Palm Beach-based Sea Breeze Records has quietly crept up as one of the most prolific of contemporary boutique jazz labels. Sea Breeze not only exposes the talents of prodigious college groups and faculty combos, it captures many regional acts that haven't yet broken into the national consciousness. The LA-based collective Rhubumba (a made-up word) fits the bill perfectly. Blending straight-ahead with evident Latin sensibilities, this group shows with its self-titled album that it doesn't need star power (though veteran trumpeter Bobby Shew does make a few searing appearances) to make a powerful musical statement.
I am sorry to say that this disc sat on my shelf for quite a while before I opened it up. But when I did, I was pleasantly surprised by a well-seasoned band that plays almost as well as a group like Irakere did in from the '70s through the early '90s. Granted Rhubumba is not made up of Cuban superstars, but they do shine as a band and as individuals. Saxophonist and co-leader Jeff Benedict's sweet sound has a definite degree of individuality. One hears the inevitable influence of Paquito D'Rivera early on with his alto playing on "Man From Tanganyika" and "Song For Sandy."
Pianist and co-leader Paul De Castro, whose comping (especially on "Chico") puts you in a celebratory mood, also has excellent composing and arranging skill, as showcased on "Chinita Linda" and "Song For Sandy." One of the fresh surprises of this album is guitarist Dave Askren's lyrically flowing bop-flavored guitar lines, which hark back to Wes Montgomery and Grant Green. Bassist Rigoberto Lopez' timekeeping, coupled with the spirited support from percussionists Bob Fernandez on congas and Jimmy Branly on timbales, will make you dance.
Dig the rare Latin interpretations of the Frank Foster's standard "Shiny Stockings" and Gershwin's "Summertime," with an awe-inspiring solo from trombonist Jacques Voyemant. A salute to the Chucho Valdes-led Cuban supergroup, "Mambo Influenciado" is bookended by Askren's ornamented guitar. However, too often Rhubumba's feel is staid and under-stimulating. It's not mood music, but it lacks the vigor and intensity one has come to expect from non-vocal Latin jazz. Besides Benedict's often cliche and conservative approach, the saxophone-piano interplay towards the end of "Chick's Delight" loses the momentum carried over from De Castro's impassioned solo and ultimately flounders out. The classic "Besame Mucho" caps off an overall commendable effort from a group with a lot of potential.
Personnel: Jeff Benedict (saxophones), Jacques Voyemant (trombone), Dave Asken (guitar), Paul De Castro (piano), Rigoberto Lopez (bass), Bob Fernandez (congas), Jimmy Branly (timbales)
Special Guest Bobby Shew (trumpet)