Various: Heineken Jazzfest 1993 In Tribute to Mongo Santamar

Javier AQ Ortiz By

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Heineken Jazzfest 1993 , was the third installment of the documentation in this ongoing series; highlighting, as all their yearly compact discs do, some of the performances. Cuban Ramón “Mongo” Santamaría , was the living legend honored that year at the Heineken Jazzfest (HJ) following the festival’s habit of honoring living Hispanic jazz figures.

“Mongo” renders his tune “Bonita” with his distinctive sound and feel. He might be the most influential conga drum player ever. Santamaría is one of the last true heavy-handed conga drummers left in the world, although he is already retired. In this tune, however, trumpeter James Zollar is the one that captivates the ear with his solo.

One of Santamaría’s favorite conga players is Giovanni Hidalgo . Herein we find a live take on “Summertime” with The Puerto Rico All-Star Jazz. There are a few missteps in the horn section that might pass unnoticed in the percussive enrichment of the melodic excitement cultivated in this tune. Such is the charm of live performances and, indeed, there are a few places here and there throughout the HJ recordings where the “charm” comes through one-way or the other. Going back to Hidalgo’s performance, clocking at nine minutes, there is plenty of time to enjoy everyone’s interpretation of this musical Classic. Aside from other soloists, such as Tommy Villarini in trumpet and Amuni Nacer in keyboards, here Hidalgo solos in both congas and bongos, albeit the last instrument was not properly recorded.

Santamaría’s ubiquitous “Afro Blue,” under the attention of Slide Hampton & The Jazz Masters, begins with the call of batá drums. Here “Mongo” himself takes conga solos as both prelude and conclusion to the thickly and elegantly weaved 6/8 sonic midriff of this simple, beautiful and profound composition. His drumming here is not the Santamaría of old, but he does not sound old either. A quick perusal of the band members is recommended as a quality indicator.

Roy Hargrove offers “Two Bass Hit.” Collectively, they sound tight, comfortable, and eager. Hargrove hits the tones hard, fast and continuously. Ron Blake’s tenor sax jumps in with equal candor, and fervor as anyone else in the ensemble and certainly gives a run for everyone’s money. Greg Hutchinson does not give up one inch of gained jazz territory in this performance by driving his drumming actively into the performance’s next and concluding level.

A former Santamaría trumpet player, Tommy Villarini, interprets “El Tren,” which translates as “train.” The title is adequate as this is a driving jam featuring then upcoming talent with some established players with multigenre experience. The first sax solo is delicious and drips taste, energetic and compelling phrases. Rafi Torres offers a trombone treat, followed by extended and solid percussive solos partially obscured in the mix.

One encounters the “7th Inning musical shift” in this recording in “Inverse Chills” with the Edsel Gómez Trio. He plays the piano Eddie Gómez is on bass and Ignacio Berroa on drums. Edsel Gómez parlayed years in Brazil, multiple Puerto Rican and jazz experiences into an effective medium of jazz expression. He remains, nonetheless, a rather obscure figure. Fortunately, he comes aloud and clear with clever, intimate, serene-yet-intense riffs, suggestions and outright declarations in this composition of his. His company, of course, does not lag behind one bit. It makes perfect sense to record this trio even now. This is a particularly rich performance.

On “Island Dream,” Jorge Laboy, a local jazz act, offers a lighter and contemporary interpretation that breezes from calm into gusts of musical oceanic air.

Seis del Solar, a former band of Rubén Blades , recorded as a jazz group in their exploratory attempt at a jazz career. On this occasion, they interpret “Island Walk” which features a Chá-beat heavily jazzified. This rare live recording of an early version of this group is not the one that ended up recording. The latter ensemble was stronger and counted with the addition of a saxophone.

The most extensive exposure belongs to Carlos Guedes . His group Desvío, or “Detour,” supports jazz expressions led by a Venezuelan harp, which is a rare specimen in the jazz fauna and flora. Aside from the engrossing work of Guedes throughout the performance, the percussion solos complement the performance very well, as the transitions are well conceived and realized.

“Tugunga Waltz,” performed by the Carli Muñoz Trio concludes this recording with a straight-ahead closure. A strong, albeit, infrequent appearance of Muñoz in a recording.

Notes: William Cepeda Afrorican Jazz’s was initially featured at this festival, although their appearance was not documented at the time. Creative Operations Workshop apparently did the cover for this album in particular. The cover art for this album can be seen at the Merchandise section of the Heineken Jazzfest website.

Note of Correction: On the previous two reviews of the HJ records, it was said that artist and percussionist Dennis Mario had done most covers throughout the festival’s history. He has done most recent covers but he shares credit with other artists and graphic designers in the ongoing visual aesthetics of the HJ.


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