Blue Note Goes Latin: Five New Afro-Cuban Gems From the Vaults

C. Andrew Hovan By

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As the owners of several historically significant record labels, Capitol Records has at its fingertips some great music in the Latin vein and with a recent set of reissues decided to bring to light five titles from their holdings with this singular theme in mind. Although more detailed reviews follow, on a whole this idea proves to be pure genius and one can only hope that like its RVG and Connoisseur series this will be an ongoing program of reissues.

The oldest of these vintage reissues, Latin Fever (Capitol Jazz 84193) was recorded for Liberty in 1958 and features bongo player and bandleader Jack Costanzo. Largely forgotten these days, Costanzo’s only major claim to fame was a brief spell with Stan Kenton and this album where he leads a seven-piece ensemble through a dozen brief tracks lands squarely in the Afro-Cuban tradition. Pianist Eddie Cano and tenor saxophonist Jay Corre (later to become a mainstay of the Buddy Rich band) are the better-known musicians on hand, although trumpeter Paul Lopez plays with a fiery conception that is a highlight throughout. Although musically rewarding in its own right, fans of early stereo and the whole “lounge music” scene will also find this one to their liking.

Although his series of Verve recordings during the ‘60s would bring him a visibility unparallel for a percussionist in the Latin-jazz vein, Willie Bobo actually recorded for Tico and Roulette in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s and one of his rarest albums now makes its first appearance on CD. Bobo’s Beat (Roulette Jazz 84191) was recorded for Roulette in 1962 and goes for an intriguing mix of Cuban and Brazilian styles with Bobo on percussion and timbales. Also on hand are Clark Terry and Joe Farrell in what has to be some of their most obscure recorded work and the range of material includes Freddie Hubbard’s “Crisis” and originals by Frank Anderson, Tom McIntosh, and William Salter. Two bonus tracks from the 1964 set Let’s Go Bobo are included on this must hear reissue that ranks among Bobo’s finest work.

Like label mate Horace Silver, vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson was around during the heydays of Blue Note Records, but was also able to continue recording activity for the label even after the small independent had been swallowed up by the Liberty Records conglomerate. The ‘70s were not kind to jazz, yet Hutcherson somehow managed to maintain his integrity even in the face of the commercial pressures that Liberty surely must have put on him at the time. Of all his mid ‘70s work for Blue Note, none is more rewarding than the 1975 set Montara (Blue Note 84190). Produced by Dale Oehler, the session would mark Hutcherson’s first official foray into Latin-inflected waters and he does so with legitimacy and creativity to boot. With a sunny disposition, the title track (which would raise its head again much later on the Cruisin’ the Bird album as “Sierra”) fades in and brings on the darker and more romantic textures of the marimba. By contrast, the classic “Oye Como Va” simmers over a steady heat provided by added horns and a sagacious arrangement. Ignored for far too long, Montara might just be a major contender for best reissue of the year!

On the West Coast, Dick Bock and his Pacific Jazz imprimatur gained a following not only through a solid jazz catalog, but also for the first recorded pairing of Brazilian music and jazz in the albums of Laurindo Almeida and Bud Shank. It’s no surprise then that the label also dabbled in the Latin sounds that could be heard in abundance throughout the barrios of Los Angeles. One of the label’s most commercially viable acts, The Jazz Crusaders even decided to add some “salsa” flavor to their album Chile Con Soul (Pacific Jazz 84192) and the end result is one of their best albums ever as a group. In addition to mainstays Joe Sample, Wayne Henderson, Wilton Felder, and Stix Hooper, also on hand for the proceedings are Hubert Laws, Clare Fischer and two Latin percussionists. The air of authenticity that is given to these originals by Laws, Fischer, Sample, and Detroiter Kenny Cox is out of the ordinary for this type of a concept album. Instead of merely tacking on some ethnic rhythms to the group’s usual repertoire, they instead adapt their styles to the demands of this particular style and the results are splendid.

Finally, we have yet another Pacific Jazz project that has become somewhat of an underground classic actively sought by club DJs. Latino Con Soul (Pacific Jazz 84189) sports a ten-piece band led by percussionist Joe Torres and recorded in 1966. Not much is known about Torres either then or now, but he manages to weigh in with a tight set of pieces in the Latin-soul vein, not unlike the kind of Verve records that Willie Bobo was also making around the same time. LA veterans Bill Hood, Gary Barone, Max Bennett, and Victor Feldman take part in the proceedings, which are highly danceable in the long run.


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