Ray Barretto , who was performing jazz before he became known in Hispanic musical circles, was the Heineken Jazzfest (HJ) honoree of 1997. This edition of the HJ was held at the former grounds of a baseball park where it is said that Joshua Gibson, during the Negro Baseball League days, hit a ball more than 600 feet into the adjacent ocean as a member of a local professional baseball team. This production is laden with musical ripeness and less fireworked jazz than the previous ones.
The wisdom of the years, with its remaining vibrant youthfulness, comes through “Brother Ray.” Barretto’s brand of jazz leads to challenging ease, albeit mindful of musical reliability. The New World Spirit has never been as hyperactive as other Latin Jazz groups and figures tend to be. This performance is middle-aged jazz with yarns of mambo and Salsa, of which the material in the Barretto Head Sounds release stands as a distant relative.
Spyro Gyra took its “South American Sojourn” into this recording. This group has always delved into the Latin tinge and herein they take such interest into a brief exploration of harder edges within their melodic keyboarded boundaries.
Arturo “Chico” O’Farrill and Mario Bauzá would’ve been proud of Bob Mintzer’s doings and goings in “Elvin’s Mambo.” A translucently broad sound, smoothing the progress of a fine arrangement and conceptual framework is what you have going on here.
Joe Lovano put the audience in his deep pocket and they never left it in “South of the Border.” The mainstream is collectively assed-off in this piece, hence the reared shaking you will do when you hear it.
Diana Krall initiates her take on “Frim Fram Sauce” with some pensiveness in the piano as an introduction to a happy swinging vocalization of this tune. Her piano labor throughout the performance can be recommended with no qualms, as well as the rest of her drummerless trio. They are simple, enjoyable and to the point.
“Barranquitas” is the name of a Puerto Rican town in the Central Highlands. Jorge Laboy’s 3 AM Band is a local band with a low heated, relaxed musical experience derived from guitar chords that reminisce the flower festival from said town. This is a contemporary jazz piece with Latin flavors.
The Berklee in Puerto Rico Student Band reinterprets Clare Fisher’s “Morning” with fervor, candor, gusto and the soloists show both promise as well as realized potential beyond their years and experience.
Pianist Luis Marín and his New Jazz Band interpret an amenable “4 de la Tarde,” also steeped in musical maturity and tight contemporary riffs. Marín spends most of the tune supporting the efforts of the guitarist who, along with him, leave an indelible footprint on the musical path trodden.
Ángel Olmos Strings & Percussion, with their Spanish themed “Praise Buleria,” which should read “Praise Bulería,” document a live presentation of a little known Puerto Rican jazz violinist who in this tune submerged himself into the world of bulería from the Flamenco lineage. Olmos had released a well-produced and recorded independent release the year before and here the listener has a truly rare opportunity to listen to a segment of his live performance at the HJ. The violin is not regularly featured in Puerto Rico other than within Classic environments. Olmos pioneering work in Puerto Rican jazz circles is as good as any out there, although it will not thrive until he leaves the island.
Juan Pablo Torres is the leading Cuban jazz trombonist. Here one can find an early version of his now somewhat formulaic playing with his group. Finer, or just as good, things are done in his Cuban danceable music playing than in jazz. That is now, however, and this was then. Then, it cooked.
Notes: The performance of Betty Carter is not included in this recording. José Luis Díaz de Villegas also did the festival’s logo for this year. The cover art can be seen at the Merchandise section of the HJ website. This was the first time the HJ was held at the Parque Sixto Escobar, albeit that venue proved too large for the local jazz audiences and perhaps too costly. Although the HJ started at the Plaza de Armas in Old San Juan, most of the festivals have been celebrated at the Luis Muñoz Marín and the Tito Puente amphitheatres.