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In Cuba, where musical studies take on the force of a "calling" in spite of the political insensitivity to the arts, the spirit of the music comes through with a pulse created from polyrhythmic complexity. The mystery of the music is how the combination of different and sometimes opposing rhythms, often non-notatable, can combine into a synthesis that appeals directly to the hearts of the listeners, as does all of the music stemming from African drumming. With numerous influences converging on the island, Cuban music reflects a number of genres, even as it merges all of them into a uniquely appealing and instantly identifiable music.
While many Cuban-born keyboardists, such as Chucho Valdés and Gonzalo Rubalcaba have chosen to remain with the acoustic piano, Miguel Romero instead experiments with the various forms of Latin music by varying the sounds of electronic keyboard. Or at least such is the case on Cuban Jazz Funk. Rather than using bop as a reference point for his combination of congas and batá drums with jazz, Romero has advanced a generation or two forward to explore the commonality of funk and clavé. Astute observers like Don Byron and Christian McBride have noticed that the underlying foundations remains similar, with the result that they influence listeners to get up and dance and feel the music.
So, on Cuban Jazz Funk, Romero's sextet (four of whom play drums or percussion) in effect modernizes the way that Cuban music integrates with American jazz or blues. Based in Atlanta and gaining a growing legion of fans, Romero indeed does overtly use the blues as the basis for "Zorro's Rollercoaster," the standard changes rooting the solos that follow the bouncing introductory theme more akin to carnaval than amusement park.
On "In The Moment," tenor saxophonist Larry Jackson creates a trance-like texture over a single chord, much like some of Gato Barbieri's work, as Romero paints a soundscape of shimmering and echoed ringing and drummer Tad Gulley brushes a soft saunter. The same effect of reverberating chords sustained over several measures works on "Sieston" as well, bassist Kurt Mitchell asserting the bass lines that propel and unify the tune as the other members of the group stretch out. Romero creates an orchestral effect to bring up the "Sunrise," eventually settling into a steel drum effect for a swaying ease that walks the fine line between contemporary jazz and Latin irresistibility.
Perhaps the most satisfying tune on Cuban Jazz Funk is the first one, "Descarga Palmieri," which pays tribute to Eddie and Charlie Palmieri, but which also uses an aggressive McCoy-Tyner-like vamp to bring out some remarkable soloing.
Following up his more relaxing Island Breeze album with one of wider influences, Miguel Romero is emerging as one of the more popular Latin pianists. His goal is connecting with his audiences in direct ways that recall his island influences while they revel in the equally universal appeal of funk.
Track Listing: Descarga Palmieri, Sunrise, Zorro's Rollercoaster, In The Moment, Citizen Of The World*, Sieston, Meditation
Personnel: Miguel Romero, keyboard, percussion; Larry Jackson, saxophones, flute; Kurt Mitchell, bass; Tad Gulley, drums; Count Mbutu, congas, percussion; Hassan Ortiz, bongos, bat