Trombonist/composer/arranger Papo Vazquez, along with his group Pirates Troubadours, has just unleashed Carnival in San Juan, a multifaceted celebration which captures the spirit of its title.
And the title cut is quite an opening statement. Vazquez’ solo bursts with rapid-fire phrases, and tenor man Willie Williams follows with a rollicking upper register attack. Pianist Arturo O’Farrill plays his solo at the same tempo but with the feelings of an observer, not a participant. The percussion of Horacio “El Negro” Hernandez, Roberto and Tito Cepeda, and Joe Gonzalez keep the rhythm going full speed ahead. “Mondo Bizarro” is a crisply arranged mid-tempo tune which includes a horn riff reminiscent of the electric guitar intro on The Temptations’ “Cloud Nine.”
The mood becomes somber on “Las Torres,” a wrenching 9/11 tribute. Gonzalez delivers a passionate bilingual lamentation while the other band members pick up the chorus behind him. The raucous “Plena Pa’ Las Nenas” takes us back to the carnival, then things cool down again with Vazquez’s arrangement of bassist Bill Lee’s “Worlds.” The group goes for the jugular on “Vianda con Bacalao,” a solid Latin funk. Vazquez and Williams wail on their horns, Benitez lays down a pumping electric bass groove and the percussion section is absolute tachychardia.
Vazquez shows that he can also play straight-ahead with perfect fluency. His letter perfect arrangement of Monk’s “Stuffy Turkey” underscores the composer’s trademark eccentricity and features crisp drumming by guest Victor Jones and swinging piano by Fred McFarlane, as well as more fine soloing by Vazquez and Williams. “Carlito’s Coco” has free jazz overtones worthy of Ornette Coleman. From every genre, tempo and angle, Carnival in San Juan is a total triumph for Papo Vazquez.
1. Carnival in San Juan
2. Mundo Bizarro
3. Las Torres
4. Plena Pa' Las Nenas
6. Vianda con Bacalao
7. En La Cueva de Tan
8. Stuffy Turkey
9. Like a Little Child
10. Snow Angel
11. Carlitos Coco
12. Fireflies from the Orion Nebula & Belen
Bill Lee, Tito Cepeda, Arturo O' Farrill, Milton Cardona, Willie Williams, John Benitez, Horacio Hernandez, Roberto Cepeda, Joe Gonzalez, Fred McFarlane, Victor Jones, Roberto Cepeda, Mario Rivera, Ivan Renta, Carlos Henriquez, Dafnis Prieto, Papo Vasquez