Various Artists: The Colors Of Latin Jazz: Latin Jam! (2004)
I can just hear the musicians: "An uninformed review? Oh, that's different."
Yeah, but this one's deliberate.
Sampler discs are rarely the best way to get acquainted with performers since they tend to feature radio-length songs aimed at the masses. But they're everywhere, usually at bargain prices in an effort to lure new buyers, so this review is being tackled in that spirit of ignorance.
Latin Jam!, the latest in Concord Records' The Colors Of Latin Jazz series, features 11 songs recorded between 1980 and 2003 by performers such as Tito Puente, Cal Tjader and Poncho Sanchez. The text on the back promises "inspired solo forays" and other uninhibited pleasures. Not overly schooled in Latin jazz, I ignored the song titles and performers during the first few listens to see if anything with a "gotta have it" quality emerged.
Uh, maybe. But uninhibited? Not really.
The main flaw is most songs are mid-tempo and middle-of-the-road, without any all-out indulgences to captivate or slower tempos to give the ears a rest. As for solos and jams, those standing out can be counted on one hand.
Puente delievers as much opening promise as possible in three minutes with "Descarga Numero Dos," which opens 1990's Out Of This World, with everyone making at least a spirited introduction during their fifteen seconds of solo fame (real courage would be including his version of Thelonious Monk's "In Walked Bud"). A well-known jazz standard does get exposure as Sanchez tackles "Watermelon Man" from 1999's live Latin Soul, but aside from a decent play-to-the-crowd tenor sax solo by Scott Martin, it's rather cautious, with some perfunctuary shouts thrown in.
The best track may be "Taboo" from 1994's album of the same name by Ray Barretto & New World Spirit. It's more complex and jazz-spirited from the opening, as a varied and responsive rhythm section fuels a string of inventive and progressive solos.
Too many others songs are cluttered groupspeak or overwhelmed by percussion that drowns any spirit of jamming or interaction. Fusion fans might like "Rendezvous," from the Caribbean Jazz Project's 2002 release The Gathering. Vibraphonist Dave Samuels leads a number of big-name players in what actually passes for as much of a jam as one can expect in a studio project from the Spyro Gyra side of the tracks.
All in all, it's a safe disc of OK songs. The mix isn't lively enough to spice up a party, nor is there enough distinctiveness between performers to capture listeners not totally focused. The Colors Of Latin Jazz series might make a fine promotional giveaway at store registers (and I might have given Taboo a closer look afterward), but at $9 each it's tough to recommend collecting them.
Track Listing: 1) Descarga Numero Dos; 2) La Tumba; 3) Taboo; 4) Rendezvous; 5) Our Routine; 6) Sabor; 7) Cinderella; 8) Esta Noche; 9) Besame Mama; 10) El Rey del Timbal; 11) Watermelon Man
Personnel: Featured performers/leaders include Tito Puente, Mongo Santamaria, Ray Barretto, Dave Samuels, Dave Valentin, Eddie Palmieri, Pete Escovedo, Ray Vega, Oscar D' Leon and Arturo Sandoval.