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Steven Kroon: El Mas Alla (Beyond)

John Barron By

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Growing up in Queens, New York, percussionist Steven Kroon soaked up the sounds of the Latin, jazz and R&B music permeating his neighborhood. The influence of such a diverse musical environment helped shape his personalized style, catching the attention of big-name pop and jazz artists like Luther Vandross and Ron Carter. Along with being a first-call percussion sideman, Kroon is also an engaging bandleader, as evidenced by his third solo release: El Mas Alla (Beyond), a polished Latin-jazz production with top-notch arrangements performed by a group of seasoned New York veterans.

The catchy Kroon composition "Bo Bo's Blues" opens the session with an absorbing Latin-jazz vibe reminiscent of classic recordings by Cal Tjader. The groovy 12-bar jam features in-the-pocket soloing by pianist Igor Atalita, vibraphonist Bryan Carrott, flautist Craig Rivers and tenor saxophonist Roger Byam. Carrot, Rivers and Byam are the main soloists throughout the disc, in-sync with Kroon's soulful, listener-friendly concept. Guest appearances by vocalist Freddy Cole ("I Wish You Love"), violinist Regina Carter ("Superwoman/Where Were You") and saxophonist Steve Wilson ("Don Ramon") add extra flair to the proceedings.

Kroon's rhythm section mates are all adept purveyors of the Afro-Cuban musical dialect. Pianist Oscar Hernandez lights up the keys on his own composition "Precious One," a funky cha-cha-cha. Bassist Ruben Rodriguez holds down the bottom end with a punchy drive, and solos convincingly on the Jaco Pastorius classic "Used to Be a Cha-Cha." Drummers Vince Cherico and Diego Lopez take turns on the trap-kit, matching Kroon's fiery style.

All around exceptional performances, coupled with a well-programmed mix of originals and covers, makes El Mas Alla (Beyond) a highly entertaining listen.

Track Listing: Bo Bo's Blues; Matana; Precious One; Brazilian Sugar; I Wish You Love; Used To Be A Cha-Cha; Steppin; Superwoman/Where Were You; Don Ramon; Minha Saudade.

Personnel: Steven Kroon: percussion; Igor Atalita: piano; Oscar Hernandez: piano; John Di Martino: piano; Bryan Carrott: vibraphone; Craig Rivers: flute; Roger Byam: tenor saxophone; Steve Wilson: soprano saxophone; Ruben Rodriguez: bass; Vince Cherico: drums; Diego Lopez: drums; Regina Carter: violin (8); Freddy Cole: vocals (5).

Title: El Mas Alla (Beyond) | Year Released: 2008 | Record Label: Self Produced

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