Various: Heineken Jazzfest

Javier AQ Ortiz By

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Heineken Jazzfest ’91-San Juan, Puerto Rico , is the first recording issued by the most prestigious Puerto Rican jazz happening; highlighting, as all their yearly compact discs have done ever since, some of the performances during the musical festivities. Paquito D’Rivera was suitably honored in this edition of the Heineken Jazzfest (HJ), which was not the first, following the festival’s habit of honoring living Hispanic jazz figures.

The opener finds D’Rivera charging ahead with a composition dedicated to his Puerto Rican wife, Brenda Feliciano, whom he has widely acknowledged as a particularly strong source of inspiration and support. This is a felicitous performance of a Brazilian tinged D’Rivera. The bassist responds and supports D’Rivera’s leading solos with his own strong statement during the middle point of this tune. D’Rivera then leads again giving space to a pianistic delight that touches the Classical tradition with Brazilian flavors. The tune closes with a crescendo interchange between Claudio Roditi and D’Rivera.

The debut of Humberto Ramírez adds historical importance to this digitally processed live recording at the Plaza de Armas in Old San Juan. Ramírez initial playing in “Open Night” is Mangionesque in its melodic approach, with low sizzle coolness, dotted by Milesian acknowledgements, as well as pinches of percussive sways. His relaxed-low-sizzling-Jazz-mannerisms, burgeon on this composition with the rest of the crew providing hotter material than his, thus providing a welcome contrast. In the end, though, even Ramírez heats up.

Hardly anyone other than Puerto Rican musicians and music industry people know who Mandy Visozo, composer of the tune “Webop,” is. Even then, the numbers are rather few. The group Tropical People, which at the time was highly regarded among critics and issued two subsequent recordings, rendered a lively and danceable vibraphone-led version of this composition, thankfully documenting Visozo’s work within a small group jazz framework. The performance certainly honored Visozo.

If you had been there on any night during the festival in ’91, you could have walked to the nearby famed Barrio La Perla –the seaside community where Giovanni Hidalgo grew up–, and the Luna and Sol streets. Ismael Rivera immortalized La Perla and Willie Colón and Héctor Lavoe occupied themselves with said streets. When it comes to jazz, however, Hidalgo is La Perla’s favorite son. His brief percussive interlude included in this production displays him at a particularly fertile period in his career. Hidalgo’s conga playing might be the historical epitome of the instrument.

“Chick,” written by D’Rivera, who also directed this performance while playing alto sax, is a muscular Big Band cut with 17 musicians including several known international jazz performers. The arrangement is pure D’Rivera, fun, elegant, and vivacious. Herein, several musical languages and eras coalesce seamlessly. This is a high caliber performance.

Colombian saxophonist Justo Almario’s presentation is represented by a 14/8 song entitled “Seventh Avenue.” The time effect frameworks a funky groove ably realized by a strong quartet. Almario floats sax lines with an intensity and speed sorely missed in much of the recording material done under his name. Here, however, he and his fellow players burn. The lesser known of the group, guitarist Ricardo Silveira, does his best to outshine his esteemed colleagues in this performance. Alex Acuña also peppers things up with a varied percussive solo.

“Parada eliminada,” as interpreted by Limited Edition, documents yet another local jazz ensemble, hence one of the manifold benefits of the HJ recordings. This electric guitar led quartet is somewhat free at times, with hints of Rock, served with generous Latin garnishes. This is the most electronic offering of the recording.

The production closes with the group Tierra Nueva. This was another quartet represented here by a brief composition entitled “Sandra.” Funk, contemporary jazz and Latin essences are effectively mixed in this sax led group. Brazilian music has a good following in Puerto Rico. O’Brasil offers, through the leading vocal work of Roberto Figueroa, a tip of the hat to such inclinations in Puerto Rican popular music. Unfortunately, no personnel credits were offered other than the lead vocalist’s name. This seems to be a carnavalesque moment during the festival, although the performance seems a bit foreign-tasted. “Moliendo Café” is an extremely well known song throughout Latin America interpreted here by the group Tropikalia, framed by jazz electric guitar riffs, with a somewhat Latinized background. There is a birthday wish/rap filler with the Havana-NY-San Juan Jazz Orchestra.

Notes: Unfortunately, although Freddie Hubbard performed at the festival, he is not represented in the CD. In addition, the original artwork on the cover of this work, one of the few not done by Dennis Mario, is in the collection of writer and Latin music scholar Cristóbal Díaz Ayala. José Luis Díaz de Villegas did it.


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