Zoho Music: Latin Jazz, New York City Style
Zoho Music has established itself as the pre-eminent purveyor of Latin jazz. Resurrected from the ashes of the former Khaeon label by Jochen Becker, Zoho boasts a stable of renowned and diverse musicians. Here are three of the best recordings recently released by the label.
Standards Rican-onditioned was the last recording released by New York percussionist Ray Barretto before his death in February 2006. It is a fine recital intended to dispel the myth that Latin musicians could only perform strictly Latin music. Barretto wanted to assemble Puerto Rican musician for a date of standards demonstrating that he could recreate the old Blue Note sound. The cheeky disc title effectively promotes Barretto's vision. This is not a recording of jazz standards with a Latin flavor. In fact, perhaps the only thing Latin about this recording, besides the musicians, is the presence of Barretto's smoky congas.
Standards Rican-ditioned includes first class musicians like bassist John Benitez, pianist Hilton Ruiz, trombonist Papo Vazquez, drummer Adam Cruz and saxophonists David Sanchez and Chris Barretto. Despite heritage, the group produces a perfectly nostalgic blowing session that could have been captured in Rudy Van Gelder's parent's legendary living room. The saxophone/trombone frontline recalls the Jazz Messengers during the Wayne Shorter/Curtis Fuller era. Using "standards" in the title may be a bit of misnomer as Barretto didn't choose any worn out songs. Highlights include "Lean On Me, "Trav'lin' Light and the disc's two blues, "Baby, Baby All The Time and "Brandy's Blues. This is beautifully natural and spontaneous music.
New York Samba Jazz Quintet
Hendrik Meurkens is in the unenviable position of playing a miscellaneous jazz instrument already associated with a master. The instrument is the harmonica and the master is Toot Theilemans. The German Meurkens, like the Belgian Theilemans, doubles on a second instrument, in Meurkens' case, the vibraphone. However, Meurkens lives in no one's shadow, not even Theilemans'. His harmonica playing is highly ornamented and carefully sculpted. He accomplishes in the jazz arena what Little Walter Jacobs did in the blueselevating the harmonica to the status of a frontline horn.
Addressing his vibes performance, Meurkens shines, particularly on New York Samba Jazz Quintet's opener, "Vamos Nessa." His vibraphone is also beautifully ornamental on "Triste. . But it is his harmonica that is truly stunning. The listener can only marvel at Meurkens' virtuosity demonstrated at the end of "Bolero Para Paquito, and that is only one example. "Flor De Lis provides a sumptuous ballad vehicle for Meurkens' supernaturally fluid harmonica playing.
However, the disc is not all Meurkens. His pianist Helio Alves more than holds his own while steering the quintet. Tenor saxophonist Jed Levy is equally comfortable in Latin or blues idioms, blowing superb solos on "Vamos Nessa and "A Ra. Meurkens' rhythm section finishes out an exceptional band. New York Samba Jazz Quintet was recorded live before an audience at Cecil's Jazz Club in East Orange, NJ. The crowd was enthusiastic and the band was hot. While Meurkens is no newcomer, he certainly demands greater attention. Let us hope for many more recordings like this one.
Buenos Aires Tango Standards
Bassist Pablo Aslan serves up the most organic of these Latin-tinged offerings. Following a visit to Buenos Aires after a 25 year absence, Aslan returned with a rejuvenated interest in viewing the traditional tango through a jazz lens. This is not a new approach to tango interpretation, to be sure. But Aslan's approach and, specifically, his results, are basic to the point of austerity. This infuses the music with its humidly earthy essence, one perfectly suited to tango.
Alsan opens the disc with a wonderfully dry arco introduction to Astor Piazzolla's "La Cachila, steering his band through a dizzying number of tango time changes and instrumental interludes. Alsan employs a tenor/trumpet quintet format, unusual perhaps for tango, but never at the expense of the music. "Loca Bohemia firmly frames both Jorge Retamoza's Ben Webster-ish tenor tone and Alsan's own pizzicato soloing without sacrificing the tango's authenticity to the instrumentation. Gustavo Bergalli's trumpet adds the Latin to the festivities, sparring with Alsan's bass on "Bahia Blanca and "El Pollo Ricardo. Uniformly fine throughout is pianist Abel Rogantini, who perfectly tows the tango line for all. Buenos Aires Tango Standards is a release worthy of Zoho Music and demands to be heard.
Tracks and Personnel
Tracks: Lean On Me; Trav'lin' Light; Ivy; Suddenly It's Spring; I Had The Craziest Dream; Something To Live For; Baby, Baby All The Time; Brandy's Blues; Strange Music.