Imagine being a superstar in Latin music, then accepting a major pay cut for your decision to focus primarily on jazz. That's exactly what happened with Ray Barretto, who has kept his jazz oriented New World Spirit band together for almost a decade despite the fact thatlet's face itmany of those who know him for major salsa hits like "Guarare," "Que Viva La Musica" and "Cocinando" have little or no interest in jazz. But Barretto and Spirit have toughened it outand excellent albums like Spirit
(his first for Blue Note after recording for Concord and Owl) make us glad. I won't lieI'm among the countless salseros who really misses hearing Barretto play salsa. But inspired offerings that range from the Middle Eastern influenced "Dance Of Denial" to the exuberant "Point Of Contact" indicate that he's enjoying this direction a lot.
The New Yorker dislikes the term "Latin jazz," but in fact, this album is exactly thatjazz with a Latin flavor. Nonetheless, it's important to note that Barretto tends to incorporate Afro Cuban elements in a more subtle, less obvious, less overt fashion than greats like Tito Puente and Poncho Sanchez.
Hopefully, New World Spirit will be around for a long time.
Reprinted with the permission of Myrna Daniels and L.A. Jazz Scene , the largest jazz publication in Southern California.