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Lalo Schifrin's Latin Jazz Suite is a masterful celebration of the diverse and colorful sounds and feelings that Latin forms add to the jazz vocabulary. It is also a reflection of the composer's successful contributions to the Latin musical language over the last four decades.
This enthralling, consistently engaging six-piece suite - recorded live over two nights of its June 1999 premiere in Cologne, Germany most recalls Schifrin's historic Gillespiana suite. But Latin Jazz Suite is a milestone of arguably greater proportion. As a composer, Schifrin here reveals a greater, more refined depth of maturity, a worldly mastery of musical forms and a perfected sensibility for the drama and adventure of long-form structures.
The suite scales Cuban ("Montuno"), Caribbean ("Martinique") and Argentinean ("Pampas") structures to those informed by Brazilian ("Manaos"), African (the superb "Ritual") and flamenco ("Fiesta") styles. Percussion flavors subtly throughout, but never dominates or overwhelms. Schifrin's no tourist. He uses his compositional prowess to suggest the different landscapes he traverses.
He also divides the star roles most intriguingly. The orchestra voiced here by the great WDR Big Band, which commissioned the work carries the majority of the melodies and punctuates poetically with some of Schifrin's most Gil Evans-like scoring (perhaps acknowledging the influence of Sketches of Spain ). Solos are manned by an exciting triumvirate including Schifrin (marvelous) on piano, Jon Faddis (at his Dizzyest best) and young firebrand David Sanchez on tenor and soprano saxophones. A stronger triad is difficult to conceive.
The suite's highlight is the pulsating, chant-like "Ritual," a hypnotic and vibrant piece in 12/8 time that elicits especially commanding solos from Faddis, Sanchez and, most notably, Schifrin himself. Other highlights include the catchy "Martinique," a Caribbean polyglot of Sonny Rollins's "St. Thomas" and Schifrin's own "Roulette Rhumba," and the concerto-like beauty of "Pampas," Schifrin's visit back to a 1978 theme (from his underrated Gypsies LP) enlivened most imaginatively by "Street Tattoo," the composer's theme to the film, Boulevard Nights.
This 65-minute opus ultimately suggests a sort of jazz symphony. The invention of Schifrin's conception interacting with the wit and verve of the players protect against any kind of museum-quality stodginess too. As it unfurls, it reveals itself as a most entertaining work. When it's over, it lingers in the mind and the heart as a real work of art.
Surely, Latin Jazz Suite is among the best, most memorable jazz recordings of the year and like Gillespiana, Jazz Mass and Marquis de Sade, one of the great jazz achievements in Lalo Schifrin's provocative career.
Players:Jon Faddis: trumpet; David Sanchez: tenor sax, soprano sax; Lalo Schifrin: composer, conductor, piano; Ignacio Berroa: drums; Alex Acuna, Alphonso Garrido, Marcio Doctor: percussion; with the WDR Big Band: Andy Haderer, Rob Bruynen, Klaus Osterloh, John Marshall, Rick Kiefer: trumpet, flugelhorn; Dave Horler, Ludwig Nuss, Bernt Laukamp: trombone; Lucas Schmid: bass trombone; Heiner Wiberny, Harald Rosenstein, Olivier Peters, Rolf Romer, Jens Neufang: reeds; Frank Chastenier: piano, organ; John Goldsby: bass; Paul Shigihara: guitar.