Coming on the heels of last year’s Volume One, Papo Vázquez’ latest installment climbs the ladder as one of this year’s ten best jazz albums. Combining hard bop with Afro-Cuban rhythms, the New York trombonist leads a small ensemble of experienced artists. Keeping the mood authentic, pianist Arturo O’Farrill, bassist Andy Gonzales and conguero Richie Flores supply forceful reminders of tempo and meter foundations. Flores is particularly effective through his crisp hand drum work, both in solo jams and in accompaniment.
Vázquez, 42, grew up in the heart of North Philadelphia’s Puerto Rican community and now travels the world to share his enthusiasm for hard bop Latin jazz. Showing a J.J. Johnson influence at faster tempos, Vázquez remembers to make it enjoyable. About halfway through "Juan José" the trombonist slips a little quote of "Guantanamera" into his trombone solo.
To complement his trombone ballad feature, Vázquez sings briefly and softly for "In This Lonely Place" to enhance the romantic mood espoused by his composition. The remainder of the session runs with energy at a fast pace. Dave Valentin guests on "Juan José" with lyrical flute work, while tenor saxophonists Michael Brecker and Willie Williams jam with charged-up energy. Brecker appears on three tracks; Williams on two. O’Farrill offers interlude solos throughout the session that are both energetic and creative. The pianist stretches out, bathing in the hot atmosphere provided by Papo Vázquez and his hard bop ensemble.
I was first exposed to jazz while working overseas in Africa as a Peace Corps Volunteer. I would listen to the Voice of America on the radio and they had a nightly jazz program on at 10:00pm. I learned a lot about jazz listening to this program. I also had a friend who listened to real jazz by artists like Charles Mingus, Eric Dolphy and Archie Shepp. On my way home from Africa I landed in New York and had the opportunity to see the George Adams/Don Pullen quartet at the Village Vanguard as well as Kenny Barron and Ron Carter at another club, and was in heaven.