Latin jazz has rarely featured the guitar, but that hasn't stopped Steve Khan. Backlog continues in the vein of previous albums including Parting Shot (Tone Center, 2011) and Subtext (Tone Center, 2014): creative Latin arrangements of Great American Songbook standards and modern jazz tunes that are rarely played in Latin style (or in any style, in the case of the more obscure choices). The two previous installments included a number of Khan originals, but Backlog is entirely devoted to covers.
Some are drawn from a familiar well: Khan has shown a longtime fondness for the compositions of Thelonious Monk and Ornette Coleman. Monk's "Criss Cross" provides the upbeat set opener. "Latin Genetics" was introduced on Coleman's In All Languages (Caravan of Dreams, 1987) and became a staple in his live performances. One of his catchiest tunes, it benefits from trumpeter Randy Brecker's guest appearance. "Invisible" dates from Coleman's first album, Something Else! (Contemporary, 1958), but Khan and guest tenor saxophonist Bob Mintzer free the song from the overly literal comping on the original recording.
The classic Blue Note catalog provides another source of repertoire, and Khan's choices again are unexpected. Two come from the pen of the great vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson, who surely deserves greater recognition as a composer. "Head Start" features guest vibraphonist Mike Mainieri, while "Rojo" is re-imagined with steel-string acoustic guitar. Andrew Hill's "Catta" comes from another Hutcherson album, Dialogue (Blue Note, 1965), with acoustic guitar substituting for the original's piano and Tatiana Parra's wordless vocals reminiscent of Weather Report's occasional use of the voice as an instrument.
Last but not least, there are the standards (including one modern entry). "Our Town" was co-written by Khan's father Sammy Cahn and Jimmy Van Heusen, and gets a dream-like treatment with orchestra, as does Johnny Mandel and Johnny Mercer's "Emily." Stevie Wonder's "Go Home" is all slinky funk and over-driven guitara reminder that Khan once worked with Steely Dan.
All of Khan's series of Latin albums are full of great grooves and soulful playing, but Backlog may be the best of them: a rich, varied and surprising selection of songs with enough well-chosen guest artists to keep the arrangements fresh.
Criss Cross; Conceptious In C; Latin Genetics; Our Town; Head Start;
Rojo; Invisible; Emily; Go Home; Catta.
Steve Khan: guitar; Rubén Rodriguez: baby bass, electric bass; Mark
Walker: drums; Marx Quiñones: timbales, bongo, percussion; Bobby
Allende: conga, bongo; Randy Brecker: trumpet (3); Bob Mintzer: tenor
sax (7); Mike Mainieri: vibes (5); Rob Mounsey: keyboards (2, 6, 7, 9)
orchestrations; Tatiana Parra: voice (10).
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