Herbie Hancock: Jackrabbit

This track is taken from Inventions and Dimensions, one of Herbie’s earliest recordings as a leader for Blue Note in August, 1963. There’s an introductory four-bar pedal tone, established by Paul Chambers, then sixteen bars of time, with Chambers walking. At the end of the sixteen bars, Chambers picks another pedal tone, then there’s another sixteen bars of time. It’s a very interesting strategy for a tune, because there's neither a written melody nor chord changes. Paul Chambers can choose whatever note he wants to play for the pedal tone, which then dictates the harmony over the next sixteen bars. Herbie plays beautiful, swinging, darting lines throughout this completely improvised yet thoroughly coherent piece, with Willie Bobo on drums and Osvaldo “Chihuahua” Martinez on congas and bongos.

April 07, 2009 · 0 comments


Herbie Hancock: Succotash

One doesn’t normally think of Herbie in this context, but on Inventions and Dimensions, playing with a group you wouldn’t necessarily expect, he plays with Latin grooves as well as swing. It’s his new take on Latin music. From time to time, he nods towards the Latin piano tradition with montuno-like figures,etc., but then he brings in his own thing. It’s great to hear a musician try to explore different aspects of music that aren’t associated with what’s stereotypically supposed to be their thing, and yet, you can hear the authority and the creativity with which Herbie brings his own thing to that groove, as he did on Joe Henderson’s Double Rainbow record of Jobim songs, on which his soloing is also so joyous and swinging. At the time, many musicians were addressing polyrhythms and compound rhythms—in other words, the idea that you can go between different rhythmic feels and apply rhythmic feels that run counter to each other. A lot of Afro-Latin music, for example, contains a contrasting two-feel and three-feel, superimposes two or three rhythmic grooves on top of each other. This happens a lot on Inventions and Dimensions, and Herbie’s interest in this type of music has influenced many musicians.

March 20, 2009 · 0 comments


Daniel Sadownick: Softly, As In a Morning Sunrise

The appealing strong melody and rhythm of "Softly as in a Morning Sunrise" has attracted countless jazz artists since it was introduced in the 1928 Broadway musical New Moon. The lyrics are both hopeful and portentous, a dichotomy that is also conveyed in the music. Memorable instrumental versions have included those by Artie Shaw, Sonny Rollins, John Coltrane, and Art Pepper, and to that list must be added this fresh new interpretation by relatively unknown percussionist Daniel Sadownick on his debut CD.

Sadownick's spirited and creative arrangement is what makes this track work so well. Tenor and trumpet play the opening catchy vamp leading up to Michael Karn's swirling fill and an Afro-Cuban rhythmic dialogue between Sadownick, drummer Daniel Freedman and bassist Scott Colley. Pianist Rob Bargad enters with forceful spaced-out chords, followed by the horns' theme reading offered with a provocative rhythmic slant. Bargad's solo is a Latinized modal romp, shades of Eddie Palmieri at his best. Karn's tenor explodes out of the box with a relentless urgency, backed by the driving Sadownick and Freedman. Trumpeter Joe Magnarelli's mellow take slows the tempo but is no less insinuating. Sadownick shows his infectious skill on congas, framed by the vamping horns, and Magnarelli unearths the theme over yet another delightful vamp to complete the cycle.

Daniel Sadownick has definitely got his act together, a percussionist carrying on the tradition of Mongo Santamaria and Ray Barretto.

March 17, 2009 · 0 comments


Eddie Palmieri: In Flight

The violin is not commonly featured in Latin jazz groups led by Eddie Palmieri or others, being more typically found in charanga bands such as Cuba's inimitable Orquestra Aragón. However, after Regina Carter's sensational guest performances on two tracks of Palmieri's Listen Here! CD, the pianist would undoubtedly have welcomed the talented violinist into his group permanently if she were available and so inclined.

"In Flight" is a jaunty theme played by Carter's ingratiating violin over a swaying salsa pulse. Her sweeping solo is a bountiful feast of appealing lyricism, zesty rhythmic variations, and catchy riffs, with the horn section's punctuations only escalating the dancing mood. The team of Brian Lynch and Donald Harrison succeeds her with a seamless trumpet/alto exchange of concise assertive declarations, enhanced by Palmieri's goading montuno and the interaction between Hernández's drums and Hidalgo's congas. When Carter reenters, she somehow heats up this already boiling atmosphere, horn riffs again accentuating her unrestrained, technically polished lines. This is a superb Latin jazz track, expertly and spiritedly arranged by Palmieri and his trombonist Doug Beavers. But Regina Carter steals the show.

March 11, 2009 · 0 comments


Willie Bobo: Haitian Lady

Mambo fans will get off on Willie Bobo's "Haitian Lady," a Latin-flavored cha-cha featuring some riveting improvisation. While Melvin Lastie's cornet solo is hot and the percussion burns, the star of the show is guitarist Clarence Henry. His descending rhythms help the cut simmer, and his ascending, Olympian solos impress. In fact, the entire ensemble's dynamics are impressive, proving that full drum kits are sometimes unnecessary. Drummers Bobo and Victor Panoja make their instruments sound like a kit, though; while one player occasionally keeps time by playing a single cymbal panned heavily to the right, the other player's hand percussion fills the spaces the kit traditionally would occupy. The percussionists bounce riffs off one another and the ideas are intricately developed. Once you hear this track, you won't forget it; the minimal presentation gets under your skin after a single listen. Of course, its catchiness testifies to the strength of saxophonist Harold Ousley's original composition. Since Willie Bobo generally recorded covers of other artists' material on his albums, hearing his amorous take on "Haitian Lady" is a special delight.

February 16, 2009 · 0 comments


Eddie Palmieri: In Walked Bud

It has been rare to hear Eddie Palmieri on record interpreting jazz standards, as he does with Thelonious Monk's "In Walked Bud" (and three others) on Listen Here! One of his trombonists on this track, Conrad Herwig, has released his own fascinating CDs presenting the "Latin Side" of John Coltrane, Miles Davis, and Wayne Shorter, respectively. Perhaps Palmieri and/or Herwig can devote an entire project to Monk sometime soon, given the successful Latin transformation of "In Walked Bud," a tune based on "Blue Skies" changes, that Monk wrote for his close friend Bud Powell.

An original Latin-rhythm vamp paves the way for Monk's theme, Hernández and Hidalgo helping to give the composition a completely different flavor than usual. Trumpeter Brian Lynch solos first, delivering flowing runs with a crisp yet glowing sound. Donald Harrison's silky alto offers phrasings that take delightfully unexpected twists and turns, followed by Herwig's sure-footed, dancing trombone. All these concise and stimulating solos set the stage for Palmieri's more extended escapade. His infectious percussive attack and montuno ending are all Palmieri, with surprisingly little hint of Monk or Powell. The next bracing call-and-response interlude features exclamatory riffs exchanged by two groupings of horns. Hernández and Hidalgo then eagerly engage one another over Palmieri's persistent montuno. A final exultant refrain from the horns wraps up this totally reimagined Monk opus by Palmieri's brass-heavy working band.

February 03, 2009 · 0 comments


Greg Diamond: Naufrage

New York City jazz guitarist Greg Diamond lists his influences on MySpace. He cites Coltrane, Monk, Powell, Davis, et al. He also mentions such great Latin jazz stars as Santamaria, Pascoal and Machito. The CD's song titles also gave me the distinct impression that I was about to hear another heavy display of Latin jazz. It is a genre I can have a bit of difficulty with, to be honest with you. The overriding Latin influence that is necessarily the keystone to that music makes a lot of it sound the same to me. That's something I have to work on. But I think I can still tell good music from bad.

Well, after that worrisome preamble, I discovered that Dancando Com Ale contains straightforward progressive jazz in the mold of the iconic American influences Diamond mentioned on MySpace. There is certainly a Latin tradition percolating throughout, heard especially in Arturo Stable's percussion. But the soloing in "Naufrage" is all from the Northern jazz tradition. This makes for quite an interesting opposition. Diamond's playing is a mixture of Pat Metheny with a hint of Wes Montgomery if he had played through modern equipment. This makes sense as Metheny himself owes a lot to Montgomery. (He will gladly tell you so.) On "Naufrage," the melody strangely turns slightly mid-Eastern. Diamond uses a good amount of reverb to get his point across. This allows his arpeggios to hang in the air. His solo, presented over a Latin beat, is an impressive display of dexterity, scalar knowledge and taste. The liner notes make no distinction as to whether saxophonists Blake and Hogans appear alone or together on the cut. At any rate, there is some fine sax playing here as well. This is music conceived and played at a very high level that warrants and deserves further attention.

One of the best things you can say about music is that it surprised you. I am used to hearing a lot of good musicians. There are so many. So it was not unexpected that this music is good. But I was still surprised because I was thrown off by the song titles. I should've known better than to judge a CD by its playlist.

November 20, 2008 · 0 comments


Hilario Duran: Paq Man

The modern Latin Jazz Big Band is alive and well, as evidenced by this Hilario Duran effort featuring Paquito D'Rivera and Horacio "El Negro" Hernandez. While it's sometimes difficult to find the jazz amidst a Latin Big Band, Cuban/Canadian Hilario Duran declares with the very name of this new group that he is consciously combining Latin and jazz styles. D'Rivera delivers the "Paq Man" melody on clarinet amidst clever bop background figures that are bookended by mambo percussion breaks. Duran and D'Rivera then exchange solo choruses until Hernandez blazes over a concluding montuno to arrive at the track's rousing conclusion.

October 30, 2008 · 0 comments


Leonardo E.M. Cioglia: Desfiladeiro de Nuvens

To the growing list of fine young bass players with creative and compelling offerings to their credit, add the name Leonardo E.M. Cioglia. Born in Brazil, and a Berklee graduate, Cioglia has attracted sidemen worthy of the most veteran players, forging an extremely satisfying piece of music. Mallet master Stefon Harris conjures aural alchemy within the confines of this floating Cioglia composition. Guitarist Mike Moreno's wonderful turn casts his own hypnotic spell on steel-string acoustic guitar. John Ellis's horn has a John Surman quality to it here, and Antonio Sanchez fills any empty spaces with just the right percussive accent. Harris is the star, with the anticipatory voicings of his solo marimba runs haunting in their prescience. Cioglia must be applauded for assembling just the right performers to make his music magical.

September 30, 2008 · 0 comments


Leonardo E.M. Cioglia: Filhos do Pequi

With an infectious Latin beat, this Cioglia-composed cooker showcases a talented group of sympathetic musicians through its cascading, crescendo-building twists and turns. The syncopated rhythm section of Cioglia on bass and Metheny-veteran Sanchez on drums more than keeps the beat going in an interesting and dynamic way. Goldberg's inspired piano solo opens the proceedings, with Moreno's subtle rhythm guitar adding precisely the right tone while injecting Metheny-like fills. Ellis's driving saxophone solo further fuels the frenzy, all the while Sanchez's relentless trap, rim and roll work never lets up and never fails to impress. This fine ensemble not only cooks, its nuanced professionalism makes this spicy track well worth savoring.

September 30, 2008 · 0 comments


Arturo O'Farrill & Claudia Acuna: Moondance

This version of "Moondance" retains the spirit of the original song while employing decidedly un-Morrison arrangements. Beginning with a sprightly acoustic guitar waltz said to be inspired by the Venezuelan genre of Joropo, the listener can't be faulted for thinking that maybe the song has been mislabeled. This is "Moondance"? Well, Claudia Acuna's crystalline voice comes in, fitting the expected melody perfectly in its place. Arturo O'Farrill lifts the end of the chorus with some ascending piano figures that introduce the middle section, which seems to be Coltrane-inspired (the liner notes confirm this). Acuna's voice is then accented by its lone pairing with some simple percussion before the group heads again back into the chorus and conclusion. An exhilarating twist on the Morrison classic.

September 28, 2008 · 0 comments


Arturo O'Farrill & Claudia Acuna: In These Shoes

Latin jazz stars and friends in long standing Claudia Acuna and Arturo O'Farrill say they recorded this album just to have fun and nothing else. They say they weren't interested in pleasing "serious jazz cognoscenti" or wanting to "ingratiate themselves with jazz purists." Well, they have come to the right jazz critic in this case because I am neither of those things. I dug "In These Shoes." The song is fun even if I didn't understand vocalist Pedrito Martinez's Spanish lyrics. I still knew what he meant. The tune is basically a friendly suggestive tease between a man and a woman who is wearing some sexy shoes (a shoe/foot fetishist's dream). Acuna, who sings in English on the cut, has a wonderful jazz-inflected voice. Though it is true that most of the album probably would not pass the "jazz smell test," this tune has plenty of Latin jazz elements to qualify.

September 18, 2008 · 0 comments


Jerry Gonzalez: El Vito En El Congo

It all starts with a very impressive imitation of jungle sounds by the percussionists, then the big band progressively enters with the melody and rhythm of a lush 3/4 song that displays its beauty at a relaxed medium tempo. Jerry Gonzalez, who established himself in Spain, is the main soloist and has definitely found the musicians he needed to express his broad vision of music. Indeed he has assembled a magnificent orchestra of international quality only by calling on instrumentalists who mostly live within a few miles of his new Barcelona home. This is added evidence that the level of European musicians – and Spain is not a country with a huge jazz tradition, at that – has risen notably in the last few decades.

August 25, 2008 · 0 comments


Erroll Garner: That Old Black Magic

Mambo Moves Garner was Erroll Garner's first recording with a conga player. For this arrangement of the popular Harold Arlen tune, Garner trades his "four on the floor" left-hand accompaniment for variations on a 3-2 Cuban son clave, while bassist Ruther's lines suggest a tumbao pattern at times. While conguero Candido's role is clearly one of accompaniment, this piece is far from kitsch novelty. Rather, it reflects an effective fusion of styles, with Garner's indelible musical personality shining through in a new, refreshing context. As a result of this album's success, Garner revisited the piano trio + conga configuration throughout his career.

August 19, 2008 · 0 comments


Roy Hargrove's Crisol: Afrodisia

Invited by pianist Chucho Valdes, Roy Hargrove took his quintet to Havana, Cuba, for a jazz festival in 1996. For 11 days the trumpeter immersed himself in musical engagements with top Cuban musicians, and learned quickly and enthusiastically. Back in New York, Hargrove gradually transformed his big band into an Afro-Cuban powerhouse, and during the Umbria Winter Jazz Festival in Orvieto, Italy, he recorded Habana at the empty Teatro Mancinelli opera house. Crisol included musicians he had played with in Cuba – Valdes, Quintana and Diaz. This project, and the regrettably short life of this stirring ensemble, will always be considered a high point in Hargrove's career.

Kenny Dorham's vibrant "Afrodisia" is skillfully arranged by Don Sickler. The appealing theme is alternated with a provocative contrapuntal vamp. Then Hargrove solos with zesty flurries of notes and ascending exclamations, followed by the raw-edged sure flow of Sanchez. Bartz heats things up even more with his highly expressive, rhythmically intense improvisation. That killer vamp returns preceding the reprise, and the exciting out-chorus interweaves passages and riffs by the saxes with jabbing punctuations by the brass.

July 15, 2008 · 0 comments


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