It is mildly surprising that Bobby Shew hasn’t recorded until now an album of Latin Jazz. He was raised in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where he played the music often as a young man. While his career took him in other directions — to the studios in Los Angeles, the trumpet sections of a number of well–respected big bands, and eventually all over the world as a sought–after solo performer — his love for its fiery melodies and unconventional rhythms never waned, nor did the idea of one day producing a Latin album. That time has now arrived, and as Shew says in the liner notes to Salsa Caliente, ”. . . this recording is something I have dreamt of doing since as far back in my musical life as I can remember.” In fact, for this date he has dubbed himself Bobby “El Zapato“ Shew. So how does El Zapato fare? Quite well, actually. The chili peppers on the jacket and the record itself denote the average temperature, and the music generally lives up to it. Of course, Shew is an excellent player in any context, and there’s no reason he should be any less so in this one, especially in light of his background. The supporting cast also perform well, with effective solos by tenor/flutist Almario, pianist Levine and trombonist Velasco complementing the slashing rhythmic incursions of Rodriguez, Pasillas, Resto and Sanchez. Of the songs chosen, only Ray Bryant’s “Cubano Chant,” which opens the session, was familiar to me. But no matter; all of them are admirable, including three sunny compositions by Levine (“Linda Chicana,” “Serengeti,” “Santo Domingo”), one each by Cal Tjader (“Paunetto’s Point”), Harold Ousley (“Elation”) and Bill Fitch (“Insight”), and two (“Paloma,” the lively “Mambo Galante” on which Shew and Cracchiolo present their version of “dueling trumpets”) by Robert Washut, director of Jazz Studies at the University of Northern Iowa. Savor the music, and if you’re not yet satisfied, try Bobby’s recipes for red chili sauce or guacamole, which are included. Some people simply can’t get enough salsa; others (myself included) encounter heartburn after more than one small helping. If you can tolerate the spicier aspects of Jazz, this one's for you.
Track listing: Cubano Chant; Elation; Linda Chicana; Serengeti; Paunetto’s Point; Santo Domingo; Insight; Paloma; Mambo Galante (63:22).