The Latin Tinge: Big Band Style
Jazz is a unique gift the United States has given the world and the world has shown its gratitude. In its Nordic big bands and Italian small combos; in Swiss and German record labels, which have made sound recording an art form; in France and the Netherlands, two countries that have welcomed African-American expatriates and enabled them to flourish in their friendly confines.
Perhaps the finest foreign prism jazz has shown through is in our own Western hemisphere, located south of the US border. South America and the Caribbean have provided a humid incubator for American jazz, turning the music into a new and discreet art form, Latin jazz. Bandleaders Duke Ellington and Dizzy Gillespie both used the big band format as a vehicle for Latin jazz explorations. Below are four recent fruits of this exploration.
Big Band Urban Folktales
There can be no doubt that this recording date was led by a drummer/percussionist. Bobby Sanabria is most previously known for his excellent Zoho recording, !Quarteto Ache! (Kaeon/Zoho, 2002). His chops have graced the recordings of many of his contemporaries. Sanabria fronts a Latin big band on Big Band Urban Folktales, one that he leads with aplomb and confidence.
Sanabria arranges the music on Big Band Urban Folktales in a barely tethered way, allowing the melodies to swirl and the harmonies to soar into unexpected places. The Latin big band may be the most fertile soil in which to plant the seed of improvisation. This disc boasts a freshness in its approach that is most uncommon. "Pink" is decidedly Latin, a kind of the Pink Panther meets trombonist Juan Tizol at the bright end of the street. Sanabria showcases his superb low brass section on the piece.
"D Train" is a complex head arrangement played over a subway piano figure. Tenor saxophone and trumpet double for the theme with flute and muted horn insinuating their way into the melody's presentation. "Besame Mucho" is given a splendid drive, featuring vocalist Hiram "El Pavo" Remo. This piece captures the authentic essence of this album and music.
Caribbean Jazz Project featuring Dave Samuels
Afro Bop Alliance
Heads Up International
Vibraphonist Dave Samuels revisits the heyday of the Caribbean Jazz Project with his new Afro Bop Alliance. The Caribbean Jazz Project is a loose collective held together by Samuels, reeds player Paquito d'Rivera and steel drums expert Andy Narell and recorded widely during the 1990s. Afro Bop Alliance revisits eight selections from the CJP book. Arrangements are updated; orchestrations are tweaked to give the book a fully updated treatment.
Several of the pieces are Samuel's with others by Thelonious Monk, Oliver Nelson, and John Coltrane sprinkled about. The sonics are slick and sleek, definitely Heads Up International engineering. The Afro Bop Alliance horn section has a big sound, one that gives added momentum to the already accelerated nature of the Latin jazz being played. Percussion and low reeds and brass are the order of this band. Samuels steers the ship on the opening "Rendezvous," a swirl of brass and congas over which Samuel's woody marimba floats along with Tim Stanley's darting trumpet. The horn section blows with a gale force restrained in volume.
Coltrane's "Naima" is given a languid stroll with saxophones on top, brass in support and Samuel's vibes the glue. Nelson's "Stolen Moments" is heated with chillies turning its Los Angeles sound toward the south. Samuel's arrangement extends the lines of the piece, making it receptive to the Latin vibe imparted by pianist Harry Appelman and the saxophone section. Luis Hernandez provides a lengthy tenor clinic in his solo. The bulk of this fine recording is built with this type of intelligent design.
This is very much a New York recording. It is big and brash, fast paced, and relentless. What it lacks in authentic humidity it makes up for in chops, arrangement, and performance.
South American Suite
Tenor saxophonist and composer Felipe Salles formed his band in 1995 with the expressed intention of steering the Brazilian-jazz fusion away from the traditional bebop dialect and into the more humidly fertile confines of hard bop and the avant-garde. His previous recordings set the stage for these explorations. With South American Suite, Salles doesn't simply rise to the next level of creative invention, he graduates to the front of the class. His composing fully formed, Salles produces an extended piece with Ellingtonian expansiveness.