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Latin Jazz Orchestra: Havana Blues

Jack Bowers By

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Whenever the words "Latin" and "Jazz" appear side-by-side in a descriptive phrase (in this case the name of an orchestra), one can be almost certain that either one (Latin, rhythm) or the other (Jazz, improvisation) predominates. In this case, it's rhythm - but that's not to say that improvisation is entirely overlooked (there are engaging choruses along the way by saxophonists Dodgion, Brainin and Lagond; trumpeter Seeley; pianist Arturo O'Farrill; trombonist Vásquez; vibraphonist Mendoza, and drummer/co-leader Rendón, among others). But this is chiefly about rhythm, an area in which the Latin Jazz Orchestra excels. The orchestra itself comes in various shapes and sizes, from quintet ("Percussion Excursion") to 18-piece ensemble ("Havana Blues," "Tres Palabras"). Each has as its common denominator impulsive Latin rhythms; even the title selection isn't really a blues in the traditional sense but a medium-tempo mambo whose swaggering beat reminds one at times of the late Perez Prado. More agreeable is Jimmy Rowles' bop-influenced "Cobra," whose flashing cadences enhance splendid solos by Seeley, O'Farrill and baritone Lagond. Two more strolling mambos follow - "Palabras de Mujer," showcasing Mendoza's vibraphone, and Chick Corea's "Guajira," with Seeley, O'Farrill and flutist Mauricio Smith soloing and Adela Dalto serving as a vocal "chorus." Kenny Dorham's "Afrodisia," one of four numbers arranged by the great Chico O'Farrill (the others are "Havana Blues," "The Cobra" and "Tres Palabras") features Seeley, Arturo O'Farrill and tenor saxophonist Brainin, who is also heard on "Blue Mambo." "Huachinango de Veracruz," written and arranged by co-leader Armando Rodríguez and spotlighting Mendoza on marimbas, captures the flavor of old Mexico, while "Percussion Excursion" is precisely that with Berdeguer, Rendón, bassist Mario Rodríguez, Joe González on bongos and Ken Ross on chékere having a brisk workout. "Tres Palabras" is a lovely Latin ballad, "Blue Mambo" swings hard behind brass, reeds and rhythm, and the orchestra wraps things up with a high-energy version of Horace Silver's "Where You At?" Recommended to fans of Latin Jazz despite its less-than-45-minutes playing time.

Track Listing:

Havana Blues; The Cobra; Palabras de Mujer; Guajira; Afrodisia; Huachinango de Veracruz; Percussion Excursion; Tres Palabras; Blue Mambo; Where You At? (44:37).

Personnel:

Peck Allmond, John Almendra, Igor Atalita, John Berdeguer, Peter Brainin, Pablo Calogero, Milton Cardona, Ray Col

Title: Havana Blues | Year Released: 1998 | Record Label: Palmetto Records

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