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Alex Diaz: Beyond 145th Street

James Nadal By

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Merengue, the national music of the Dominican Republic ferociously driven by percussive provincial rhythms such as pambiche, perico ripiao, el maco, guinchao and palo, is the natural choice for conga master Alex Diaz to blend his native roots with jazz improvisation in Beyond 145th Street .

Diaz and featured saxophonist Ivan Renta continue their musical innovations and tribute to the late saxophonist Mario Rivera, who was associated with Tito Puente, which began with the release of Merengue Jazz King (Self Produced, 2010+). There is a time-honored lineage of merengue saxophonists hailing back to the legendary Tavito Vasquez, who influenced Rivera, popularized the instrument within this genre, and was fundamental in literally picking up the pace of the rhythms. Rivera disciple Renta, who composed "El Comandante" in honor of his mentor, is beneficiary of this hierarchy with his virtuoso contributions throughout this recording.

Pianist Pedro Bermudez ,who penned "El Tigerazo del Bebop" and the title track, displays not only a instinctive sense of the merengue patterns of guajeo, but is a bebop player of the highest caliber. He adds the bona fide element of jazz into the mix with dexterity and technique heightened by the rapid tempos which demand exact execution.

The contagious rhythms are merged with jazz dynamics providing an ideal concept of How Diaz wants merengue jazz to sound. The song choices—Jerome Kern's "Yesterdays," Vince Guaraldi's "Ginza Samba" Cal Tjader's obvious "Santo Domingo"—prove to be the perfect medium from which to expand this unique musical approach. Of course this would not be possible without the superb low-end anchoring of consummate bassist Ruben Rodriguez and hard-hitting trumpeter Nelson "Gazu" Jaime, who is a vital voice of the horn charts.

As global sounds and textures continue to be added to what is known as jazz or improvised music, it continues to transform into novel and vibrant mutant forms. Latin jazz, with its expansive arsenal of intricate cadences and melodies, has definitely been at the forefront of this trend, confirmed by the merengue jazz of Beyond 145th Street .

Track Listing: Yesterdays; Unit Seven; Santo Domingo; Catarey Meren Jam; All Or Nothing At All; El Tigerazo del Bebop; Ginza Samba; El Comandante; Beyond 145th Street.

Personnel: Alex Diaz: congas, timbales; Ray "Chinito" Diaz: tambora, guira; Ivan Renta: alto, tenor, and baritone saxophones; Nelson "Gazu" Jaime: trumpet; Pedro Bermudez: piano; Ruben Rodriguez: bass; Diego Lopez: drums.

Title: Beyond 145th Street | Year Released: 2012 | Record Label: Self Produced

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