Pianist Francisco "Paquito" Hechavarría might be best known for his work on Gloria Estefan's "Conga," but that record barely scratches the surface in showing what he's capable of playing. Smoking tumbao-based patterns seem to be embedded in his musical DNA: Hechavarría grew up in pre-Castro Cuba and soaked up the rhythms and sounds of his native land. He spent some time as the director and pianist of Orquesta Riverside, and even had the opportunity to record with Mongo Santamaria when the legendary percussionist came to Cuba to record Our Man In Havana (Fantasy, 1959). While half a century elapsed between the recording of Our Man and Hechavarría's work here, he still seems to play with the energy of his youth, but also with the wisdom he has accumulated across those years.
Frankly, a collection of twelve songs associated with the great Frank Sinatra, finds Hechavarría in good company, with drummer Dafnis Prieto, bassist Andy Gonzalez and percussionist Pedro Martínez along for the ride. This stellar quartet transforms these standards into rhythmically vibrant Latin jazz gems. The quartet, along with some A-list guests like saxophone legend Phil Woods and trumpeter Brian Lynch, keeps the tracks short and high on excitement.
A brief piano introduction ushers in the quartet's interpretation of "Change Partners." While things start off in a polite and measured manner, the song really heats up when Hechavarría takes off on his solo. Lynch makes his first appearance with an elegant take on "Sweet Lorraine," exploding with some raunchy trumpet cries. Following a comfortable stroll through "Oh You Crazy Moon," Woods joins the band on "I've Got The World On A String." The altoist's tender side comes out on the introduction, and he gets ample space to solo. A percussion feast underscores González's fine bass work throughout "Love Is A Many Splendored Thing." While the majority of the solos on this record go to the leader and the guest stars, the percussion partnership between Prieto and Martínez really seems to fuel the fire throughout.
"Just In Time" and "All Of Me," the remaining two tracks featuring Lynch, benefit from his bold horn work. The latter of these two performances finds Lynch to be particularly inspired as the rollicking rhythms of Cuba surround and engulf him. Woods, also in fine form on his two other appearances, delivers familiar melodic strains and strong solos on "The Lady Is A Tramp" and "Fly Me To The Moon." The band is joined by Ileana Santamaria on vocals near the conclusion of their performance of Cole Porter's "I Love Paris" and the vocals certainly add another dimension to this music. "Witchcraft" and "I'm Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter," the final two quartet tracks on the album, maintain the same mixture of precision and passion that shows from start to finish on Frankly.
Change Partners; Sweet Lorraine; Oh You Crazy Moon; I've Got The World On A String; Love Is A Many Splendored Thing; Just In Time; The Lady Is A Tramp; I Love Paris; All of Me; Witchcraft; Fly Me To The Moon; I'm Gonna Sit Right Down And Write Myself A Letter.
Paquito Hechavarría: piano; Andy González: acoustic bass; Dafnis Prieto: drums; Pedro Martínez: congas, percussion and chorus; Phil Woods: alto saxophone (4, 7, 11); Brian Lynch: trumpet (2, 6, 9); Ileana Santamaría: chorus (8).
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