Sammy Figueroa & His Latin Jazz Explosion: Urban Nature (2011)
Urban Nature blends elements of modern jazz fusion with percussive Latin jazz rhythms in a highly charged session from master percussionist Sammy Figueroa and his Latin Jazz Explosion. The two previous recordings with this very same group, The Magician (Savant, 2007) and And Sammy Walked In (Savant, 2005), both garnished Grammy nominations for the Best Latin Jazz Album, and this follow-up sizzler deserves no less consideration. The Bronx-born bomber of percussion has long been a leading voice in the world of Latin jazz. Based in Miami since 2001, for this project Figueroa calls on Venezuelan maestros, pianist Silvano Monasterios and bassist Gabriel Vivas to provide the music.
The nine-piece repertoire leads off in explosive manner with the propulsive "Gufillo," featuring the pianist and trumpeter Alexander Pope Norris in support of Figueroa's percussive handiwork. Vivas introduces his own title track, an assertive number highlighting soprano saxophonist John Michalak,, with dicey cymbal splashes from drummer Nomar Negroni and more from Monasterios. Pianist Mike Orta and saxophone great Ed Calle, grace the album as special guests on "Latin What?," a swift-paced Latin rhythm original from Orta.
The music withdraws gently on Monasterios' "Zuliana," a soft Latin ballad with voices from the pianist, Figueroa and accompanying Venezuelan percussion from Jose Gregorio Hernandez. The sounds of Salsa come alive on the most overt Latin piece of the album providing lots of shoulder-moving moments on "Cuco y Olga." The band returns to a more natural Latin jazz territory on the melody-rich "Cha Cha Pa' Ti," and delicate "Queen From The South."
Bookending the session with another hard-driving piece, "Funny Talk" ends the album with a pounding performance from Figueroa, propelling another fine set of hot Latin rhythms. When hearing Figueroa's music, comparisons to the great Mongo Santamaria and conguero Ray Barretto, are inevitable. And while a sampling of Urban Nature may serve to further this notion, Figueroa proves to have a distinguishing technique and voice of his own, making him the leading percussionist in Latin jazz today.
Track Listing: Gufillo; Urban Nature; Latin What?; Zuliana; 7th Door To Your Left; Cuco y Olga; Cha Cha Pa' Ti; Queen From The South; Funny Talk.
Personnel: Sammy Figueroa: percussion; Silvano Monasterios: piano; John Michalak: saxophones; Alexander Pope Norris: trumpet; Nomar Negroni: drums; Ed Calle: tenor saxophone (3); Mike Orta: piano (3, 6); Jose Gregorio Hernandez: Venezuelan percussion (4).