Latin Jazz to Warm Your Winter

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Fueled by the passion of three drummers and dedicated to the spirit of the drum in Cuban music,
Maybe it’s the insidious impact of its generally sunny climates, but Latin jazz, in its many forms, seems to project a sense of warmth. Faced with the prospect of a new winter’s chill, it’s comforting to rediscover in new Latin jazz releases that the source of this heat remains an eternal if occasionally flickering flame.

Caravana Cubana: del alma (Warner Music Latina)
This all-star Cuban ensemble originally congregated in 1999 to record Late Night Sessions. Star power from that first set remains in full effect on this, their second release: Voices from the a cappella group Bambaleo, pianists Joe Rotundi and Jesus Chucho Valdés, and flutist Orlando “Maraca” Valle return, joined by first-timers pianist Cedar Walton, vocalist Bobby Carcassés, and percussionists Los Papines, with Michael Turre featured on trombone, saxophones and flute.

(Read more about Late Night Sessions on AAJ.)

“del alma” translates to “of the soul,” an accurate description of these passionate Afro-Cuban sounds. Fueled by the passion of three drummers and dedicated to the spirit of the drum in Cuban music, “Seis por Chucho” blossoms into a vibrating percussion jungle through which Valdes’ piano dances as a mysterious, shadowy leviathan, more felt than seen. “Calabazón” blows an Afro-Cuban big-band comparsa of hurricane force, with howling echoes of Dizzy Gillespie in its sharp, incisive trumpet lines, while “Sal Ya del Monte” digs at the roots in a garden display of Cuban instrumental folk music. The frantic pace slows for an orchestral tribute, complete with violins and soft brass and featuring vocalist Bobby Carcassés, to Abelardo “Barroso,” one of the founding fathers of vocal jazz in Cuba.

del alma also includes an excellent liner booklet which provides detailed song descriptions, including annotations of traditional Cuban forms (changui, comparsa, guajira, bolero son, guaracha son, descarga comparsa, etc.) utilized in each piece and quotes from the participants.

Chano Dominguez: Hecho a mano (Nuba)
Like many of his American contemporaries, some of Spanish pianist Dominguez’ first musical experiences came from the church, where he advanced from the parish choir to serving as church organist and pianist. Since turning to jazz, he has progressively explored combining elements of modern jazz and traditional flamenco music, recording a set honoring the music of guitarist Paco de Lucia, a fellow Andalusian ( 10 de Paco ), and performing in duet with Michel Camilo at an annual gathering of the SGAE (The General Society of Spanish Authors).

This warm, classical-sounding acoustic session (“hecho a mano” translates to “handmade”) features the Dominguez trio, with bassist Javier Colina and drummer Guillermo McGuill, in small ensembles with at most two or three additional pieces. Their trio version of Bill Evans’ “Turn Out The Stars” as a flamenco waltz profoundly sparkles with the sound and feel of Evans’ classic trio dates – amazing, soulful and intelligently articulate instrumental interplay. This pairs up with “Bemshaw Swing,” which draws the funk from Monk by casting Dominguez’ piano against a rhythm track of clapping and tap-dancing.

Ten Dominguez originals comprise the remainder of this set. “Retaila” and “Pinar hondo” partner Dominguez’ classical Spanish piano in hot melodic dances with flamenco guitar, with legendary guitarist Tomatito guest starring on the former and the piano and guitar echoing each other’s lines like calling birds on the latter. Piano playfully creeps into “Cilantro y Comino” on little cat feet to tango with rhythmic percussion. Through Dominguez’ playing in the opening “Alma de mujer” and other pieces, you can also hear in a charming, circular way the Latin influence on pianists Horace Silver and Vince Guaraldi.

Steven Kroon: Señor Kroon (Azica)
After two decades of performing and recording with Luther Vandross, percussionist and bandleader Kroon has lately been teaming with bassist Ron Carter (including Carter’s The Bass and I and Bow Tie Blue Note sessions), who here returns the favor and whom Kroon praises in these liner notes with: “My guru and world renown bassist Ron Carter is the perfect foundation who is always there for me and who always adds magic to my music.” Kroon has also recorded with Gary Bartz, Mulgrew Miller, and David “Fathead” Newman, and appears on Diana Krall’s All For You.

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