Latin jazz comes in all flavors. Boundary-pushing artists such as Omar Sosa and Bill Frisell are exploring Latin music in a way that implies the music's ethnic roots rather than stating them overtly. These experiments are often rewarding, always challenging, and occasionally danceable.
On the flip side of the coin are those players who are moving forward by digging deep into the roots of Latin jazz and salsa, trying to fit the new musical ideas of the 21st century into the tight grooves and engaging vocals of the '70s.
Case in point: Bryan Vargas & ¡Ya Esta!, whose new CD, Afro Latino Soul, features 58 minutes of solid playing and exciting solos that take you back to the days when Latin jazz was fun and the parties went till all hours of the night.
Pianist and bandleader Arturo O'Farrillson of Cuban legend Chico O'Farrillproduced the CD and plays on one track. Most of the musicians are new to me, but I don't think they'll stay underground for long. Vargas in particular is a commanding presence when he solos, and he's smart enough to know that keeping the groove going is an important part of his job, too.
The standout soloist on Afro Latino Soul is trumpeter Matt Hilgenberg, who channels the vibe of "Chocolate" Armenteros with his playing on tunes like the Vargas originals "United" and "El Sonido." He screams when he needs to scream, and glides when he needs to glide.
In addition to a heaping helping of very strong Vargas compositions, the album also cements its classic salsa roots with tunes from several heavyweights, including Eddie Palmieri ("Vamanos Pal Monte") and Arsenio Rodriguez ("No Me Llores").
All in all, Afro Latino Soul is an engaging debut record by a band with a lot of promise. Recommended.
Track Listing: United, Obatala, No Me Llores, Guerreros Africanos, La Comunidad, As Warm As The Sun, Vamanos
Pal Monte, Lagrimas Negras, El Sonido
Personnel: Bryan Vargas (guitars, coro & lead vocals), Ernesto Abreu (congas, clave & coro), Matt Baranello
(trap drums, chekere & coro), Matt Hilgenberg (trumpet, flugelhorn, guiro & coro), Toshi Someya
(bass & coro), Jorge Vazquez (bongo, campana & coro), with special guests Arturo O'Farrill (piano
on "No Me Llores"), Sandra Garcia Rivera (coro on "Lagrimas Negras"