The vogue for Latin jazz began in the 1940s when Dizzy Gillespie
hired Cuban percussionist Chano Pozo to play in his big band. At the time, most critics dismissed it as a passing fad. However, percussionist Ray Mantilla
, part of a "goodwill ensemble" Gillespie took on a tour of Castro's Cuba in 1977, is today elder statesman of a still thriving genre. With Kansas City saxophonist Bobby Watson
, Mantilla fronts The Jazz Tribe, a sextet successfully blending jazz with Cuban rhythms, mainly for Italian audiences. Everlasting
features eight original numbers and Charlie Parker
's "Donna Lee," which comes out less Latin than the others and, it must be said, all the better for it. Watson pays tribute to the founder of bebop with some fine questing and inventive blowing. There's also an interesting piano solo from Xavier Davis
before Watson returns to trade choruses with trumpeter Jack Walrath
The problem with the originals is that they are neither vastly original nor very distinctive, most often simply vehicles for a blow. Drummer Victor Lewis
' "Eeeyyeess" is uncomfortably reminiscent of Joe Zawinul
's "Birdland." Arrangements are loose, sometimes downright flabby. One solo follows another until a Latin riff belatedly recalls where the Tribe is at...or meant to be. Latin jazz is at its best when tight and to the point; this rambles.
That said, there are some happy ensemble sounds on the opening track, "Pecado Primero," that wouldn't have been out of place in the Buena Vista Social Club. Mantilla's congas kick things off in style, then Davis comes in with muscular piano. Walrath and Watson are both on song. High hopes raised for the rest of the album are only partially fulfilled.
Watson's "Hello Albert," dedicated to producer Alberto Alberti (who brought the Tribe together in the 1990s for the La Spezia Jazz Festival), slows the tempo down a bit and has its moments, specifically Davis' piano and a laidback solo from Walrath before Watson toughens things up a little. Mantilla then takes his eye off the ball with some singularly nondescript percussion and a feeling of missed opportunity sets in.
Much the same happens on Mantilla's own "Temples of Gold" which, midway through, loses so much impetus it almost grinds to a halt before Curtis Lundy
's bass pulls things back together. The sound level is variable at the start of Walrath's composition "Gesualdo's Tango."
The sleeve note is hilarious: "One of the characteristic aspects of the Jazz Tribe's music appears to be its easiness in enjoying the audience and, at the same time, its extremely complex execution...This CD shines for the music in itself for its capability in reporting the present times with deep and sincere intentions."
Pecado Primero; Hello Albert; Donna Lee; Gesualdo's Tango; Temples Of Gold; Ay Caramba; Everlasting; Eeeyyeess; El Color De Mi Rythmo.
Bobby Watson: alto saxophone; Jack Walrath: trumpet; Xavier Davis: piano; Curtis Lundy: bass; Victor Lewis: drums; Ray Mantilla: percussion.