The sound of Latin music reached well beyond the traditional salsa-based rhythmic stylings that jazz fans are used to in a unique, adventurous performance last week at Dizzy's Club Coca-cola. Paquito D'Rivera brought his latest aggregation "Panamericana to Gotham's hottest jazz room and scored a resounding triumph with music that dug deeply into classical-folk forms from sources unfamiliar to most listeners. With a contingent of artful players utilizing instruments (cello, steel drums, bandoneon) rarely associated with the fusion Irakere sound which made him famous to Americans, D'Rivera revealed the full scope of his musicianship and knowledge of, in some cases, esoteric Latin musicology.
The tidal wave of Latin sounds has continued unabated in New York rooms in recent months with this writer, among many, unstintingly impressed with contributions from the likes of Hendrik Meurkens, Arturo Sandoval, Trio de Paz, Michel Camilo and many others. It is by no means an overstatement to point out that the indigenous folk-jazz material that has come to us from south of the border in the past decades competes with any other tradition that comes to mind as a worthy successor to bebop in the legacy of jazz art music.
Panamericana started matters off at Dizzy's with a tribute to Antonio Carlos Jobim, as D'Rivera announced the opening tune "One for Tom. The "chamber jazz sound of the group was immediately unveiled with Dana Leong personifying the style as he doubled on cello and trombone. As he melodized on cello, D'Rivera joined him on clarinet. The cello/clarinet sound produced instant reminiscences of old European music. Later on in the set, when Leong switched to trombone, D'Rivera pulled out his alto sax and an altogether new color arose. In the second selection of the set, Raul Jaurena arrived on the scene playing a bandoneona cousin of the concertina. The instrument, combined with the aforementioned cello/clarinet sound produced music, which further dimensionalized the "chamber" sound and added great sparkle to the melodic lines. Later, during the venerable "Malaguena, the vibraphone joined the melody party resulting in still more color. Never was the group sound compromised as these new instruments shared melodic duties; and always the subtlety of the percussion, which included several other players, complimenting rather than overpowering the lead melodists.
Alon Yavnai played piano, Oscar Stagnaro played bass, Mark Walker played drums and Pernell Saturnino held forth with a variety of percussion instruments including batas and congas. The magnificent sound of Andy Narell's steel pans formed a grandiose backdrop for the group. Never have these percussive sounds been delivered with greater pitch consistency than in the hands of the redoubtable Narell whose own recent CDs are ample evidence.
Panamerica is a remarkable new group.