El Condado De La Salsa y Latin Jazz

The Latin Jazz Recordings in 2014

Por. Nelson Rodríguez

Septiembre del 2014


Latin Jazz is known throughout the world as music for the soul and the creative spirit of the individual voices who form some of the most outstanding bands in the world. The year 2014 will be remembered once again for a good mix of veteran CD releases and some great new artists in the genre. You may not be familiar with some names due to lack of exposure but believe me when I say these are the names to follow and purchase. The Latin Jazz world has plenty of talent young & old to carry us through the next few decades.

Three drummers have released some of the best Latin Jazz of the year starting out with one of today’s premier drummers/conductor/arranger/band leader and scholar Bobby Sanabria and the new Manhattan School of Music Afro Cuban Jazz Orchestra conducted by Bobby Sanabria. Bobby conducts this superb orchestra of students that give tribute, this tribute this time around, to the birthplace of Afro Cuban Jazz…Harlem. “Que Viva Harlem” is a true gem to the big band sounds heard in Harlem during the magical 40’s. The CD is a must for any Latin Jazz fan who wants to hear what the roots of Latin Jazz in New York sounded like. Remember that it was in New York where all this Latin & Jazz was fused together. The Jazz craze in Cuba during this period and for many decades was dedicated to straight up Jazz that did not incorporate use of Latin instruments.

The Manhattan School of Music is one of the first conservatories in the United States to acknowledge the importance of Jazz as an art form and offers programs of study for Jazz art majors.

The CD opens up with two Machito numbers and then goes into some rarely heard numbers like “Moon Over Cuba”, “Blood Count”, “Oclupaca”, “Let There Be Swing” and the awesome driving “Que Viva Harlem” that goes for 18:55 minutes.

From San Antonio, Texas comes Henry Brun & The Latin Playerz with “Soul Tren, Latino (Barrio Music from The Latin Playerz) that is Latin Jazz mixed into the Soul sounds of the 70’s and the TV show “Soul Train”, hosted by Don Cornelius. For many of us that was our earliest exposure to the hottest R&B stars of the 70’s. The Playerz spice things up with Chicano, Jazz, Funk, R&B, a tinge of Rock to the Latin beat for a beautiful blend that includes Billy Preston’s “Will It Go Round In Circles”; Malo’s “Suavecito”; Curtis Mayfield’s “Superfly”; Marvin Gaye’s “Sexual Healing”; the Stylistic’s “You Make Me Feel Brand New”; War’s “Low Rider/Cisco Kid” and Bobby Caldwell/Bill Wither’s “What You Won’t Do For Love/Just The Two Of Us”.

The third drummer is Alex García’s Afromantra and their new CD, “This Side of Mestizaje”, that this time around has Alex as composer of all the Jazz pieces include here. Afromantra is the quartet of Ole Mathisen on soprano sax, Ariel de la Portilla on electric bass, Mike Eckroth on fender rhodes and Alex on drums/arranger. Each tune is a suite that pays tribute to the many sounds of the Americas and in particular “Los Andes”. Also check out “Landscape of A Thought” and “Coltranesque”.

One of my favorite congueros from the past decade has been New York’s Steve Kroon whose 5th CD, “On The 1”, features his working ensemble that was on his last CD. Oscar Hernandez arranged and co-wrote with Steve the opening track, “On The One” and “I Know You Do”. The band has outstanding performances and especially the improvisations provided by pianist Igor Atalia, drummer Vince Cherico, vibist Bryan Carrot, flutist Craig Rivers and saxophonist Tim Ries. You’ll also enjoy the tracks “Roots”, “When There Is Love” and “Phantom of The Island”.

What can we say of the genius of flutist Mark Weinstein that has had a glorious long musical career dating back to the sixties? His new CD, “Latin Jazz Underground”, a debut for Zoho Music, a collaboration with one of Cuba’s rising stars pianist Aruan Ortiz. They are joined by bassist Rashaan Carter, drummer Gerald Cleaver and percussionist Roman Diaz (who also joined forces with Pedrito Martinez on another release in 2014). The track picks here are “Tete’s Blues” and “Gregorios’s Mood”.

While we are in the issue of young piano talents write down this name on your list…Alfredo Rodriguez. Considered more for his straight ahead Jazz (like many others including Gonzalo Rubalcaba, David Sanchez, Miguel Zenon, Manuel Valera, Robbie Ameen and others) Alfredo steps it up and delves into his Cuban roots for his latest “The Invasion Parade” with guests that include Esperanza Spaulding & Pedrito Martinez. Our picks here are “Cubismo”, “The Invasion Parade” and “El Guije”.

One of Latin America’s best known pianists is Panama’s Danilo Perez where on his new release, “Panama 500”, uses different groups of players to interpret his musical vision. Danilo never ceases to impress his fans worldwide with his distinct expression of music that continuously blows people away.

Pianist Lannie Battistini’s sophomore CD, “Nomenclatura”, blew me away with the swinging “Motivo”, “Jangueando”, “El Cumbanchero”, “Contemplando”, “Lady Wisdom”, “Afincando”, “Latino Blues” and his skills as a composer. This is a huge jump from his debut and one of the finest CD’s of 2014.

From the Northern West Coast area have the talents of pianist/trumpeter Marco Diaz, who many know from his time with the John Santos Sextet. I knew of Marco as a pianist but the young man is also a fluent trumpet player who is showcased in his debut, “Life Notes”, finally after 8 years of being with Jesus Diaz’ band Qba, and performing with Orestes Vilato, Edgardo Cambon, John Santos and Carlos Caro. Check out the tunes “Sentimiento Piano y Tambor”, “Pasos Brasieleros”, “Son Moderno”, and “Por Siempre El Timbal” with timbale solos by Orestes Vilato, Carlos Caro and Louie Romero (from the Willie Colon days in NY-70’s).

Also from the Bay Area comes eight time Grammy nominee Michael Spiro who leads here the band Ritmos Unidos that just debuted last year with “Funklorico”. The CD, “Ritmos Unidos”, is a tasteful mix of trombone, steel pans, marimba, and where Cuba’s sacred rituals meet the carnival grooves of Trinidad & Tobago. You will truly enjoy “Ritmos Unidos“, “Road Song”, “Pan Rising” and “Chaweleke”.

Thanks to avid KXLU listener Tom Erlich, I received a wonderful surprise CD from Italy by percussionist Paulo La Rosa titled “Fotos” with fantastic performances on “Descargua”, “Walking”, “Ibae Tonu”, “Meeting”, “Demagogia”, and the bolero “Kit”. La Rosa along with pianist Paolo Lurich, saxophonist Massimiliano Filosi, flutist Nicola Stilo, trumpeter Giancarlo Ciminelli, saxophonist Javier Girotto, fluglehornist Franco Piana and pianist Carlos Sarmiento all shine on this excellent CD that with more exposure can be one of the Top CD’s of the year.

Latin Jazz had a huge summer with the following releases starting with trumpeter/vibist Bob DeSena’s “After Midnight”. DeSena has been a key player in the West Coast Latin Jazz scene for some years now with a CD that showcases various ranges of music best highlighted on “Leyte/The World Is A Ghetto”, “Puro Y Café”, “After Midnight”, “Bailando Con Sabor” and “Welcome To My Room”.

Afro Bop Alliance is a Washington, D.C. based septet that with each passing CD gets better in the same way vintage wine ages. On “Angel Eyes” the band is joined by new member Victor Provost on steel pans and he composes various tunes on the CD. Drummer Joe McCarthy and the band gel well on this vibrant new project with “The Jinx”, “AngelEyes”, “Ziggy The Crooner”, “Barbara”, “Minor Details”, and “Homenaje” as the standout hits.

There is nothing better than concept recordings and guitarist Benjamin Lapidus (Sonido Isleño) & Kari-B3 in their salute to the Hammond B3 Organ and Ben’s love for the instrument. “Ochosi Blues” has some excellent performances in “Have You Met Miss Jones?”, “I’ll See You On Monday, Wendell”, “Guajira Organica” and the standards “Bilongo”, “Tú Mi Delirio”, “Como Fué” and “Stella By Starlight” with a B3 organ tinge.

One of my favorite trombone players of all time is Conrad Herwig who reminds me of my #1 choice Barry Rogers. I love the man’s strength on the horn and for several years now has been doing s series of CD’s , “The Latin Side…”, that started in 1996 with “The Latin Side of John Coltrane” now has given us “The Latin Side of Joe Henderson”. Joe Henderson was a key player with the Jazz Crusaders (one of my favorite Jazz bands) and had lots of Latin soul in his horn. Recorded live, at the Blue Note in New York on July 28-29, 2012 the CD features Joe Lovano (conjuring the spirit of Joe Henderson), and the fabulous line-up of Ronnie Cuber, Ruben Rodriguez, Bill O’Connell, Robby Ameen, Richie Flores and trumpeter Alex Sipiagin. His next CD, expected in 2015, will be ”The Latin Side of Horace Silver” with guest Michel Camilo.

What you have to love about Latin Jazz artists and their never ending search for new sounds, collaborations, experiments, and explorations of all sorts of instruments, rhythms, etc. One such artist is Jane Bunnett who has formed the all-female sextet Maqueque that blends Afro-Cuban with soul and Jazz with a good creative use of traditional folkloric musical elements. The ladies have a good chemistry as heard on “Tormenta”, “Guajira”, “New Angel” and “Mamey Colorado”.

Miguel Zenon has become one of today’s giants of the alto sax and also excelled as a composer as exemplified on his latest “Identities Are Changeable” which is an extended musical work for a large ensemble about national identity, as experienced by the Puerto Rican community in the New York City area. Today you have about 1.2 million Puerto Rican Americans living in the greater New York area as of 2012. Here on this creative CD you can hear some of the stories combined with music. Miguel’s previous recordings have all delved in the Puerto Rican culture and have earned him the rare MacArthur Fellowship in 2008.

Composer/pianist Sebastian Schunke, from Germany, is another in the line of true genius’ who is constantly reinventing himself and does so on his latest “Genesis: Mystery and Magic”.

One of the last CD’s to come in this summer was flutist Colette Michaan with her CD, “Incarnate (Encarna)”, that combines a mellow side with a fiery side which I always favor such as in the tracks “Identidad”, “Historia De Un Amor, “Rico Melao” and “Obatala”. This dynamite performer uses Latin Jazz to express her universal soul as she describes it, “as a response to the passions and pains of life”.

Other great recordings include Chucho Valdes & The Cuban Messengers, Luisito Quintero, Steve Khan, Elio Villafranca & The Jass Syncopators, Alex Diaz, Janine Santana, Bobby Ramirez and Bobby Matos.




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Herencia Latina



Edición septiembre-octubre 2014