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Various: Latin Jazz

Derrick A. Smith By

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Music Club have created some sterling compilations of a wide range of artists from throughout the world. With this release the label attempts a summation of the genre of Latin Jazz, with mixed results. Fred Dollar's notes are appropriately spirited and sell the artists well, but the lack of anything but incidental listing of ensemble musicians is frustrating, and the packaging itself plays on stereotypes of color and design (oranges and reds, with unsubtle line motifs.)

Although this purports to be an overview of Latin Jazz, most of the tracks are of recent vintage, probably due to the financial constraints of licensing, making this in actuality an overview of a certain period in the genre. Therefore the overview is a stylistic one. Not surprisingly, the failed tracks are those where conservative arrangements are merely decorated with a "Latin tinge"; the successful tracks on this compilation work from within the rhythmically-demanding Afro-Latin locus and move outward, grasping and incorporating other influences.

Examples of this include pianist Hilton Ruiz' two contributions, particularly his own "Something Grand", notable for its tuned metallic percussion section and his solo's vigorous compendium of Latin jazz styles. (Ruiz was one of the few accompanists for Rahsaan Roland Kirk who could match the reedmaster's gift for straight-ahead but exciting postmodernism.) Fellow keyboardist Kenny Barron maneuvers marvelously among blues, son, bebop, and syncopated-stride gospel on his interpretation of Blue Mitchell's "Fungii Mama", his efforts bolstered by some melodically- and texturally-sensitive drumming on the intro and in the descending vamp conclusion. This ability of keyboard stylists to incorporate and deconstruct a wide range of influences within a definitively "Latin" context is stated elsewhere by Chucho Valdes' massive new Village Vanguard recordings.

Luckily this somewhat mediocre compilation ends tremendously. Hector Martignon's "Colombaiao" speaks for itself: the intro with his accordion and the rhythm section cue the Brazilian batucada reference hinted at by the title, and the brief, tense accordion fills move forward the performance into a simultaneously sashaying, stomping conclusion. Mongo Santamaria gets the last track, and he grabs it, in a live performance that could be the soundtrack to Carnival in New Orleans, Trinidad, or Rio de Janeiro, Santamaria evoking a vocal sound from his percussion and a horn line suggesting Nuyorican salsoul, a reminder that this music has as much potential as anything, but dancing is always at its root.

TRACKS: Hilton Ruiz - Something Grand / Luis Bonilla - Caravan / Paquito D'Rivera - Linda's Moody / Mongo Santamaria - Costa del Oro / Omar Valle - Sirius / Justo Almaro - Pasos Gigantes / Shorty Rogers - Casa de Luz / Kenny Barron - Fungii Mama / Claudio Roditi - Rua Dona Margarida / Hilton Ruiz - Mr. Kenyatta / Paquito D'Rivera - Nuestro Bolero / Luis Bonilla - Mambo Barbara / Hector Martignon - Colombaiao / Mongo Santamaria - Soca Mi Nice.

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