By 1995 the Heineken Jazzfest (HJ), was issuing its fifth recording. Newyorican Ernesto “Tito” Puente was the honoree following the festival’s convention of honoring living Hispanic jazz figures. This is the first time that Luis Álvarez, the Executive Director of the Festival, wrote a message in the liner notes. Furthermore, this is the first time in the recordings of the HJ that some of the jazz students that benefit from the sale of the releases were featured in a group. A few are professionals now, such as Miguel Zenón , who would be featured in the ‘02 edition of this event.
“Mambo Beat,” the opener, is quintessential Puente. This is a driving Mambo that begs to be heard, with a delightful execution from the accompanying Big Band. It displays a baritone sax and trumpet solos that would drive any Mambo dancer wild. Puente also showed that he could still hang in there, which he did till the end of his life.
Under the direction of trumpeter Tommy Villarini, the Puerto Rico Heineken Jazzfest’s Big Band work is represented here with Villarini’s “Alma.” Mostly based on the Cuban conga rhythm, which is part of the musical traditions derived from the Carnival celebrations where the revelers march in parades, or comparsas, this rhythm pattern resembles that of a march, where in every other bar the second beat is anticipated by a sixteenth-note. Its presence is also felt in North American boogie-woogie players who use it as an accompaniment guide. Trumpet, congas and timbales receive solo attention.
Gonzalo Rubalcaba interprets “Perfidia.” This composition is extremely well known and has been interpreted by various musical artists throughout the years. According to the liner notes, this was the first time that Rubalcaba played with Eddie Gómez and Ignacio Berroa . Clocking at nearly 10 minutes, some possibilities explored here were further realized, through a wider instrumental palette, in Rubalcaba’s contributions for Charlie Haden’s Nocturne.
In “Sweet Georgia Brown,” The Newport Jazz All-Stars offer a good ol’ partying rendition of this early jazz musical backdrop. All the musicians involved had their time under the Puerto Rican skies at the time, with a particularly satisfying drum solo.
Puente, at the time, was recording and working with The Golden Latin Jazz All Stars, who attempted to resurrect themselves in ’02 in Puerto Rico with decidedly mixed results. In 1995, however, with the leadership of Puente, their performances were greatly appreciated and quite juicy. This one was no exception to the rule. There is some fine jazz playing here, particularly from Mario Rivera and Hilton Ruiz, who is co-composer of the tune.
John Scofield attended the festival on that year and here we listen to a tune included in his ’93 album Hand Jive. In “Do Like Eddie,” he and his trio simply spread masterful jazz over the Puerto Rican audience like they enjoy spreading butter over hearty loaf of pan sobao for breakfast. Such bread, when properly baked, has a creamy-yet-firm consistency, and demure lardness that leads to gastronomical delight.
The Yellowjackets come to the fore with “Ancestors.” This tune moves along paths of playfulness, longings, and solemnity. Bob Mintzer takes initial charge increasing the underlying tenacity bridging everyone’s interaction on stage until a transitional passage allows Russel Ferrante to put the electronics through their paces.
Mariano Morales & Picante, a local musical talent, burned things up meshing guaguancó , bomba , and Latinized jazz terms with Salsified accents to get you off the headphones and into prancing with abandon. Morales’ violin adds heated sublimity before Paoli Mejías takes matters at hand as percussive leading voice talking contemporary bomba.
José “Furito” Ríos is a young sax veteran who named this intervention as “6:38” and the composition falls short a good 30 seconds off the title. He reworks funkyfing aesthetics, cascading them in colored hues of jazz’s Latin tinges and expressively mainstream allocutions à la his initial sax solo, throughout the entire number. Luis Marín is the other leading character in this musical burning drama.
The musicians in the Berklee in Puerto Rico Student Jazz Band where in “Seven Steps to Heaven” when they interpreted this arrangement of this Davis and Feldman collaboration. This version stands on its own merits, hands-down. Wonder if the Berklee-HJ association is benefiting jazz in Puerto Rico? Check this one out...
Notes: The performances of Luis “Perico” Ortiz , Danilo Pérez and Bobby Sanabria & Ascensión, were not included in this recording. José Luis Díaz de Villegas did the covers for ’94 and ’95. Such work can be seen at the Merchandise section of the HJ website.