Archive for latin jazz

Best Jazz Albums of 2017 (Second Half) – Instrumental Albums: Closer Look – Pt. 2

Posted in Best Jazz Albums of 2017, CD Reviews, curtjazz radio with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 9, 2018 by curtjazz

brenda navarreteOur last look at 2017, covers six more fine instrumental albums; from a living legend, who just keeps getting it done; a thrilling young Cuban percussionist/vocalist; a drummer who has been setting the world on fire; a venerable jazz label, restocking for the future, and an exciting young vibraphonist, who has come of age.


In alphabetical order:

Jersey – Mark Guiliana Jazz Quartet (Motema)

The master percussionist drops a fine album of modern jazz, in a totally acoustic setting. The first thing that caught my attention was the pacing; though it is far from languid, it never feels rushed. It is Guiliana’s album but he leads, while never overpowering his sidemen, as will sometimes happen on drummer albums. The revelation for me, is the fine tenor work of Jason Rigby, a powerful player, who to these ears, sounds like frequent Guiliana collaborator Donny McCaslin, filtered through Stan Getz. There are a couple of strong Morrisey penned tracks (“Mayor of Rotterdam” is my fave), another with a swinging, melodic hook, that I have been unable to get out of my head (“Big Rig Jones”) and a David Bowie tune (“Where are We Now”), in a beautiful and fitting tribute to the late legend, who employed Guiliana as the drummer on his last two albums. Call me a dinosaur, if you must but as much as I appreciate Mr. Guiliana’s electronic, beat based work, I love his group in this situation.

Marseille – Ahmad Jamal (Jazz Village)

I’m going to stop mentioning Ahmad Jamal’s age, when I speak of his artistry because it is irrelevant. It is not necessary to make any allowances, as he plays circles around some of the so called top cats, who are less than half his age. He has been inspiring jazz musicians for the past seven decades; his ideas and his energy are still fresh and when he hits the pocket, with his regular sidemen; James Cammack (bass), Herlin Riley (drums) and Manolo Badrena (percussion), you know where a lot of these young pianists who claim to be hip-hop influenced, really got their groove from. On this disc, he pays tribute to the French port city, with three different and equally compelling, versions of the title track: an instrumental; a spoken word, featuring French rapper Abd al Malik and a haunting French/English vocal version, by Mina Agossi. “Autumn Leaves” is given a bright Jamal treatment, which rides high on Badrena’s percussion and a quick quote from “Stolen Moments”. There’s also the funkiest version of “…Motherless Child” that I’ve ever heard. All I can say is, Mr. Jamal, keep on doing what you do, for as long as you want to do it!

Mi Mundo – Brenda Navarrete (ALMA)

I must admit that I made a small error with this album. When I first heard it, I was so impressed with Brenda Navarrete’s skill as a percussionist, that I categorized it as an instrumental album, even though every track includes Ms. Navarrete’s vocals. Now that I taken the time to listen to her singing, I realize that in addition to being one of the best young Afro-Cuban percussionists, that I have heard in many years, she is also an impressive vocalist. Mi Mundo is Ms. Navarrete’s debut album as a leader. It was released digitally, in September, though the CD version will not be out until January 2018. Regardless, I was floored from the first notes of “Baba Eleggua”, as in this young woman’s playing and vocalizing, I felt the spirits of Carlos “Patato” Valdes and Armando Peraza. Yes, she is that good. The album, which includes four of Brenda’s compositions, is deeply rooted in Afro-Cuban traditions, with a touch of modern influences, such as American R&B. Her version of “Caravan”, is a killer, as is her original, “Rumbero Como Yo”, with its multi-tracked vocal line. She demonstrates her jazz chops on “A Ochun”, with its flute driven mid-section and a call and response finish, over insistent jazz chords. There’s not a bad track here. My only minor quibble, is the album’s length (a scant 37 minutes). A very impressive instrumental and vocal debut. I pray that stupid politics, will not keep Brenda Navarrete, from being heard by a wider audience.

Our Point of View – Blue Note All-Stars (Blue Note)

Six of the best young musicians in jazz today, come together to form a supergroup, in celebration of the 75th Anniversary of arguably, the greatest record label in jazz history, Blue Note Records. Those expecting to hear these young cats rehash the old Blue Note catalog of “hits”, are going to be sorely disappointed. The two-disc set consists mostly of original compositions by these young lions. The music has energy, imperfections and thrills. And it also has a future. It is the sound of great musicians, who have respect for where they have come from but who are trying to create something new, relevant and deeply personal. They are, in the words of the group’s keyboardist/co-producer, Robert Glasper, “Making our own history now”. There are a couple of nods to the label’s storied past, in the appearance of two living legends, Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter, on a new (and different) version of Shorter’s “Masqualero”. There is also a thrilling, almost 18-minute-long, version of Shorter’s classic “Witch Hunt”, with the core sextet getting to find out where that great old vehicle, will take them. It takes them to a blazing tenor statement by Marcus Strickland and after a slow start, a terrific trumpet solo by Ambrose Akinmusire. As long as minds can remain open and younger cats like these, can keep finding vehicles for their creativity, the music and this label, will have a bright future.

Strykin’ Ahead – Dave Stryker (Strikezone)

The latest in a series of fine albums from this veteran guitarist, takes him out of the soul jazz bag that he has been in for a number of years and back into straight ahead territory. It’s his best album in at least a decade. Click HERE to read our full album review.


Walk of Fire – Behn Gillece (Posi-Tone)

This up and coming young vibraphonist reaches his potential with this excellent date, inspired, in part, by Joe Henderson’s Blue Note classic, Mode for Joe. Click HERE to read our full album review.


And that’s a wrap for 2017.A reminder of the instrumental albums, on our first half of the year list:

Tracks from all of these albums can be heard on CurtJazz Radio, our new 24/7 Jazz Radio station, on the new Click HERE to listen, it’s free.

Much new music to hear in 2018. Let’s enjoy it together!


Album Review: Americuba – Havana Maestros

Posted in CD Reviews with tags , , , , , , on October 8, 2017 by curtjazz

Havana MaestrosSometimes, an idea will sound crazy on paper but the execution will be terrific. Like this one – dig through the vaults of Warner/Atlantic Records. Grab some of the label’s biggest pop hits; from the last five decades and strip away everything but the vocals. Now, bring a group of legendary Cuban musicians into Havana’s Abdala Studios, open the bar and then, have them lay down some new instrumental tracks behind the vocals. The result is Americuba by the Havana Maestros. I confess that when I first read the concept in the press kit, I cringed. When I popped the CD into the player, I expected disaster and in a couple of instances, I got it. But most of the tracks are, at worst, quirky fun and at best, downright terrific.

The album kicks off with Chic’s “Good Times”. Recast as a guitar infused Cha-Cha, this disco warhorse sounded different. I didn’t know quite what to make of it. It wasn’t bad at all, it was just good enough to intrigue me into listening further. Ben E. King’s “Stand by Me”, fell into that same category – pleasantly different but not enough to surpass the original. Then came Missy Elliot’s “Get Ur Freak On” and the party was ON! Harold Lopez-Nussa lays down a killer piano line, Evaristo Dario drops in a nasty bari sax, the horns (trombone on top, of course) are blaring and we are suddenly in midst of a sweaty night at The Palladium. Before that groove lets us go, we get the incomparable Janelle Monae. “Tightrope” was always a great tune but this arrangement takes it to another level. In this setting, Ms. Monae sounds like the celebrated salsa princess, La India, during her 1990’s heyday. If you’re not up and moving on this track, check your pulse. “Say a Little Prayer” is also surprisingly good, with Dionne’s cool, bouncy vocal stylings wrapping around the Maestros simpatico backing like a soft leather glove.

In addition, there are a couple of strong tracks from the Havana Maestros, sans the American vocals; a few members of the group are part of the Buena Vista Social Club and “Ritmo Cubano” and “Ven” sound like a couple of lost tracks from that venerable group’s classic albums. On the delta side of the ledger, Fun.’s “We Are Young” and B.O.B & Hayley Williams’ “Airplanes”, completely miss the mark, but hey, that’s why they invented the “Skip Track” button.

Havana Maestros Americuba isn’t a classic but if you love Afro-Cuban music and you have an open mind, give it a shot – it’s a surprisingly enjoyable ride.

Rating: 3 1/2 out of 5 stars – Creative, refreshing Afro-Cuban fun

2014 Jazz Grammy® Preview #4 – Best Latin Jazz Album

Posted in 2014 Grammys with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 26, 2014 by curtjazz

The Latin Jazz category was thankfully added back to the Grammys last year. Unfortunately, it was promptly made a mockery of by the selection of the worst of the nominated albums for the award and by the arrogance of the winner in his long-winded acceptance speech. As in most of the other jazz categories this year, Latin Jazz features a very strong and culturally diverse set of nominees representing a broad spectrum of the Latin Jazz experience. This time, any of them would be a deserving victor.

The nominees are:

Buika: La Noche Más Larga (Warner Music Spain)

I confess to having never heard of Buika before her nomination. She has a new fan in me. The Miami based singer grew up in Spain. Her parents are from Equatorial Guinea. On La Noche Más Larga Buika sings mostly in her native Spanish but also in English on a stunning version of “Don’t Explain”. This album mines the connection between flamenco, Afro-Cuban music and jazz to remarkable effect and Buika’s captivating voice is just the instrument to being it to us. Now will she win a Grammy? Most likely not, as most U.S. listeners are in the same boat as I was before December. But do your homework people and listen to this amazing vocalist!

Paquito D’Rivera & Trio Corrente: Song for Maura (Sunnyside/Paquito Records)

This is the second nomination this year for Paquito D’Rivera. The title track from this album was also nominated for Best Improvised Jazz Solo. Though he is naturally associated with the music of his native Cuba, Mr. D’Rivera has often dabbled in Brazilian rhythms.  He dives in headfirst on this album with the Brazilian Trio Corrente. He avoids the familiar Brazilian compositions and leaves most of the arranging to his counterparts in the group. His alto sax and clarinet wrap around the music like a glove. It’s a very good and extremely listenable album. D’Rivera’s  is the most recognizable name on this list which makes him a prohibitive favorite to win this award.

Roberto Fonseca: Yo (Concord Jazz)

This  Cuban pianist knocked my socks off with his command of the keyboard that can turn from percussively powerful to lyrically soft at the drop of a hat. It’s Jazz cum Afro-Cuban cum R&B and it just flows from beginning to end. Again, his lack of name recognition in the U.S. will work against him today, as he is a long-shot to win this award.

Omar Sosa: Eggun (Otá Records)

This album was born when Omar Sosa received a commission from the Barcelona Jazz Festival to compose and produce a tribute to Miles Davis’ Kind Of Blue.  However, instead of just wrapping a Latin beat around the famous Davis tunes as so many have done before, Mr. Sosa takes the essence of the compositions or even one of the saxophone solos from the original and forms brand new works from them, using Cuban and West African rhythms as a bed. It’s a thrilling album, especially if you’re a lover of the source material. In a just world, Eggun would be the Grammy winner. However Mr. Sosa is probably going home empty-handed.

Wayne Wallace Latin Jazz Quintet: Latin Jazz – Jazz Latin (Patois Records)

It’s about time that Grammy got around to recognizing trombonist Wayne Wallace who is one of the best Latin Jazz/Afro-Cuban musicians on the West Coast and maybe in the whole country. Mr. Wallace and his cohorts stick to the classic Mambo/Merengue/Plena style of the genre made famous by Puente, Machito, Bauzá and others. He also throws in a few surprises (such as a flute/violin/trombone “horn section”) to keep things lively. I still think that D’Rivera will win this award but if anyone in this category will pull an upset, it will be Wayne Wallace.

So here is my bottom line unscientific prediction:

  • Should Win: Omar Sosa
  • Will Win: Paquito D’Rivera & Trio Corrente

One more preview to go before the awards show!

Album Review: Wayne Wallace – Latin Jazz/Jazz Latin

Posted in CD Reviews with tags , , on August 12, 2013 by curtjazz

The following review first appeared in the August 2013 issue of Eric Nemeyer’s Jazz Inside Magazine

Wayne Wallace Latin Jazz Quintet

Wayne Wallace

LATIN JAZZ – JAZZ LATIN – Patois Records PRCD014  ¡A Ti Te Gusta!; Things Ain’t What They Used to Be; ¡Estamos Aqui!; Giant Steps; La Habana; I Mean You; Prelude to a Kiss; Melambo; Puertas y Caminos; Pasando El Tiempo

PERSONNEL: Wayne Wallace, trombone; Murray Low, piano; David Belove, bass; Colin Douglas, trap drums; Michael Spiro, percussion; John Worley, trumpet; Masura Koga, tenor saxophone; Mary Fettig, flute; Elena Pinderhughes, flute; Jeremy Cohen, violin; Tregar Otton, violin; Mads Tolling, violin; Pete Escovedo, timbales; John Santos, vocals; Orlando Torriente, vocals; Jesus Díaz, vocals; Mike Mixtacki, vocals

By Curtis Davenport

“Latin Jazz” is a term that has become extremely overused. You’ll find it slapped on virtually every style of instrumental music that employs even a hint of Latin Rhythms, which makes for a great deal of marketplace confusion. It’s no wonder that Mario Bauzá, the celebrated Cuban composer and bandleader would bristle when the term was applied to his art, insisting that it be called “Afro-Cuban Music” instead.

In my opinion, there are a scant few musicians working today who are able to fuse great jazz improvisation with great Afro-Cuban/Latin Rhythms the way that Bauzá, Machito, Puente, Tjader and Dizzy did. Those who can do it successfully are the ones who have earned the right to have their music called “Latin Jazz” or “Afro-Cuban Music”.  San Francisco based trombonist Wayne Wallace had the cojones to call his latest album Latin Jazz – Jazz Latin. That’s okay, because Wallace has the musical talent to back it up.

Though he is relatively unknown in the East, Wallace is one of the most important names in Latin Jazz in the Bay Area. He has released a string of Latin Jazz discs over the last few years that have been consistently first-rate, including To Hear From There, ¡Bien Bien!, and Infinity. What sets his work apart from many of his contemporaries is that there is always something new and fresh in Wallace’s arrangements, making each disc a kind of concept album.

On Latin Jazz-Jazz Latin, Wallace makes liberal use of a trio of violinists, not just as background “sweeteners” but as frontline part of the arrangement usually doubling a pair of flutes. The resulting sound caught my ear immediately on the album opener “¡A Ti Te Gusta!” a terrific descarga that leaves plenty of solo room for violinist Mads Tolling, flutist Elena Pinderhughes and Mr. Wallace. When was the last time you heard a “horn section” of flute, violin and trombone? They manage to pull it off quite effectively, as pianist Murray Low keeps the clave rolling under them. “¡Estamos Aqui!” a songo that features counterpoint between the string trio and a trombone choir is another winner; it will stimulate your feet as well as your mind, especially when vocalists Mike Mixtacki and Jesus Diaz join in. Speaking of the trombone choir, they really get a chance to shine on “La Habana” a cool mid-tempo cha-cha/danzon that also features a guest spot from Pete Escovedo on timbales. There are shades of the great Barry Rogers all over this piece and Murray Low once again has a brief but memorable solo. Mr. Low is new to me but I have to point out that he is marvelous throughout this disc.

The four cover tunes are all effective, which is a feat in itself. Often when Latin artists cover a jazz tune, the results end up a bit messy as the rhythm clashes with any attempt to maintain the integrity of the original music. I never felt that strain in this session; a tribute to the creative arranging.  Best of these is “I Mean You”, the Monk tune which is turned into a very effective bomba, with Wallace showing off his trombone prowess to great effect. “Giant Steps”, which I’ve heard some well-known Latin groups fall flat on, thrives in a mix of merengue and Afro-Cuban beats in 12/8 time. There are nice solo spots by Wallace and trumpeter John Worley but who really steals the show here is Masaru Koga, who sets an already hot performance on fire with his gritty tenor sax solo. I’d never heard Mr. Koga before this performance. I’ve got some homework to do.

Latin Jazz-Jazz Latin is another strong album from Wayne Wallace. I think that Mario Bauzá would be pleased.

Album Review: Chucho Valdes – Border Free

Posted in CD Reviews with tags , , on July 9, 2013 by curtjazz

The following review first appeared in the July 2013 issue of Eric Nemeyer’s Jazz Inside Magazine

Chucho Valdés and the Afro-Cuban Messengers

chucho valdes

BORDER-FREE – Jazz Village Records JV570016 Congadanza; Caridad Amaro; Tabú; Bebo; Afro-Comanche; Pilar; Santa Cruz; Abdel

PERSONNEL: Chucho Valdés, piano; Reinaldo Melián Alvarez, trumpet; Dreiser Durruthy Bombalé, batás, lead vocals; Rodney Barreto Illarza, drums, vocals; Ángel Gastón Joya Perellada, double bass, vocals; Yaroldy Abreu Robles, percussion, vocals; Branford Marsalis, tenor sax, soprano sax

By Curtis Davenport

One of my biggest musical regrets is that I missed being able to experience the music of many great Cuban artists during some of their prime years, due solely to politics. One of those artists is Chucho Valdés. However, even though we’ll never get to really hear what Irakere was like in their prime, we can be thankful that Chucho is still very active at 71 and creating great music. His latest album, Border-Free (with a group that he calls The Afro-Cuban Messengers, in a nod to the jazz finishing school that was Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers), is a deeply personal statement, filled with tributes to his family members and others who have influenced his musical direction. But you never forget that this is a Chucho Valdés album, so these tributes are carried out in the midst of killer Afro-Cuban rhythms and piano statements of astonishing brilliance.

Like Blakey’s Messengers, Valdés’ Messengers are comprised of impressive young musicians who are making a name for themselves, in this case in the Afro-Cuban jazz idiom. This is another reason that I hope that the climate between the U.S. and Cuba continues to thaw, so that we can hear more from these five brilliant Cuban youngsters. In addition, Valdés adds a “ringer”, as Branford Marsalis guest stars on three tracks.

The album’s title is a reference to the fact that Mr. Valdés made a conscious effort to make this more than just an Afro-Cuban album. The idea was to find rhythms that could be fused with those of Cuba to create something fresh and intriguing. One of the best examples of this effort led to the most impressive track on the album, “Afro-Comanche”. In the 19th century, a group of about 700 Comanche were taken prisoner during fighting with the Spanish Army, in what we now know as Texas. These Comanche were relocated to Mexico, then Spain and eventually Cuba. Many died from the conditions and the unfamiliar climate. Many of those who survived mixed with the Afro-Cubans and started families. Their children were known as “Afro-Comanches”. On this cut, Valdes begins with an opening on piano that employs traditional Native American musical elements. He then continues to state the theme, while Afro-Cuban rhythms are added. After a strong solo by bassist Ángel Gastón Joya Perellada, Valdés returns in 4/4 with a hard bop statement, raising the tension to the breaking point before he drops out, giving way a purely African drum solo by Dreiser Durruthy Bombalé on the batás, which leads to a call and response chant, wrapping up as Valdés blends in again to restate the theme. “Afro-Comanche” is twelve of the most exciting musical minutes that I’ve heard this year. I have to admit that I could not (and still cannot) stop listening to it.

“Tabú” is another standout. A tribute to Margarita Lecuona, the composer of “Babalú Ayé” and other Cuban classics, this mid-tempo track is notable for Marsalis’ cool tenor work and the impressive trumpet solo of Reinaldo Melián Alvarez. “Bebo”, in honor of Chucho’s late great father, who was also an outstanding pianist, has an insistent melody line that stuck in my head immediately. It also featured more excellent trumpet from Alvarez and tenor by Branford. What’s most impressive though is Valdés’ solo. On the spot, he decided to play a tumbao in his father’s style with his left hand, while soloing with his right hand in his own style, resulting in something that sounded a bit like Chucho and Bebo playing together. It was nicely done and very moving. “Pilar” was written by Valdés for his mother, who loved Bach’s preludes and fugues and Miles’ “Blue in Green”, so Chucho gives us a bit of both in this introspective piece, which kicks off with a striking bit of bowed bass work by Perellada and follows with Valdés reaching deep into his Bill Evans bag.

Border-Free is another triumph for Chucho Valdés, from concept to execution and all points in-between. Though it sounds clichéd, I can’t think of a better way to say it; Chucho just keeps getting better with age.

2013 Jazz Grammy® Preview #5 – Best Latin Jazz Album

Posted in 2013 Grammys with tags , , , , , , , on February 3, 2013 by curtjazz

Out of all of the Jazz Grammy Categories, it gives me the most satisfaction to write about this one. Not because of the albums nominated, which are frankly, an uneven bunch, but because the Grammy nominating committee has righted a wrong that they committed last year when they dropped this category altogether.  Thanks to the efforts of Bobby Sanabria and a host of other Latin Jazz musicians, scholars and aficionados, this award has been restored to its rightful place. The fight should not end here as there are a number of other categories that NARAS needs to reinstate, however this is a step in the right direction

The nominated albums are:

Flamenco Sketches – Chano Dominguez (Blue Note)

There are many who loved this project, which is essentially a reimagining of Miles Davis’ legendary Kind of Blue album, using Flamenco and other Latin rhythms; I am not one of them.  While I don’t think that it was necessarily a horrible idea, for me there is something missing in the execution. Mr. Dominguez is a gifted pianist and he and his bandmates give it their all, but except for a couple of spots (the stunning title track and “Blue in Green”), the project doesn’t mesh as well as one would hope. Apparently however, the Grammy nominating committee does not share my view and this album has been nominated.

¡Ritmo! – The Clare Fischer Latin Jazz Big Band (Clavo)

Clare Fischer passed away in early 2012. He was widely respected as a practitioner of Latin and Brazilian music and many musicians who have gained fame in Latin music, such as Poncho Sanchez and Alex Acuña have passed through his groups. With all due respect, while Mr. Fischer penned some timeless Latin tunes (“Morning” and “Pensativa”, to name two) and wrote many marvelous arrangements for artists ranging from Dizzy Gillespie to Prince, IMO his Latin Jazz recordings often lacked clave, the rhythmic intangible that is a key to great Latin music. On this album, there are as usual, some good tunes and solid arrangements by Clare Fischer; conducted by his son, Brent. But there is an overall politeness to these proceedings which prevents the album from being anymore than just “good”.  And I’m sorry but  a number of the statements made by Brent Fischer in the accompanying video (including the jaw-dropping assertion that ¡Ritmo! “is the first all Latin Jazz CD in a big band setting”) are at best, ignorant.

Multiverse – Bobby Sanabria (Jazzheads)

How sweet it must be for Bobby Sanabria. He not only spearheaded the successful  drive to have the Best Latin Jazz Album category restored to the Grammys, but his latest album Multiverse, is also nominated for the award. Multiverse doesn’t stray far from the formula that has made Mr. Sanabria a successful Latin Jazz bandleader for the better part of two decades – hard driving horns, relentless rhythm and a big dose of Nuyorican swagger. It’s danceable, listenable and great fun. Based on all that he has invested in getting this category back on the list, I’m personally rooting for Sanabria to win on Grammy night. But he does have some formidable competition from the two remaining nominees.

Duos III – Luciana Souza (Sunnyside)

Duos III is the marvelous Brazilian vocalist’s second nomination for a 2013 Jazz Grammy, the other coming in the Best Jazz Vocal Album category for Book of Chet, which was released simultaneously with this disc. Duos III is the final album in Ms. Souza’s Brazilian Duos trilogy. Accompanied only by one of a trio of master guitarists, Romero Lubambo, Marco Pereira and Toninho Horta, Ms. Souza is as captivating as ever, as she effortlessly interprets some well-known and not so well-known Brazilian tunes. Frankly, I could listen to this record all night and not tire of it.  I know that she says that this is the last one but with music this good, I’m hoping that someone will convince Ms. Souza to record a fourth “duos” volume in the near future. It’s another strong contender to win the Grammy.

New Cuban Express – Manuel Valera New Cuban Express (Mavo)

New Cuban Express may be the breakout album for the young Cuban born pianist.  It’s not a Latin Jazz album in the traditional sense, but it’s an amalgam of Latin jazz, funk and 70’s fusion. If you’re thinking of something along the line of Irakere during its heyday, then you’re on the right track.  Valera does great work from start to finish but his fellow Cuban, the formidable alto saxophonist Yosvanny Terry gives the leader a run for his money, with his skittishly powerful lines threatening to steal the show. I’d have to say Mr. Sanabria and Ms. Souza are the favorites but it wouldn’t be a crime if Mr. Valera was the Grammy winner.

Tracks from these and other Grammy nominated jazz albums can be heard on Curt’s Café Noir, our 24/7 web radio station,through February 10. We feature these tracks daily, from 4 pm – 6 pm on “The Grammy Show”. Click here to listen.

The final Grammy post will feature “Jazz in Exile”; albums by jazz artists that were nominated for Grammys this year, in categories outside of jazz.

Until then, The Jazz Continues…

Atlanta Jazz Fest 2012 – Day 2 Recap

Posted in Atlanta Jazz Festival 2012, JazzLives! with tags , , , , , , , , on June 5, 2012 by curtjazz

DAY 2 – Sunday, 5/27

The Sunday of the 2012 Atlanta Jazz Fest had  a decidedly international flavor with artists from different parts of the world showing us a mixture of jazz and their homeland musical styles. It was another great day of music, but for me, it was almost eclipsed by what I heard when I ventured away from the Mainstage for the first time.

The day got off to a frustrating start, as the APD, which otherwise did an outstanding job of traffic control throughout the weekend, closed off access to the street that I had used to access parking every day since I first came to the AJF last year.  This was doubly frustrating because this rerouting caused us to miss the performance of Hatian Jazzman Mushy Widmaier

Determined not to let this blip ruin the day, we settled in and prepared for the performance of Gregoire Maret, the Swiss harmonica master who has been making quite a name for himself of late.  Mr. Maret is an excellent musician and he delivered a solid set; though at times some of the “quiet storm” style grooves that he laid down seemed more suited to late night at an intimate club, rather than a sweltering sunny Sunday afternoon in the park. When he tackled uptempo tunes, he did so with a stunning virtuosity that excited the growing crowd on the lawn.

Gregoire Maret performs at the 2012 Atlanta Jazz Festival

I have to confess that I saw the beginning and the end of Mr. Maret’s performance. In the middle, I took a harrowing ride on a golf cart to the other side of Piedmont Park; where I paid my first visit to the festival’s smaller venue, the International Stage.  This stage drew a more intimate crowd, that was all about the music.  The distractions of the large tents and people “stylin’ and profilin'” as they make their way around, interested more in calling attention to themselves than in hearing jazz; are vitrually non-existent at the International Stage.  What you do get, are world-class musicians, just with less recognizable names.

When I arrived, I was treated to the Son Jazzy Orchestra a Latin Jazz group, based in the Atlanta area.  They commanded the stage with a fire that gave me goosebumps. I immediately whipped out my Flip camera and recorded the clip of their performance of “Night in Tunisia” that you see below. Please excuse my shoddy camerawork, as I was in motion during most of the performance.  I also was interrupted in the middle by an attempt to arrange a ride back to the other side of the park, thus the inopportune break about 6 minutes into the film. I did return to catch the remainder of the performance.  Other than the group’s leader, Nelson Ramos, I don’t know the names of the rest of the group and their web page didn’t provide much more info. As I do find out though, I will update this post.

If I hadn’t left my family on the other side of the park, I would have likely remained at the second stage for a few hours longer, but sadly, I had to leave the International Stage and the Son Jazzy Orchestra after that one tune. But there were two more great artists awaiting when I returned to the Mainstage.

Lionel Loueke at the 2012 Atlanta Jazz Festival

West African guitarist Lionel Loueke and his trio were next on the Mainstage. Many in the audience knew Mr. Loueke from his work with Terence Blanchard and Herbie Hancock,  in additional to his two critically acclaimed albums for Blue Note. He captivated the crowd right off the bat with a beautiful sonic mélange that turned into “Skylark”.  Mr. Loueke’s set consisted mostly of tunes that started with a beautiful theme, highlighted by his vocalizing. Then as soon as the audience was lured into a place of serenity, Mr. Loueke reminded us to not get too comfortable, as the music would veer off into jazz-rock themes that were often dissonant.  From the looks on the faces of many in the crowd, many of the roads that the Loueke trio took were a bit confusing; but he would always return us home safely.

Tito Puente Jr. shows off his tattoo of his legendary father, prior to his set at the 2012 Atlanta Jazz Festival

The evening closed with a set from Tito Puente, Jr., who has now decidedly stepped  into his late father’s shoes as “The Mambo King”. He is also every bit the gregarious and gracious showman that his dad was; arriving early to spend a bit of time with us press types and staying late to patiently sign autographs and listen to reminiscences from those in the audience affected by his father’s music.

Tito Puente Jr. during his performance of “Manteca” at the 2012 Atlanta Jazz Festival

Puente, Jr’s band was hot and road tested, as they cranked out the classics from the Latin Jazz canon, “Tanga”, “Manteca”, “Ran Kan Kan” and many others. Tito, Jr. also told many heartwarming and humourous stories about himself, his dad and the music that made them famous.  He also slipped in a few numbers from his own song book, such as the fiery “Junior’s Mambo”, which Tito, Jr. composed for his three-year old son, whom he referred to as “Tito Junior, Junior”.  Though there was no official dance floor impromptu ones sprang up all over the packed lawn, as people grooved in whatever way they knew how, to the infectious rhythms.

If you ever saw Tito Puente, Sr. perform, this facial expression is very familiar

Just when you thought they were finished, Tito told a story about a song that his father composed in the late ’60’s that was then made famous by a 19-year-old guitarist named Carlos Santana.  The pianist then hit that familiar syncopated block of chords and a near-riot broke out… With a big grin, Junior then held out the mike to the crowd, saying “I know y’all know it…sing it!” And thousands who had never spoken a word of Spanish in their lives, were now singing “Oye Como Va” at the top of their lungs.

It was a great end to a great second day. The best news was that there was still more to come on Monday on both stages.