Exploring music with the intellect of an ethnomusicologist, the imagination of an artist, and the technical savvy and musical know-how to combine the two is no easy feat, but Mark Weinstein is more than capable of pulling it off. For the flautist's latest Latin feast, he turned his attention toward a fusion of jazz and charanga music, a form of Cuban music that features the flute as the lead voice in an ensemble that also contains a string section, percussion, piano and bass, and the results are sophisticated and scintillating.
Fellow flautist Danilo Lozano's enlightening liner notes make mention of the fact that pianist Gonzalo Rubalcaba worked with a similar concept on Mi Gran Pasión (Messidor, 1987), but Lozano also makes sure to highlight the fact that Weinstein's work stands apart from the pianist's string-less album because it uses the actual instrumentation associated with charanga. This unique combination of voices can create a raucous party ("El Cumbanchero"), a refined, yet passionate, dance hall dalliance ("Dona Olga"), or a lighthearted affair ("Armoniosos De Amalia"), but each of these numbers share certain space and characteristics with the others, like circles in a Latin Jazz-themed Venn diagram. The only songs that truly stand apart are the two alto flute-and-string-only numbersa somber and classical-leaning "Perla Marina" and a film score-worthy "Contigo En La Distancia."
While the album's nine tracks pay tribute to Cuban and Puerto Rican composers of note and highlight Weinstein's flute mastery, they also showcase the arranging talents and compositional skills of the leader's chief collaborator on this project, pianist Aruán Ortiz. Ortiz manages to tackle the traditions of charanga without resorting to cliché and his own compositions add another element to the music. His "Av. Pinto Tapiro" and "Danzón De Liz" are breezy and bright, but "Aruancó" proves to be the standout original. The pianist juxtaposes relentless, clattering hand drums against Weinstein's flute, and uses his own piano to create hypnotic, cycling chords and some engrossing solo work.
Weinstein's continued willingness to reach beyond the status quo and explore the neglected tributaries of the wider Latin Jazz river marks him as a true giant of this music, and El Cumbanchero is merely the latest document to prove it.
El Cumbanchero; La Mulata Rumbera; Doña Olga; Aruancó; Av. Pinto Tapiro; Perla Marina; Armoniosos De Amalia; Danzón De Liz; Contigo En La Distancia.