Roeder smartly integrates percussive sounds into his bass line, creating an intensive groove as he accompanies Koutsovitis on “Alma Del Pueblo.” He trades melodic phrases with Koutsovitis and then plays a series of flamenco influences strums into an exceptional solo. Roeder’s inventive bass playing and the connection he displays with Koutsovitis create an unexpected album highlight. Koutsovitis freely improvises with Blake, emphasizing dissonances and creating a somber mood on “El Suicida.” The band sustains a sense of free improvisation behind Koutsovitis as she interprets author Jorge Luis Borges’ writings. The open interplay between the band members creates a touching mood, full of dissonance, pain, and sadness. Genovese engages Koutsovitis in an uplifting duet as they explore pianist Cuchi Leguizamón’s “El Sibador.” Koutsovitis expressively shapes the melody, moving from a whisper to full volume in a dramatic instant. Genovese follows her intuitively, providing rhythmic momentum and harmonic variation. Koutsovitis and her musicians display exceptional musicianship and artistic merit as they envision Argentina’s culture through the eyes of jazz.
Strong Cultural Foundations and a Powerful Artistic Voice
Koutsovitis makes a firm statement about her cultural foundations on Ojalá, skillfully combining aesthetics from Argentina, Peru, Brazil, Cuba, and the jazz world into a distinctively personal statement. Her broad familiarity with Latin culture goes beyond the inclusion of rhythmic styles; Koutsovitis connects with important composers and repertoire. Her emphasis on Argentinean musicians and poets highlights a cultural influence often overlooked in Latin Jazz. Koutsovitis obviously knows her jazz history as well; from classic jazz vocal stylings to modern dissonances, she has studied the style deeply. Her understanding includes a vision of essential elements that allows for seamless integration with South American ideals. Her band compliments her concept completely; they accurately represent each genre while maintaining improvisatory freedom. The band constantly supports her unique arrangements and compositions, but add their individual voices into the mixture. Koutsovitis and her band confidently clarify their cultural influences through refined musicianship and creative interpretation, resulting in a powerful artistic voice that demands attention.
Y EL GUAJEO CACAO MUSiCA
Pulling jazz and salsa into a unique mixture requires a balance between freedom and structure. Salsa recordings benefit from songs with tightly arranged forms. At times musicians follow commercially dictated norms while other settings allow for more unconventional approaches - yet the performance still follows a roadmap with little variation. Jazz thrives upon variation and the liberty to explore new directions spontaneously. Structure still exists, but musicians prioritize personal expression over pre-conceived plans. Vibraphonist Alfredo Naranjo and his musicians find an aesthetic balance between freedom and structure on Y El Guajeo, exploring a repertoire that moves between instrumental Latin Jazz and danceable salsa.
Delving Into Latin Jazz With An Instrumental Focus
Several tracks maintain an instrumental focus, creating arranged platforms for improvisation. Pianist Luz Mabel Medina opens “Guajeando” with a dramatic rubato solo, which sets a serious tone for the piece. She soon establishes a rhythmic ostinato over a son montuno rhythm, moving into a carefully arranged duet with Naranjo. She creates a rhythmic background behind Naranjo’s solo before she closes the piece with another unaccompanied statement. A child’s chorus calls out to Tito Puente on the tribute piece “Master Tito,” which quickly moves into a highly chromatic and syncopated melody over an up-tempo son montuno. A series of breaks transitions into a half time cha cha cha that serves as a basis for solos from Naranjo, trumpeter Gerald Chacón, flautist Luis Julio Toro, and trombonist Jimmy Bosch. A coro separates individual solos until all the individuals follow each other through intertwining improvisations. Medina and bassist David Peña create an intensive groove over a trio of bata drums on the short but poignant “Introducción.” Naranjo overdubs both vibes and xylophone playing a virtuosic melodic that borders on improvisatory. The group’s wind players storm through a rapid melody full of tricky melodic twists on “Mi socio,” accompanied by a carefully constructed rhythm section part that emphasizes the melody with intricate hits. Naranjo leads the horns through a subdued mambo, built upon chromatic runs, finding their way into a new level of propulsion. Bosch demands attention with a solo built upon his growling tone, until saxophonist Pablo Gil presents a series of rhythmically creative statements. Each arrangement allows the musicians to professionally explore creative avenues without imposing on their improvisatory space.
Descargas Balancing Vocals and Instrumetal Improvisations
Other songs build form around a vocal performance, while keeping improvisation on an equal balance. Naranjo and his group build “Guajeo y su rumbatá” upon an interesting rumba guaguanco complimented by a full batá section. Naranjo and the coro move through an arranged composition, but the free flowing improvisatory conversation between percussionists Jhony Rudas, Kenny Quintana, and Miguel Urbina garner the attention. As the bass and piano move into an intensive montuno vocalist Edgar Quijada improvises several pregónes, bringing the song to a close. Naranjo embellishes a bombastic introduction with timpani hits on “Los Caballos,” before the coro presents the main melody. Pianist José Torres and bassist Gerardo Chacón play a polyrhythmic series of chordal hits as a background behind quick solos from Urbina, Marquez, and bongocero Cheo Navarro. Quijada energetically improvises
through a series of pregónes before the percussionists are once again featured, this time more extensively. A strong coro moves into a rhythmic mambo to open “Mueve” before moving into the vocal melody from Quijada. A long break transitions into Quijada’s vocal improvisation, delivered over a lively rhythm section. The band breaks down into a more spacious feel for violinist Alí Bello’s extended solo, full of traditional lines. A long chromatic fall resolves into a quotation of Dizzy Gillespie’s “Salt Peanuts” and a short solo from Naranjo to open the high energy “Caramelo.” Quijada and the coro present the body of the song before the rhythm section engages in a call and response of intricate lines and coro. A clever mambo that includes a variation upon the melody of Gillespie’s “Manteca” breaks Quijada’s consistently strong prégones. Trumpeter Javier Vivas brings the song to a close with a strong statement over a foundation once again built upon “Manteca.” Each song fully integrates the vocalist, creating an energetic connection that includes the improvisatory nature of jazz and the appeal of dance music.
Intoxicating Salsa With An Underlying Jazz Aesthetic
Some pieces move into a purely salsa category, but maintain the looseness of a descarga, giving them an intoxicating dance vibe. Gil’s soprano sax introduces “Baila” with a smooth sound, moving into a subdued rhythm section behind the main song. A breakdown behind the coro helps build into an intensive sound for the vocal feature. The band creates an interesting interlude with short solos from Vivas, Gil, and Naranjo, and then a mambo based upon a staggering montuno. Quijada sings a call and response with the coro over rumba clave to introduce “Ella.” As he sings the main song, the band interacts with smart melodic writing, complex rhythm section accents, and brief feel changes. The band breaks down behind the coro, building back into a strong forward motion behind Quijada’s improvisation. A standard mambo opens “Cómprame mi disco,” giving way to a coro and eventually Quijada. The lyrics present a dry wit that asks the listener to buy the CD instead of finding a pirated copy, which gives Quijada plenty of fuel for vocal improvisations. The band silences the dynamic behind Naranjo’s solo, exposing a bluesy melodicism that reveals traditional jazz influences. Quijada briefly scats over the introduction to “Payaso,” backed by clever rhythm section writing. After the main song, the wind players present a series of hits for each percussionist to play a short solo before Quijada sings strong prégones. Each of these pieces bring a strong dance feel to the album, but their extensive inclusion of improvisation maintains a close connection to jazz.
Balancing Feedom and Arrangements
Naranjo moves between jazz and dance aesthetics fluidly on Y El Guajeo, developing tight arrangements driven by improvisatory performances. The compositions reflect a unique voice comfortable both in the jazz and salsa worlds. The album harmonically moves between simple dance chord changes and quick infusions of jazz harmony. The melodies contain both standard coros and extensive chromatic writing in the winds. The arrangements connect this broad stylistic palette with a smart and intensive rhythmic approach. Although each song contains carefully arranged parts, they never overwhelm the improvisatory aesthetic. The rhythm section provides continuous momentum, interacting with arrangements through intricately connected breaks while charging their performance with improvised embellishments. The musicians perform each song enthusiastically, infusing the album with a distinct personality. In the end, Naranjo finds the best of both the jazz and dance worlds, creating an exciting blend that brings together freedom and arrangement into an irresistible recording.
Latin Jazz artists exploring new musical territory need to decide whether they will prioritize structure or concept. Structure arises in many forms, and it often serves as the music’s organizational foundation. Latin styles create a powerful structure through interlocking rhythms that align an ensemble’s phrasing. Song form forces a harmonic structure, requiring musicians to follow a repeating series of chords. Concept, on the other hand, goes beyond connecting musical pieces; it prioritizes a musician’s personality and artistic beliefs above technical issues. A strong concept allows musicians to organize ideas in unique ways without compromising artistic integrity; rather it strengthens the depth of the music. William Cepeda’s International Quintet focuses upon a strong concept centered around improvisational liberties and personal statement on Unity, exploring freedom extensively while displaying larges doses of musicality.
Extended Performances Filled With Personal Statements
Several tracks stretch beyond ten minutes, giving the musicians ample time to build their statements. Bassist Pedro Giraudo and keyboardist Uli Geissendoerfer create a funky groove over a loosely sketched salsa rhythm while Cepeda performs a rhythmic melody on conch shell to open “Unity.” Cepeda builds his solo methodically through angular rhythmic lines, receiving an enthusiastic response from Geissendoerfer’s sharp chordal punches. The rhythm section provides new texture behind saxophonist Mike Webster’s solo through the addition of synthesizer and shekere, allowing him to create a passionate statement that utilizes his syncopated rhythms and high register notes. The band lowers the dynamic level for Geissendoerfer’s piano solo that grows from small pentatonic phrases to intensive montuno patterns. Giraudo moves through a strong thematic development in his improvisation, leading back into the melody. Percussionist Abdou Mboup introduces “Entre Nos” with a conga solo, playing over a Latin fusion groove. After a lengthy melody, Geissendoerfer attacks his solos with fast runs and aggressive rhythmic punches. Webster waits for the band to thin the texture before moving through extreme register shifts and syncopated tension to create a statement. Cepeda demonstrates impressive technique on the conch shell, garnering a strong reaction to repeated melodic lines and staccato phrases. As Cepeda switches to trombone, he engages in a collective improvisation with Webster, as they stretch the song’s tonal center and rhythmic core. A reflective melody floats over a 6/8 rhythm on “Y Si Llegan,” built around intertwining melodic lines. Cepeda constructs an interesting idea, consistently altering his emphasis to touch each corner of the rhythmic basis. Geissendoerfer and Giraudo disappear behind Webster’s solo, allowing him to disregard key centers and build an intensively personal statement. Each piece prioritizes the musician’s personal expression, bending rhythmic and harmonic norms to allow each band member room to create.
Exploring a Variety of Approaches
Other songs explore concepts of freedom through different means. Drumme Andrés Patrick Forero aggressively begins a 6/8 groove over Giraudo’s vamp on “Yodo,” leading into a series of short melodic bursts. Cepeda alternates between long bold phrases and forced syncopated ideas on his improvisation, building into a melodic interlude. Geissendoerfer relies upon thematic development to structure his ideas, eventually building into a climax through rhythmic tension. The group revisits the song’s Latin roots as Mboup and Cepeda trade percussion ideas over Forero’s constant foundation. The ensemble creates a mysterious mood until “Beautifull You” enters into an introspective and uplifting melody. Geissendoerfer follows this feeling, constructing his statement around major sounds with a blues tinge. The rhythm section returns to a minor mode for Cepeda’s assertive solo, full of percussive figures. Cepeda
stretches his improvisation into a lengthy section, playing off the rhythm section’s enthusiastic support. The band enters an understated swing ballad on “Will You,” with Cepeda’s muted trombone playing a carefully phrased melody. The written part slowly fades into improvisation, inspired by a gentle interplay between Cepeda and Webster. Cepeda takes advantage of space and texture, placing each phrase within a precisely timed space. After a short return to the melody, Cepeda explores an unaccompanied cadenza, closing the piece with strong line. Geissendoerfer improvises briefly over a 6/8 rhythm on “El Coco #9,” giving way to a short melody. Cepeda takes his time improvising, leaving interactive space for the rhythm section. He guides the band into a heightened dynamic through his bold phrases over syncopated background lines. After a strong improvisation from Geissendoerfer, Mboup makes a strong statement through the different tones on his talking drum. Each track brings a free aesthetic to the use of diverse rhythms, textural support, and improvised sections with a constant emphasis upon the musician.
Moving Beyond Traditional Structure
Cepeda and his International Quintet’s concept outweighs the limits of traditional structure on Unity, allowing them freedom to alter the norms within a Latin Jazz realm. They take liberties with the Latin genres in order to prioritize personal expression, approaching each rhythm slightly outside typical patterns. The styles remain familiar enough to connect the songs to tradition while the flexibility helps the musicians break from stereotypical performances. At the same time, rhythmic phrasing during improvisations and specific percussion sounds connect the songs to established styles. The beauty of the recording lies in the strength each artist’s improvisational skills, and their willingness to take risks both harmonically and rhythmically. The band consistently supports each musician’s new direction, displaying confident interaction and a unified performance aesthetic. Although the compositions stand as preconceived notions, each moment contains a sense of discovery guided by the musician’s explorations. The band consistently creates new structure by organizing their ideas around a unified concept, pushing Latin Jazz into a new set of norms.
There are several different roads that an artist may travel in order to create a unique Latin Jazz voice. Some musicians follow the established formula, repeating the success of genre “legends.” While these artists may present a different slant, they basically follow their hero’s path to musical artistry. Other artists shape their sound around a more unique approach, delving into influential musicians that sat outside the genre’s popular success stories. This route involves a deeper study and often results in a more challenging musical experience. Still, the artist develops a voice that follows a leader rather than makes the way into new territory. A smaller group of musicians look into several challenging musical avenues, and combine these influences into an original direction. This involves more than just study and recreating an approach; it requires the difficult task of finding connections between concepts while staying true to tradition. The Curtis brothers and their band Insight take this road less traveled on A Genesis, bringing together a variety of influences into a modern Latin Jazz sound.
Latin Structures With Modern Jazz Approaches
Some tracks contain traditional Latin structures, but develop a unique character through the inclusion of modern jazz approaches. Pianist Zaccai Curtis plays a series of assertive chords to establish the Cha Cha Cha “Necessity,” as the winds display a wide dynamic range on the melody. Saxophonist Jimmy Greene begins his solo with understated phrases, until the rhythm section pushes him into a series of intensive runs and high register screams. After a quick return to the melody, Luques Curtis introduces a bass line that serves as the foundation for a strong solo from conguero Reinaldo De Jesus. The band creates an open spiritual feel over a rumba guaguanco on “Hilton’s Rumba,” their tribute to the late Latin Jazz pianist Hilton Ruiz. After a spacious melody, Zaccai furiously improvises through the minor blues, employing a variety of sequences to build tension. Greene immediately jumps into a series of quick runs, until saxophonist Kris Allen presents dissonant notes and tense rhythms. Luques explores the rhythmic possibilities within the rhythmic structure, shaping his melodies around percussive ideas. After revisiting the melody, Zaccai storms into an up tempo montuno, paving the way for a powerful mambo and solo from De Jesus. A strong bass line opens “The Panamanian Murga,” which is soon doubled by the winds. Zaccai combines rhythmic tipico phrasing with modern melodic choices, while Luques pushes the rhythmic texture in polyrhythmic directions as the brothers trade solo ideas. Saxophonist Zach Lucas complements the light dynamic with a carefully developed solo, giving way to a mambo based upon contemporary melodic ideas. These songs maintain their strong ties to Latin Jazz history, yet the complex harmonies and aggressive improvisational approaches reflect a thorough study of modern jazz.
Moving Outside The Norm
Several compositions experiment with ideas outside the norms of the Latin Jazz tradition. Greene and Lucas present a gentle introductory melody that explodes into a rhythmic vamp on “A Story in Three.” As the band moves into trumpet player Joel Gonzalez’s exploratory solo, the rhythm section settles into a 9 beat groove that explores both son and funk. Soon the band breaks into a funky beat that serves as the basis for an intriguing moña, broken by Zaccai’s frenetic montuno and a double time rhythm section feel. Greene boldly works through this intensive texture, ending the song on a strong note. Luques and Zaccai explore a more conversational approach on the duet “Sudan and Darfur.” While Zaccai plays a contemplative melody, Luques alternates between rhythmic figures and spontaneous runs. Zaccai establishes a piano ostinato for Luques’s improvisation on scalar ideas and rhythmic power. The two musicians disappear to a whisper as they reintroduce the melody, relishing in the space and freedom of this smaller setting. The odd meter swing of “The Truth Shall Set You Free” serves as the foundation for a sly but powerful melody. Zaccai playfully moves rhythms through the odd time, relying both on his keen sense of swing and vast rhythmic vocabulary. Greene takes his time building his solo from a spacious conversation into a spiritual burn. These pieces reflect the group’s exploration of different musical approaches outside Latin Jazz, and their ability to bring these worlds together.
Unique Personality With A Link To Tradition
Other songs alter the Latin structures just enough to create a unique personality, but keep them rooted in tradition. Zaccai and Luques create a vamp while the drummers play a unique version of Afro-Cuban 6/8 on “The Making.” Zaccai glides through this feel with a strong melodic sensibility, until the drummers disappear into an open space. The group returns with a double time 6/8, setting the stage for Luques’ polyrhythmic improvisation. The band soon intensifies the rhythm section approach beneath Greene and Lucas, maintaining a strong drive to the end of the song. Zaccai’s keyboard opens “In The Spirit of JR” with a mellow tone, moving into a unique twist on a bolero rhythm. The electronic keyboard sound provides a beautiful texture behind Luques’ solo, which transitions into a traditional piano solo. Greene delivers an intoxicating soprano sax solo that unsettles the relaxing feel with cutting lines. A complex interplay of rhythm section attacks and melodic writing opens “Ulterior Motive.” Drummer Richie Barshay breaks into an aggressive funk while Zaccai conjures a Herbie Hancock influence, until the band returns to a Latin feel for the solo’s completion. Lucas furiously improvises through the up-tempo feel, drawing an interesting interplay out of the drummers. Each of these tracks move the band in a distinct musical direction, while building its structure upon a Latin Jazz foundation.
A Journey Towards The Future
Insight takes a challenging path throughout A Genesis, and the distinctly modern Latin Jazz approach sets them apart from their contemporaries. Their intensively interactive improvisations and advanced melodic concepts reflect an influence from Miles Davis’ 1960’s quartet and beyond. The compositional structures are complete and the arrangements intricately formatted, but the performance concept demonstrates an emphasis on freedom and acute personal expression. A fiercely authentic use of Afro-Cuban rhythms displays the band’s strong roots in the genre and a full study of the music’s history. The band bravely alters some rhythmic styles through the use of odd time signatures, yet they always prioritize stylistic integrity. This allows them to experiment over a foundation that demands total respect for the genre. By taking a
Insight has been nominated for a Latin Jazz Best of 2007 Award in the Next Generation category! Vote Today!
challenging and original road towards a musical statement, Insight has created a personalized performance style that pushes Latin Jazz on a journey towards the future.
JOSE RiZO'S JAZZ ON THE LATiN SiDE ALLSTARS'
All-star bands create music that brims with possibilities; yet the outcome runs the risk of positive or negative results. Combining high caliber musicians brings expectations of potentially powerful music. We naturally assume that since these musicians create incredible work individually, they should build masterpieces together. Years of experiences give these artists the necessary knowledge and skill, so they carry a greater chance of delivering memorable music than inexperienced musicians. The possibility of a tragic mismatch also exists when a group of distinctive artists join forces to create music. These groups often lack a central focus, and the resultant recordings sound more like grand jam sessions. Each musician’s individual approach shines through, but the collection of voices never gels. José Rizo’s Jazz on the Latin Side All Stars brings together the best musicians in the busy Los Angeles Latin Jazz scene on Tambolero, a seamless combination that contains outstanding big band Latin Jazz.
Rizo’s Strong Latin Jazz Composition
Rizo’s musical voice provides focus to several strong jazz tracks. An extended open feeling permeates the up-tempo introduction to “Granizo,” which leads into a rhythmic melody. A sax and flute soli opens into an energetic statement from saxophonist Justo Almario, accentuated by powerful brass punches. As Almario weaves through the powerful texture, the rhythmic section establishes a vamp for conguero Joey De Leon’s solo. A thin texture accompanies the 6/8 rhythm on “Señor Olmos,” only to be attacked by sharp band hits. The trombone melody emphasizes the style’s polyrhythmic nature, embellished by intertwining lines from the saxes and trumpets. Baritone saxophonist Scott Martin develops an engaging improvisation by exploring several different views of the rhythmic foundation, all tied together with authentic jazz melodies. A more rhythmic and bluesy solo from alto saxophonist Robert Incelli creates contrast, until the band breaks into solo percussion. Francisco Aguabella provides a thoughtful and meaningful solo on bata, which transitions back into the melody. A trio of flutes from Almario, Martin, and Danilo Lozano introduce the melody on the Cha Cha Cha “Amanecer,” which slowly builds into a full band sound. Pianist Joe Rotondi begins his solo behind the melody’s end, gradually building
into a rhythmic climax against the arrangement. Sal Cracchiolo builds a solid flugelhorn solo through flurries of notes until trombonist Francisco Torres creates rhythmic tension with a bold improvisation. Each of these tracks highlight Rizo’s musical taste, built upon a thorough knowledge of Latin music and jazz.
Latin Dance Music, Wrapped in Jazz
Some songs touch upon Latin dance music, while maintaining a solid sense of jazz background. A classic mambo recalls a Tito Puente influence on “Mama Vieja,” quickly making way for Freddie Crespo’s strong vocal. The clever horn writing and rhythm section unity push Crespo’s vocal over the top, providing a perfect feature. An involved mambo establishes a powerful sound before the band drops volume for Rotondi’s syncopated solo. Crespo’s pregon finishes the song on a high note, displaying his immense improvisatory skills. A recurring guaguanco provides contrast to the dance feel on “El Eco del Tambo.” Crespo improvises a wealth of pregons through the changes, giving way to a skillful and exciting timbale solo from Jimmy Branly. A trombone duel between Torres and Andy Martin brings out the best in both players; their percussive phrasing and bold momentum builds the band into a frenzy. A subdued montuno opens Sanchez’s Cha Cha Cha “Baila Mi Gente,” soon joined by the familiar coro. Clever use of texture and thoughtful pregon work from Crespo breath new life into this well-worn standard. Lozano creates a rhythmic solo over the montuno, pushed forward with some strong brass lines. A catchy coro frames the distinctive sound of Sanchez’s phrasing, as he builds a powerful solo. These songs maintain the musicians’ background in dance music; yet wrap them with jazz harmony, improvisation, and interesting arrangements.
A Solid Background in Jazz and Latin Music
Other pieces reference a more traditional side to the ensemble, referencing a background in both jazz and Latin music. An introductory saxophone riff hints at the melody to Charlie Parker’s “Ah Leu Cha,” which fits comfortably into a quick salsa rhythm. Trumpet player Bijon Watson smoothly navigates the song’s complex harmony with short rhythmic ideas until trombonist Andy Martin creates a different feel with long jazz lines. Rotondi establishes an active montuno through the changes for a tasteful and skillfully constructed solo from conguero Poncho Sanchez. The passionate scream of Almario’s solo sax opens the rumba on “Buscando al Curanero,” until the percussionist execute a unison lick to move into the main rhythm. Vocalist Alfredo Ortiz provides a combination of traditional melody and original lyrics over the sparse
texture of solo percussion. As the rumba builds momentum, Aguabella demonstrates his impressive quinto skills, spelling out years of history in a short solo. As the coro continues, Almario builds an exciting statement against the percussion with a fiery Aguabella interacting. A textural introduction opens an intensive version of Wayne Shorter’s “Yes or No.” As the familiar melody enters, the rhythmsection consistently moves between swing and Latin, providing a varied texture against the song’s open harmony. Trumpet player Gilbert Castellanos plays a virtuosic solo through the song, displaying a balance of technique and musical taste. Almario’s statement shines with personality, building into a colorful improvisation from drummer Marvin “Smitty” Smith. The group’s connection with their musical background roots the numerous voices in tradition.
The Jazz on the Latin Side All Stars deliver all the exhilarating possibilities of a high power gathering on Tambolero, setting a modern example for top notch musical collaboration. Rizo’s choice of musicians and compositions are both inspired. He combines musicians from several generations, all with a complimentary aesthetic, resulting in a group that sounds like it has performed together for years. As a composer, Rizo brings together an extensive knowledge of Latin music history and a tasteful musicianship. Francisco Torres’ arrangements serve as a binding element that centers the band’s focus on a musical goal. His rich harmonic approach, diverse rhythmic settings, and varied textures give the band the challenging material necessary to engage these musicians. The performers respond enthusiastically to Rizo and Torres’ dedication and strong concept; each track contains an inherent thrill and inspiration emanating from their work. They obviously enjoy the experience and take a great deal of pride in the album, which translates clearly throughout. Tambolero not only more than fulfills the possibilities created by gathering these musicians; it confirms their all-star status.
When shaping a distinct approach as a Latin Jazz artist, a musician can choose to let the Latin rhythms drive the sound, or they can focus upon composition and self-expression with the Latin rhythms as an integrated part of the music. The artist that focuses purely upon the rhythmic aspect of the music often leans towards dance styles and less complex harmonic writing. These musicians often rearrange standards, and complete their repertoire with commercial compositions. Musicians that simply use Latin rhythms as a foundation write original pieces that explore new harmonic territory and stretch standard forms. They create stimulating platforms for improvisation and give their musicians space to fully express their personalities. Both approaches hold important places in the Latin Jazz tradition, yet the compositional approach reaches towards new aspects of the genre. Drummer Alex Garcia looks into exciting new frontiers with his group Afromantra on Espiritu Optimista through strong compositions, inspired performances, and an undeniable enthusiasm.
Crucial Latin Elements Intertwined Into Composition
Garcia emphasizes Latin musical traditions on a variety of tracks, never letting his artistic voice get overwhelmed by the music’s rhythmic nature. Pianist Desmar Guevara and bassist Waldo Chavez establish an assertive rhythmic pattern to open “The Uplifting Spirit of Our Soul” until saxophonist Ole Mathisen screams his way into a joyous melody. The rhythm section provides an unobtrusive support behind Guevara’s keyboard solo and then strong pushes in Mathisen’s solo. Guevara and Chavez once again play a rhythmic vamp, this time setting the stage for a percussion showcase from Garcia and conguero Aryam Vazquez. Mathisen and saxophonist Jorge Castro provide an upbeat melody over a bomba rhythm on “My Word,” eventually making space for a short coro from vocalist Yordmis Megret. A solo from Garcia quickly segues into an intensive comparsa rhythm, which provides an open space for Mathisen and pianist Pablo Vergara to trade frantic statements. Guevara opens “Latin American Song” with a powerful timba montuno, soon moving into Mathisen playing an insightful melody over a rumba. Guevara stretches his solo into a personal statement, eventually leaving space for an intriguing solo from Chavez. The Latin elements of these songs become crucial pieces of the music, always intertwined into the harmonic and melodic composition.
Ingenious Compositions Standing As Pure Jazz
On many tracks, the fact that Garcia utilizes Latin rhythms becomes completely secondary to his statement as a jazz musician. Mathisen and Vergara provide a sensitive melodic performance on “Luna and the Sun,” until Garcia and Chavez insert a subdued rhythmic propulsion into the song. Garcia plays a rumba palito pattern with brushes behind Vergara and Mathisen’s solos, implying a clave-based pattern, but leaving ample room for interpretation. The melody on “Lighting The World” carries a pop tinge, emphasized by Garcia’s funky Cha-Cha-Cha. Chavez constructs an elegant and melodic improvisation through the changes until Vergara builds from a flowing line into a rhythmic statement. Mathisen’s solo grows into a frenzy which subsides upon the melody’s return. Mathisen and Castro play intertwining lines through the melody on “New Dawn,” a spacious Cha-Cha-Cha. Castro’s flowing solo leads directly into a double time rumba, which serves as a backdrop for pianist Manuel Valera’s rhythmically intricate solo. A bold statement from Chavez transitions into an improvised duet from Garcia and Mathisen, full of spontaneous spirit. These songs never loose their Latin roots, yet they stand alone as ingenious compositions, deeply anchored in the modern jazz tradition.
Strong Compositions Inspire Stellar Performances
The intricate composing and inspiring musical setting bring strong performances out of all the musicians. A stunning array of textures, angular melodies, and shifting time signatures form the foundation on “For Emiliano Salvador.” Valera pays tribute to the deceased Cuban pianist with a fluid and energetic solo until Mathisen moves the rhythm section into high gear with a heated solo. A series of rhythmic kicks open the door for Garcia’s extended and unaccompanied solo - a well constructed idea that builds into an improvised composition. Mathisen applies a variety of dynamic shadings to shape the melody on “Yemaya, Goddess of the Sea,” while the rhythm section colors the music with broad textures. Vergara utilizes complex syncopations and melodic development to build his solo. Mathisen weaves through an open feel, eventually guiding the rhythm section into a bomba rhythm and then an intensive freedom. Mathisen improvises feverishly to open “Green Horizons,” leading into an extended and syncopated melody. Valera brings a new sonic element into the song with his Fender Rhodes, providing ample support and contributing a strong solo. A repeated vamp creates a solid foundation for a virtuosic solo trade between Garcia and Aryam. A rhythmic interplay between Vergara and guitarist Jorge Fernando Rodriguez creates a bright eye-opening introduction to “Because of You.” Vergara threads a melodic statement over the chord changes, making way for Rodriguez’s wonderfully understated solo. Mathisen and Garcia abruptly throw a distinct change into the song with an inspired rhythmic interchange that moves far outside the boundaries of the song. Throughout the album, the musicians respond strongly to Garcia’s thoughtful compositions, taking the opportunity to present highly personal and professional performances.
Moving Into New Compositional Territory
Garcia emphasizes composition and personal expression on Espiritu Optimista, inspiring stellar performances from all Afromantra members. Latin music traditions serve as a foundation in all Garcia’s compositions, but they only exist as a starting point. He colors each song with harmonically rich structures, consistently evolving themes, and ever changing textures. The complete assimilation of rhythm, harmony, melody, and form move the music into an intersection between jazz composition, modern clarity, and Latin heritage. Afromantra’s members respond to this rich set of music, sensing the inherent freedom and explorative spirit essential to Garcia’s concept. Their completely exposed and passionate expressions reveal a dedication to Garcia’s concept and their skilled manipulation of the musical material create numerous exciting moments. They bring a living essence to Garcia’s compositions, allowing the music to transcend tired conventions. Garcia’s decision to explore new compositional territory and his band’s passionate commitment to this journey result in a strong unified voice leading Latin Jazz into tomorrow.
THE JOHN SANTOS QUiNTET
In a musician’s world, the end of one project signals the start of a new journey towards a unique musical destination. When John Santos and the Machete Ensemble bid the world farewell in 2006, it marked the end of an era in Bay Area Latin Jazz. After over twenty years of innovative experimentation with the large ensemble, Santos embarked in a new direction, forming a quintet. A new voyage simultaneously contains an inherent beauty in its untapped potential and an uneasy feeling in the vast horizon. The quintet’s first album, Papa Mambo, narrates the trip into the future, presenting a mature and unified approach.
StrongMusical Tools and Creative Approach
The Quintet demonstrates a creative spirit and high-level musicianship on several arrangements. Santos sings a song for the Orisha Shango on “Alabí Oró” while flautist John Calloway intertwines melodic lines. Bassist Saul Sierra solos against the batá rhythm, leading back into a vocal improvisation fueled by pianist Marco Diaz’s strong montuno. The band takes the popular dance piece “Guararé” back to its Changüi roots, creating a perfect feature for Vilató’s immense bongo skills. As the song builds momentum, Calloway and trumpet player Ray Vega trade lively improvised lines. The band provides a powerful drive to Vega’s “Second Wind,” supporting the subtle melody with a firm rhythm section. After strong statements by both Calloway and Vega, Diaz storms through a fiery improvisation, opening the way for a particularly inspired timbale solo from Vilató. The band brings a personal passion to each of these interpretations, displaying a wide musical knowledge.
Original Compositions Form A Unique Ensemble Voice
Several quintet members also contribute original compositions. Sierra’s descarga “Tercer Grado” contains a syncopated structure and lots of improvisatory space. The composer recalls Cuban bassist Cachao on his extended solo, while Santos brings a defined musical voice to his exciting conga feature. After a rubato introduction, Diaz pays tribute to a variety of influential Latin pianists with his “Raices al Cielo.” An elegant melody leads into up-tempo propulsion featuring intensive solos from Calloway and Vilató. Santos’ introspective “Duermete” makes a highly personal statement over a Puerto Rican yubá cuartiao rhythm. Vocalist Maria Márquez carries a sincere spirituality in her voice, complemented by a large chorus. Calloway outlines a dignified melody on Sierra’s “Mi Niña.” Violinist Anthony Blea adds an authentic touch to the elegant danzón until the band opens the mambo section for Diaz’s insightful solo. The group’s strong songwriting skills form the foundation for a unique ensemble voice, full of personality.
Broad Colors From Additional Musicians
Several tracks utilize additional musicians, bringing a further depth to the album’s overall sound. Santaria rhythms attributed to the Orisha Obatalá form the foundation for the group’s tribute to legendary Cuban musician Cachao on “Papa Mambo.” Vocalist Jerry Medina provides strong clarity to the song while Ray Vega’s muted trumpet explores the song’s harmonic territory. Sierra’s distinct bass groove opens the rumba “Para Que Niegas,” giving way to a delicate vocal from Orlando Torriente. After an extended trumpet statement from Vega, Torriente demonstrates his power as an improviser until Santos ends the song with a fiery conga solo. Drum kit player Paul Van Wageningen sets up a funky second line groove as the band moves through rhythm changes on “Laneology.” The group transitions into swing for Vega’s solo and a soulful scat solo by Medina. These musicians support the quintet, and allow them to apply their creative tools on a larger scale.
A New Journey and a Rich Future
Santos’ quintet maintains a high standard on Papa Mambo, exploring new possibilities while staying focused on a sharply defined musical vision. The group employs authentic Caribbean traditions as a foundation for the jazz writing and improvisations. The band’s songwriters respect the music’s history, while integrating their own creative voices. The core quintet approaches the combination of past and present with both reverence and daring, which evolves into a highly individual statement. The additional Bay Area musicians never deviate from the tone set by the quintet, but instead solidify their concept. While this album may represent the start of a new journey for Santos and his group, it promises a rich future with an exciting destination ahead.
AND HiS LATiN JAZZ ENSEMBLE
Music reflects an artist’s life, revealing both their current musical state and developmental path. Young musicians often create frenetic and overwhelming music, filled with fresh and creative approaches. They live in a constant state of development, exploring their chosen art form’s possibilities. Some musicians produce passionate and insightful music, expressing a search for understanding. Their art has evolves into an exploration of their own voice and spirituality. Other musicians write comfortably smooth music, wrapped into a slick product. These musicians take the quick road, aiming limited skills at profit rather than creativity. Pianist Hector Contreras displays a joyful exuberance on his debut release Hector Contreras & His Latin Jazz Ensemble revealing a strong musical foundation built upon a life of varied experiences.
Displaying Extensive Latin Music Experience Through Songwriting
Contreras’ songwriting exposes years of musical study and immersion in Latin music. “Pasadena Cha-Cha” contains a traditional feel that starts with Contreras’ minor montuno and moves into an expressive melody. Flautist Danilo Lozano provides a short solo that references classic Cuban flute approaches. A funk aesthetic underlies the clave on “Its All Good,” pushed forward by a rhythmic melody and drummer Raul Pineda’s backbeat. Bassist Rigoberto Lopez’s slap bass drives the song further into funk before Contreras revives a Latin Jazz feel with a Timba influenced montuno and a melodic solo. The band dips into Brazilian music with “Samba For You,” a piece geared for radio play. The song’s spacious melody and string synthesizer patches maintain the calm feel, broken only by an energetic solo by Frank Fontaine on Soprano Sax. The group delves into a more sensitive approach with the bolero “Tu Y Yo,” anchored by Arturo Solar’s insightful reading of the melody on Flugelhorn. Contreras breathes life into every note of his solo until the band builds into a Cha Cha Cha for Solar’s trumpet solo. Contreras uses familiar harmonies to imply a flamenco undertone on “Un Dia En España,” while maintaining a firmly Cuban rhythmic basis. This interesting combination allows for a variety of different songwriting approaches and a trumpet solo from Solar, full of unique flare. Contreras’ varied and creative songwriting approaches reflect a lifelong exploration of Latin styles, combined with his musical invention.
A Bandleader’s Contagious Musical Enthusiasm
The players respond to Contreras’ vision throughout the album, providing several attention grabbing performances. The joyous feel behind the melody of “Firehouse” moves forward into a strong improvisation from trumpet player Serafin Aguilar. Fontaine grabs hold of the Songo rhythm with his tenor sax solo, providing rhythmic syncopations and assertive melodic statements. The 6/8 feel on “La Perla Del Caribe” provides a solid vehicle for conguero Walter Valencia, who extensively explores the rhythm. Contreras display an affinity for modern Cuban timba through his dynamic piano work on “Fantasy Of Shell,” both funky and clave driven. Aguilar responds enthusiastically, building a series of rhythmic ideas into the high end of his register. Fontaine immediately seizes the energy as well, filling his biting tone with long lines full of quick notes. The band provides a series of rhythmic punches in “C.J. Max,” leaving room for Raul Pineda’s subtle timbale fills. After a melodic interlude, both Aguilar and Fontaine provide rhythmically rich improvisations. Contreras asserts a contagious musical enthusiasm, which translates to strong support from his sidemen.
A Reflection of A Wise Bandleader
Contreras brings the experience and musical dedication of a lifetime to his first release, building his experiences into a commanding presence. A Los Angeles influence runs through the production and arranging work, maintaining a solid sound and a funky edge. Contreras’ extensive experience with several Latin genres and obvious dedication to the style brings an authentic edge and a serious tone to the musicianship. His appreciation for life and the art of music creation contributes a positive energy throughout the CD and an enthusiastic performance, full of life. Contreras’ current musical state exhibits a wise and experienced persona; a musician clearly arriving as a bandleader after years of supporting others that creates with the exuberance of a young musician discovering performance for the first time.
RAiSE YOUR HAND
An album should reflect an artistic personality; the music becomes the sum of several influences in a creative mix. When Concord Records acquired the Rhythm n’ Blues label Stax, percussionist Poncho Sanchez gained access to a group of musicians and repertoire that influenced his musical development. The resultant album, Raise Your Hand, combines Sanchez’s Latin Jazz group with a variety of guest artists. The collaboration results in an album full of Latin Jazz, Salsa, and classic Rhythm n’ Blues tracks.
Top Notch Latin Jazz: Straight Ahead and Cooking
Sanchez and his band sound best on this album playing straight ahead Latin Jazz. The arrangements stay rooted in jazz harmony, but also remain exciting through creative rhythmic ideas. A diversity of rhythmic feels lets the band explore different musical ideas. Soloists get plenty of space to express themselves, with improvisation as the main focus. The rhythmic section plays strong, enticing listeners to dance. These are Sanchez trademarks that consistently produce interesting Latin Jazz albums.
The four Latin Jazz tracks are definitely the album highlights. The band rides “Tropi Blue” through an up-tempo romp on a set of blues changes. A lengthy trombone solo by Francisco Torres displays the Sanchez band’s finest qualities - the true jazz history apparent in the band. The mood changes completely with the laid back Cha Cha Cha “Rosarito”. Ron Blake’s sensitive trumpet work explores the chord changes with jazz phrasing and exceptional melodicism. Pianist David Torres contrasts Blake’s lyricism with his solo’s rhythmic exploration of the Cha Cha Cha’s chords. The funky Cha Cha Cha “Maceo’s House” provides the perfect stage for guest alto saxophonist Maceo Parker. Parker’s biting tone, bluesy phrasing, and funky rhythmic ideas build into an exciting solo over the band’s vamp. The band creates a contemplative quality to the 6/8 rhythm of “Gestation”. Here, Vergara’s jazz side shines brightly, as his sax soars through a beautiful set of chord changes. These songs strongly uphold the high Latin Jazz standard that Sanchez values.
Swinging Salsa: Danceable and Full of Jazz
Sanchez stamps his unique mark on the Salsa tunes, balancing jazz aesthetics with a dance sensibility. The songs move from singers improvising over standard Salsa structures into jazz chord changes with complimentary melodies. Soloists take large pieces of songs in which to make a statement, often getting more play time than the singers. The Sanchez rhythm section plays like a machine, moving forward with constant swing. In many ways, the line between the Salsa and Latin Jazz songs are blurred, creating a new mixture that screams fun, excitement, and Sanchez.
The band charges through these three songs with zest and flare. “El Agua De Belen” stands out as the album’s hit dance tune. Guest vocalist Andy Montañez knows his way around a pregon; his vocal is confident and spontaneous. Ron Blake offers an extended trumpet solo, full of melodic invention all while he playfully works around the clave. “Dónde Va Chichi?” features guest vocalist José “Perico” Hernández, another complimentary addition to the Sanchez band. Vergara moves his sax through a major vamp, and Sanchez delivers an energetic conga solo on a minor montuno. “Amor Con Amor”, the most straight-ahead salsa tune arrives near the end of the album. The chord changes are more simplistic here, but the band approaches the song with same drive and dedication. The composers provide the spice here – Sanchez with a strong vocal and Torres with an inspired trombone solo. These songs create a balance to the Latin Jazz, and the vocal emphasis diversifies the whole album.
Classic R n’ B: Fun But Out of Place
The three Rhythm ‘n Blues tracks on this album sound good on their own merit. The band performs them well, with an addictive and laid back feel. They are fun dance numbers with tight, professional arrangements. These tracks will undoubtedly earn a good deal of radio play. Added into the Sanchez live repertoire, they will get the party crowd out of their chairs and onto the dance floor. Pure Rhythm n’ Blues doesn’t get much better than this, and Sanchez should see some commercial success from this recording.
The three tracks break up the album in different ways. “Raise Your Hand” starts off the album with a funky groove. Guest spots from vocalist Eddie Floyd, organ player
Booker T. Jones, and guitarist Steve Cropper helps solidify that down-home feel. An old Motown classic, “Shotgun”, arises next, with vocals from Sanchez. Parker pops up here again, filling in with bluesy sax licks throughout the song. The album closer is another Stax classic, “Knock on Wood”. Floyd and Sanchez share the vocals on this one, moving through a fairly stock arrangement of this song.
The Sanchez band makes an outstanding R ‘n B band, but their Latin Jazz roots vanish here. Sanchez has always included a funky influence on his past albums, yet he always prioritized the Latin element. Older recordings seem more like Boogaloo takes on classic R n’ B songs, similar to the Mongo Santamaria approach. On this recording, Joey Heredia provides a drum kit track that pushes the congas and timbales into the background. The jazz element also completely disappears - solos are relegated to short burst of sound; they seems like more a novelty than a necessity. Despite the excellent performances on these tracks, they seem out of place on this album.
What The Future Holds . . .
Sanchez needs to be applauded for the outstanding work on Raise Your Hand, and taking the risk to explore his musical influences. His band carries the Latin Jazz tradition proudly, giving equal doses of improvisation, tight arrangements, and solid Latin rhythm section work. The Salsa performances reflect a distinct approach that has been refined over many years. Sanchez and his band have obviously contemplated the amount of jazz and dance music mixed into the Salsa. I’m curious to hear where the Rhythm n’ Blues influence will go on future efforts. These tracks seem to be a step back for Sanchez – I’d love to hear him embrace his past “Latinization” of R n’ B, and then push the musicality further. For now, Raise Your Hand provides a glimpse of Sanchez in all three pieces of his musical personality.