Archive for latin jazz

Keep Calm and Clave On – An Afro-Cuban Jazz Primer – Part 3

Posted in afro-cuban jazz, Jazz Arts Charlotte, Jazz in Charlotte, Under The Radar with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on April 24, 2019 by curtjazz

The clave (/ˈklɑːveɪ, kleɪv/; Spanish: [ˈklaβe]) – a rhythmic pattern used as a tool for temporal organization in Afro-Cuban music. It is present in a variety of genres such as Abakuá music, rumba, conga, son, mambo, salsa, songo, timba and Afro-Cuban jazz. The five-stroke clave pattern represents the structural core of many Afro-Cuban rhythms
(From Wikipedia)

Got it now? The clave, is the heartbeat of great Afro-Cuban music. You can fill your stage with world class musicians but without the clave, you’ve got nothing. You can bring in all the explanations you want but you’ve got to have the heartbeat.

I’m going to stop trying to describe it now because I am woefully unqualified to do so. Percussionist Dafnis Prieto, is very qualified and I’ll let him do so, briefly, in the clip below:

Also more than qualified; clave wise; are Orquesta K’Che; one of the best Latin Jazz bands in the Carolinas. They will be with us in JazzArts Charlotte’s THE JAZZ ROOM on April 24 & 25, as we pay tribute to The Music of Cuba. A sample of their remarkable artistry is below:

So come out and join us THE JAZZ ROOM this weekend. And before or after the show, check out the history of the music by checking out the last five of our Afro-Cuban Jazz pioneers:

  • Chano Pozo (1915 – 1948) Luciano Pozo González contributions to the development of Afro-Cuban Jazz during his short life are incalculable. A dark-skinned Cuban, who was a devotee of the Santería religion, he scuffled his entire life to survive. His talents as a drummer were discovered at a very early age. However, the bandleaders, who admired his work, would not hire him, because of his skin color. He immigrated to the U.S., in 1947, in search of a better life. Dizzy Gillespie wanted to add Cuban percussion to his big band. His friend, Mario Bauzá suggested his newly arrived friend, Pozo. The rest is history. Diz and Chano’s collaboration lasted only 14 months but during that time Chano’s innovative style on the congas, melded with the sound of Dizzy’s brash bop based big band, to create a sound like nothing jazz had ever heard before. This was the beginning “Cubop”. It was a thrill for audiences to see the muscular, shirtless, Chano; strutting around the stage, chanting in Yoruba as his rhythm drove the band. He and Gillespie collaborated on writing the standards, “Tin Tin Deo” and “Manteca”. They also created an unforgettable version of “Cubana Be; Cubana Bop”. Sadly, their amazing collaboration was cut short, as Chano Pozo was shot dead, in a Harlem bar argument at age 33.
  • Arsenio Rodríguez (1911 – 1970) – A musician, composer and bandleader, Rodríguez played the tres (Cuban guitar), as well as the conga. Born in Cuba and blinded at the age of seven, when kicked in the head by a mule, Rodríguez was considered a master of the son Cubano, son montuno and rumba. He also established the modern Cuban conjunto, adding piano, horns and congas to the traditional Cuban sextet or septet. This format became the standard for most Afro-Cuban music that was not being performed by a big band. Several of his former musicians, including pianist Rubén Gonzalez, saw a late career revival, due to the Buena Vista Social Club album and film, which drew heavily on Rodríguez’s style. Rodríguez was a prolific composer, who wrote over 200 songs. He was unable to musically transition, when interest in the mambo waned, by the mid-60’s. He died of pneumonia in Los Angeles, in 1970.
  • Mongo Santamaría (1917 – 2003) Influential Cuban conga player, bandleader and composer who pioneered the marriage between Afro-Cuban rhythms and R&B. He heard Herbie Hancock play “Watermelon Man”, while Herbie was working as a fill-in pianist in Mongo’s band. He got Herbie’s permission to record it, it became a smash pop hit and thereby helped spawn the boogaloo (bugalú) craze.  His most famous composition, “Afro Blue,” became a jazz standard in and was recorded by John Coltrane and Cal Tjader, among many others. Mongo is a legend in jazz, Afro-Cuban, R&B and pop music. Arguably, he is the musician with the widest influence in this grouping.
  • Carlos “Patato” Valdés (1926 – 2007) Once called “The greatest conguero alive”, by Tito Puente, Patato invented (and patented) the tuneable conga drum. Traditional nail-head conga drums used nails to secure the skin to the wooden drum, which could be ‘tuned’ somewhat by using a candle or Sterno under the head of the drum. A visonary, Patato had long been experimenting with securing the skin to the drum-head with a metal ring which could be adjusted with a square box wrench, allowing a conga player to tune his instrument as would a violinist or pianist. After emigrating to the U.S. from Cuba in 1954, Patato’s first album in the US was Kenny Dorham’s classic Afro-Cuban. During his illustrious career, he worked with virtually every legend of Afro-Cuban and jazz music, including Art Blakey, Tito Puente, Mongo Santamaría; Willie Bobo; Grant Green and many more.
  • Chucho Valdés (1941 –    ) Arguably the greatest Cuban pianist ever,  Jesús Valdés Rodríguez, is a true living legend. The son of Bebo Valdés, who was also a pianist (1918 – 2013) as well as the leader of the orchestra at Havana’s famed Tropicana club; Chucho has been instrumental in the spread of the influence of Afro-Cuban Jazz, into the 21st Century. Chucho first garnered attention outside of Cuba, when he formed Irakere, in 1973, with some of his bandmates from Orquesta Cubana de Música Moderna, a Cuban big band. Irakere blended Afro-Cuban, jazz and influences from modern rock, funk and pop, into their sound. Though some of the early members of Irakere, such as Paquito D’Rivera and Arturo Sandoval, defected to the U.S., Valdés remained in his homeland. However, as tensions between the U.S. and Cuba began to thaw in the 90’s, Chucho became a frequent presence in the U.S., for recordings and concerts. He has won six Grammy Awards and although he yielded the piano/director chair of Irakere to his son, Chuchito, he continues to work and garner acclaim, with his current band, the Afro-Cuban Messengers.

Hope to see you in THE JAZZ ROOM this weekend. For additional info, visit the JazzArts Charlotte website TheJazzArts.org

Hasta la próxima, el jazz continúa …

Don’t Call it “Salsa” – An Afro Cuban Jazz Primer – Part 2

Posted in afro-cuban jazz, Jazz Arts Charlotte, Jazz in Charlotte with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 16, 2019 by curtjazz

Cuba has produced a rich catalog of musical styles, especially since the beginning of the 20th Century. We will briefly describe some of these styles, shortly. However, one thing that you should not do, is refer to these styles as “Salsa”.

The reason was explained by Afro-Cuban jazz legend, Mario Bauzá, during a 1992 television interview. Said Bauzá: “After the [Cuban] Revolution…they started calling everything ‘Salsa’. That’s why I don’t like it. Because ‘Salsa’ don’t mean nothing. There’s no rhythm that you can say is a ‘Salsa’ rhythm…Any Cuban music, they called ‘Salsa'”.

Ever since I heard those strong words from Dr. Bauzá, I have tried very hard, to avoid using that term, except when speaking of what I like on my tortilla chips (though I have occasionally slipped). So before we get to five more great names in Afro-Cuban Jazz, let’s briefly describe some of the more well-known Cuban musical styles:

Cha-Cha-Cha – A style that developed out of the Danzon-Mambo, in the 1950’s. According to Enrique Jorrín, one of the acknowledged creators of the style, he noticed that most of the dancers had some trouble following the highly syncopated rhythms of one of his compositions. He then simplified the musical texture, using as little syncopation as possible. When the dance was coupled to the rhythm of the music, it became evident that the dancer’s feet were making a peculiar sound as they grazed the floor on three successive beats. “Cha-cha-cha”, described this sound.

Benny Moré,

Descarga – An improvised jam session consisting of variations on Cuban music themes, primarily son montuno, but also guajira, bolero, guaracha and rumba. The genre is strongly influenced by jazz and it was developed in Havana, during the 1950s.

Guaguancó – A subgenre of Cuban rumba, combining percussion, voices, and dance. There are two main styles: Havana and Matanzas.

Mambo – a genre of Cuban dance music pioneered in the late 1930s and later popularized in the big band style by Pérez Prado. It originated as a syncopated form of the danzón, known as danzón-mambo. By the late 1940s and early 1950s, mambo had become a “dance craze” in the United States. Mambo continued to enjoy some degree of popularity into the 1960s and new derivative styles appeared, such as dengue.

Rumba – a secular genre of Cuban music involving dance, percussion, and song. It originated in the northern regions of Cuba, mainly in urban Havana and Matanzas, during the late 19th century. It is based on African music and dance traditions. Traditionally performed by poor workers of African descent in streets and solares (courtyards), rumba remains one of Cuba’s most characteristic forms of music and dance. Vocal improvisation, elaborate dancing and poly-rhythmic drumming are the key components of all rumba styles.

Son Cubano – a genre of music and dance that originated in the highlands of eastern Cuba during the late 19th century. It is a genre that blends elements of Spanish and African origin. Among its fundamental Hispanic components are the vocal style, lyrical meter and the primacy of the “tres”, derived from the Spanish guitar. Its characteristic clave rhythm, call and response structure and percussion section are all rooted in traditions of Bantu origin.

Machito and his Afro-Cubans

We’re going to stop at six styles, with the full knowledge that we are leaving out others, such as Bolero, Charanga, Guaracha, Montuno, etc. To keep this post from becoming book length, we had to quit while we were ahead. Feel free to continue the research on your own. And whatever you do, don’t call it “Salsa”

Here are five more names, in our list of fifteen notable pioneers of Afro-Cuban music, along with a currently available, representative album, to use as an introduction to their music.

  • Graciela (1915 – 2010) – Graciela Pérez Gutiérrez, was a female vocalist, who like Celia Cruz, insistently made her way in that male dominated field.  Graciela was known for her big voice and risqué stage presence. She first came to prominence in the big band led by her adoptive brother Frank “Machito” Grillo. She emigrated to New York in 1943 to help Mario Bauzá front Machito’s band after Machito was drafted during WWII. Upon her brother’s return, Machito, Bauzá and Graciela were a force that dominated the Palladium, for the next twenty years, until the legendary ballroom shut down.
  • Irakere (1973 – present) – The legendary Cuban band, that was an incubator for living legends such as Paquito D’Rivera; Arturo Sandoval and Chucho Valdés. Irakere, was founded at the height of the cold-war tensions, in 1973, and out of it grew musical ideas that influenced jazz, Cuban pop, rock dance and Afro-Cuban music. Despite jazz being literally outlawed in Cuba, at the time when the group came into being, Valdés (the musical director), Sandoval and D’Rivera found creative ways to bring the jazz that influenced them, into their performances and get around their government censors. In doing so, they discovered some remarkable new ideas.
  • Machito (1908 – 1984) – “Machito” was the nickname given to Francisco Raúl Gutiérrez Grillo, a bandleader, who played a major role, along with Dizzy Gillespie and Mario Bauzá, in the development of Cubop and other Afro-Cuban jazz styles. Under Bauzá’s musical direction, and with his younger sister Graciela, on vocals, Machito’s big band, the Afro Cuban’s, became extremely influential. Jazz greats such as Gillespie, Charlie Parker and Stan Kenton, all listed Machito’s band as a musical inspiration.  George Shearing pointed to Machito as someone who helped him understand what “Latin music was about”. A teenaged Tito Puente made some of his first recordings, with Machito and a young Willie Bobo, acted as a roadie for Machito, just to be near the band, in the hopes of eventually getting to play; he did, which gave Bobo his start.
  • Benny Moré (1919 – 1963) – Bartolomé Maximiliano (Benny) Moré, possessed one of the most beautiful and expressive voices to ever grace Afro-Cuban music. Known as “El Bárbaro del Ritmo” (The Master of Rhythm), Moré was considered a master of numerous Cuban musical styles, including mambo, son, guaracha, son montuno, bolero and cha cha cha. From 1953, until his death, he led one of the most popular big bands in Cuba, “La Banda Gigante”. Although he could not read music, Moré would compose and arrange music by singing each part to his arrangers. He had become extremely popular, throughout Mexico, the Caribbean region and even in the U.S. (he sang at the 1957 Oscars), by the late 1950’s. Had he chosen to leave during the Cuban Revolution, his fame would have likely increased. However, Benny Moré chose to remain among what he called, “mi gente” (my people). An alcoholic, he died of cirrhosis of the liver in 1963.
  • Chico O’Farrill (1921 – 2001) – Arturo “Chico” O’Farrill was born in Havana to an Irish father and German mother. He rejected his family’s desire that he go into the family law practice. Instead, Chico gravitated to the jazz that he loved. His family was scandalized by Arturo’s desire to hang out with the local black musicians but Arturo would not be dissuaded. A Julliard educated trumpet player, he had done some arranging and composing for among others, Stan Kenton, Count Basie and Benny Goodman, who gave O’Farrill his nickname, because he had trouble pronouncing “Arturo”. An acolyte of Dizzy Gillespie, O’Farrill was there at the beginning of “Cubop”, along with Diz, Bauzá and Machito. His conservatory training caused O’Farrill to fully voice the Cuban rhythms, while also providing robust big band charts as well. His “Afro-Cuban Jazz Suite”, for Machito’s Orchestra, featuring Charlie Parker, stands as one of the great Afro-Cuban jazz works of all time.
Chico O’Farrill (Trumpet; Dark Suit)

In the third and final part of this primer, we will touch on five more great Cuban musicians with many more rare video clips.

In or near Charlotte and want to hear some great Afro-Cuban Jazz, live? Then join us in Jazz Arts Charlotte’s THE JAZZ ROOM, on Friday and Saturday, April 26 & 27; as we will be en fuego, with the authentic sounds of Cuba. For tickets and info, visit the Jazz Arts Charlotte Website www.thejazzarts.com.

Hasta la próxima, el jazz continúa …

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 Live365.com. 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 www.patoisrecords.com  ¡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 http://worldvillagemusic.tumblr.com 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.