Scott Martin’s name may be new to you, but I’ll bet his sound isn’t. For more than ten years, he has played saxophones and flute with the Grammy Award-winning Poncho Sanchez Latin Jazz Band. (For a brief time, he and brothers Stan and Andy constituted Poncho’s entire brass section; both appear with him here.) In addition, Martin has played with many stars, including Celia Cruz, Tito Puente, Mongo Santamaria, Ray Charles, James Moody, Arturo Sandoval, Chick Corea, Diane Reeves, and Joey Defrancesco. He is a member of the Los Angeles-based 18-piece Jazz on the Latin Side All Stars, where he plays alongside musicians such as Poncho, Francisco Aguabella, Justo Almario, Alex Acuña and Danilo Lozano. He has thus been steeped in Latin jazz tradition at a time and place of significant color and creativity, and it shows.
Café Cubano is Scott Martin's debut album – and seven of the selections are originals by group members – but it sounds like the work of a seasoned veteran. Rhythms, the sine qua non of Latin jazz, are crisp, confident and rock-solid; chops are exemplary; and attacks and intonation are precise and accurate.
Lest you think this recording is all about technique, however, let me promptly dispel that notion. There’s plenty of fire here, beginning with the opening strains of Willie Bobo’s classic “Fried Neckbones and Some Home Fries.” Scott’s “Café Cubano” crackles with electricity, as does his “San Juan,” with its dynamic sax solo, and Rick White’s “Escuela de Peska.” But the album has its gentler moments as well: White’s “Con Seis” is a poignant ballad, with a luscious, Wes Montgomery-influenced solo by the composer. Listen for brother Stan on the trumpet, Andy Martin’s bracing trombone, and the leader's baritone sax and flute on the latter’s mid-tempo “Ojo de Rojo.” All in all, this album will reward your attention with a lot of enjoyment, from “Neckbones” through “Platanos” (“Bananas”) and “Mabuti,” with their tasty unisons, harmonies and solos, until the echoes of Jimmy Van Heusen’s “Imagination” fade into the twilight.
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