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Johnny Blas: Indestructible Spirit

Chris M. Slawecki By

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"This album differs in style, it has more of a funky jazz beat with a twist of Latin, suggests Johnny Blas. "Kind of a throwback to the '70s sound. Indestructible Spirit also represents rebirth for Latin percussionist Blas, who leads a brand new band and even performs on saxophone.

"Oaklands Mambo opens the set up bright and tight, a nicely loping Latin instrumental groove with trombones and other horns blowing like a blast furnace, while percussion drives the rhythm section in the engine room. "Puerto Rico Rico downshifts the tempo of its Latin groove but maintains its velocity, with its cuatro (small ten-stringed guitar) solo snaking throughout like the song's nervous system. The dancing continues with "Boogaloo Blas, which is precisely that: a funky, head-bobbin' Latin boogaloo that moves in precise syncopation but under the canopy of a horn chart that seems to spread the warm and carefree sunshine of the Caribbean isles.

"Afro Rican reaches further out: Blas opens with a percussion solo that resounds with crossing Puerto Rican and African rhythms, while the lead saxophone slices through the mix with a cutting sound that suggests Yusef Lateef's explorations of eastern instrumental music (and also quotes from John Coltrane's version of "My Favorite Things to fine effect). Blas' title track goes even further as it sets up a humming, beeping flow of synthesized vocals, keyboards and percussion, and then saxophone and trombone seem to rhythmically cut in against the flow, this set's most ambitious rhythm arrangement.

Closer to earth, "Barry Rogers revisits the ballad that first appeared on Blas' live debut, A Night in LA (Discos Dos Coronas, 1995), expanded to accommodate abundantly vibrant melodic and improvised playing from the horn and rhythm players. Its lead saxophone intimates the melody of the dreamy classic "So Many Stars and the soulful yet still jazz sound of Grover Washington, Jr., especially the saxophonist's Kudu and CTI recordings.

You can read in the liner notes how personal this recording became for him: "What you hear will be completely different than any of my other recordings. It is a representation of who I have become once again. If this is the sound of that, then Blas has become one seriously multifaceted and funky dude.


Track Listing: Oaklands Mambo; Puerto Rico Rico; Lubi; Barry Rogers; Afro Rican; Indestructible Spirit; Boogaloo Blas; A Song for Rose; Cha Cha Para Ti.

Personnel: Johnny Blas: soprano saxophone, congas, timbales, coro; Jeff Hawley: bass, cuatro; Mike Bennett: drums; Ryan Prior: piano; Steve Johnson: trombone; Leonard Luna: trombone; Terry Delgado: coro; Isaac Guerrero: percussion; Paul Clark: tenor saxophone; Raymond Zepeda: soprano saxophone.

Title: Indestructible Spirit | Year Released: 2008 | Record Label: Cubop

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