is a highly listenable album reminiscent of the days of Afro-Cuban Latin jazz and the beginnings of the salsa movement. The leader, flutist Mark Weinstein, brings a most interesting story with him to this project.
Weinstein was once a trombonist alongside veteran Barry Rogers in Eddie Palmieri's La Perfecta Orquesta in 1966. Esteemed Latin musician and bandleader Larry Harlow, in the liner notes, recounts how Weinstein was offered a job as a bassist for a summertime gig in the Catskill Mountains if he could learn to play the instrument within a month. Weinstein not only complied but became an outstanding bassist.
Weinstein released the ground-breaking 1967 recording Cuban Roots (Musicor), which proved to be most influential in the development of Latin jazz. Chick Corea was also a member of the ensemble, and it was the first time that rumba and Weinstein's arrangements helped to codify the trumpet and trombone section which became the core of the New York salsa sound.
However, Mark Weinstein soon decided to change instruments and learned to play the flute after receiving his musical doctorate in the 1970s. Weinstein started recording as a flutist in the mid 1990s, with Con Alma being his tenth album. In addition to his work in Latin jazz, Weinstein has recorded with Brazilian musicians like Trio da Paz and world musicians including Omar Sosa, Cyro Baptista and Brad Shepik.
Con Alma is almost a throwback to earlier days, when Afro-Cuban and Salsa music prospered. Weinstein's flute work brings back memories of an early 1960s Herbie Mann, prior to his discovering the viability of a youth market, and Dave Valentin, on his non-fusion and smooth jazz albums.
The real excitement is the ensemble performance of Weinstein's group. Pianist Mark Levine does a stellar job of pulling this whole project together, and getting as much solo time as Weinstein. Santi Debriano is of Panamanian heritage, and is obviously most comfortable with the pulsing rhythms played here. The team of drummer Mauricio Herrera and conguero Pedrito Martinez, two Cuban musicians, provides a percolating and unstoppable rhythm throughout the album with their solo and support work.
In a nice switch, instead of all-Latin tunes, the compositions consist of jazz standards, some of them well known, like John Coltrane's "Crescent," Wayne Shorter's "Fee Fi Fo Fum," Thelonous Monk's "Evidence," and Dizzy Gillespie's title tune. There are some obscure choices, including Bobby Hutcherson's "Gotcha," Mulgrew Miller's "Soul-Leo," and Debriano's "Santi's Africaleidoscope." To round out the album, Weinstein and Levine each contribute an original, and the album concludes with Victor Young' classic "Stella By Starlight."
This is a good time to dust off those mambo shoes!