This is possibly the most intricate, intellectual, and compositionally advanced Latin jazz that's been made to date. Certainly the tri-leaders of the group - vibraphonist Dave Samuels, flautist Dave Valentin, and guitarist Steve Khan - are in the top echelon of performers on their respective instruments, and all have played in a unusually broad range of musical settings throughout their performing careers, and they bring all these resources to this release. The three principals contribute well-thought-out, technically advanced jazz solos - lovers of all flavors of jazz will find a lot to marvel at and digest here. They also call in a couple technical whizes for guest spots: trombonist Conrad Herwig on "Caravan" and "Naima" and Ray Vega on flugelhorn on "Naima."
But there's another factor at work here behind the prodigious talent of the front line. The team of percussionists keep the proceedings solidly in the groove with equally intricate, constantly percolating congas and timbales. In fact, a drum set is used only occasionally. The players are so perfectly coordinated and interconnected, not just with each other, but with the requirements of the melodies or the soloists. There is no repetition, no "push Play and let it go" here at all. The rhythmic complexity is astonishing. And when they step forward for the occasional percussion break, it's breathtaking. The percussion on the finale, a medley of Mongo Santamaria's "Obaricoso and Richie Flores' "Ritmos, Colores, y Sentidos" is simply stunning. They're also recorded very well.
If there is a fault to be found with this CD, it might be that it's almost too perfect. It's so intellectual, so polished, so studied and so intricate that it borders on losing the raw energy that so much Latin music has to offer. But overall, this CD is tremendously rewarding. It raises the bar on several levels: the compositions (most by Samuels or Khan) and arrangements, the depth of the solos, the state-of-the-art percussion. This is heavy stuff. It merits multiple listenings in order to focus on different instruments each time around. (Concord Picante CCD-4946)
Personnel: Dave Samuels - vibes and marimba; Dave Valentin - flute; Steve Khan - guitar and guiro; Ruben Rodriguez- bass; Richie Flores - congas, shakere; Luisito Quintero - timbal kit, percussion; Dafnis Prieto - timbal kit, drums; Poncho Sanchez - congas; Conrad Herwig - trombone; Ray Vega - flugelhorn.