Hiram Bullock is best known as the bare-footed lead guitarist in the old Late Nite With Letterman house band. A student under Pat Metheny at Miami, a member of David Sanborn's old band, and a well-traveled session player, Bullock has recorded eight solo albums since 1986. In the past, Bullock generated a fairly conventional sound by marrying loud improvised guitar with funk. But this album stands out because of its seamless blend of Latin, Afro-Cuban and Brazilian influences. Carrasco may be the best album yet by a Late Nite or Late Show alum.
Bullock admits he wasn't striving for an authentic south-of-the-border sound on Carrasco. In fact, he practically apologizes for the album's hybrid sound in the CD booklet. But every form of music is a hybrid of some sort, and Carrasco is a fun, infectious, and surprisingly intricate contemporary-jazz album. It combines a cool Steely Dan-like precision with a funky, carefree Latin vibe. I've been drawn to this CD time and again this month.
The album showcases many talented Latin jazzers from New York City. But the most surprising aspect of Carrasco is Bullock's vocal work. Whenever Bullock opened his mouth on past albums, I found myself wishing he'd stick to the guitar. But his voice is in fine form on this one, whether belting out soulful lead on the old Bobby Caldwell hit "What You Won't Do For Love," Brazilian wordless harmonies on the title track, or hamming it up on the cute ditty "Bean Burrito." Bullock, Katreese Barnes and various other vocalists mesh like a Jobim back-up chorus.
Carrasco features four originals and six covers. Bullock's "We're Gonna Get It Right" may be the best song he's ever written, and he delivers a Jon Hendricks-style vocal on "A Night In Tunisia." Carrasco also features some great instrumental work, most notably on "Montevideo" and "Amazonas," two Latin excursions driven by Bullock's stinging guitar.
There's not a weak track on this CD. In fact, Carrasco is one of the best pop-jazz albums I've heard in a good long while.