Heineken Jazzfest 1994 , was the fourth recording in the history of this event; highlighting, as all their yearly compact discs do, some of the performances. Peruvian drummer Alex Acuña , was the honoree following the festival’s habit of honoring living Hispanic jazz figures. This was the first time, however, in which there was some controversy with the festival’s honoree as many critics felt that Acuña did not deserve to be honored and that his family connections to the producer of the event had a hand in his designation as honoree.
Diane Schuur begins this recording with the festival’s Big Band. Although this is a brief tune, all the required ingredients for a swinging performance are in clear evidence throughout the performance. “Deedles’ Blues” gets a superb treatment in the chords of Schuur and Co.
Acuña follows Schuur with a beautiful piece, entitled “Abrazos y Besos” (Hugs and Kisses), led by his cajón playing. In many ways, this tune is a mini tour of Peruvian music, tinged with jazz. The minimal orchestration sketches a wide enough emotive range to arouse curiosity, satisfaction, and repose.
Michel Camilo is one of the favorite artists of the Heineken Jazzfest (HJ) and some of its most significant moments involve him in several capacities. This time he offered “Tropical Jam.” The title is somewhat misleading as this tune is not just a jam; it is quite a deserving jazz conceptual development with very strong playing.
Benny Green’s “Nice Pants” kept getting hotter and hotter, yummier and yummier! Green’s left hand had some nice things to say and even briefly engaged in a duo of sorts with bassist Ed Howard, who burned during his chance to light things up. Traditional mouth-watering jazz!
The Jazz Project of Humberto Ramírez interprets “El Ministro,” or “The Minister,” under his authorship. Ramírez’s jazz public performances trace their roots to the HJ, where he is featured with certain regularity. Here we encounter a live rendition of a tune he recorded in the release Aspects, although cooked at higher temperatures. Each member actively contributes to this jam-slam.
Ronnie Matthews begins his piano interpretation of Monk’s “Round Midnight” as a prelude to T.S. Monk’s jazz gift at the HJ. These cats just kept this performance moving in a sturdy, steady, swinging wave without dropping the guard once. The group was hyper-cool! One of Tito Puente’s friends and colleagues, Bobby Porcelli, made the trip down to Puerto Rico with T.S. Monk. Midway through the performance, the swing gets hard and strong... hard and strong... then back to the head for a bit more of fun.
Giovanni Hidalgo offers what ought to be titled “Nuclear Canadian Sunset” rather than its actual title. He recorded a studio blistering rendition of this composition in Worldwide, only this time Michel Camilo takes a white hot piano solo that carries everyone to hotter realms than “The Sum of All Fears.” The bass playing credit for this tune is not provided in the liner notes. It was most likely Eddie “Guagua” Rivera.
Tito Rodríguez popularized “Cara de Payaso” and David Sánchez , who has various jazz interpretations of popular Puerto Rican danceable tunes in his repertoire, plays in and out, and all around this catchy melody while the band keeps the march jazzy although never straying from its underlying original beat.
“Cherry Bomb” is a Salsa/Jazz type of composition by guitarist Iván Maraver in which trumpeter Elliot Feijoo, holds his craft in high esteem. There are moments in his soloing were one could hear a younger Maynard Ferguson with a Puerto Rican bandana on his head. There’s a transitional passage that does not release itself into dominant freedom but rather gives in to a beckoning montuno allowing Paoli Mejías conga drumming its space. Mejías would later become part of Eddie Palmieri’s group, as well as Seis del Solar.
“La Mata Blues,” as interpreted by Tropical People, is a happy go lucky vibes led Chá-Jazz tune with an infectious danceable groove. José M. Lugo takes the keyboard apart in this performance.
William Cepeda’s musical jazz forays are first documented in this recording. This is an effective mix of several mainstream jazz strains with the Puerto Rican Plena , hence its title “Quasi Plena.” Even then one could guess why Gillespie and others would be interested in Cepeda’s playing.
Notes: The Eddie Gómez Quartet’s performance was not included in this recording. This festival was cut short due to weather complications that led to the falling of some equipment from the stage. The cover art for this album can be seen at the Merchandise section of the Heineken Jazzfest website.