When it comes to Latin jazz, trombonist Noah Bless is no novice, having gigged in and around New York City for the better part of three decades with such Latin stars as Paquito D'Rivera, Mario Bauza, Oscar De Leon, Celia Cruz, Willie Colon and Eddie Palmieri, and sat in with the Lincoln Center Afro-Cuban Jazz Orchestra and Spanish Harlem Orchestra, among others. After so many years toiling in the trenches, Bless has at long last decided to unfurl his Latin chops as leader of his own quintet.
The album's title, New York Strong, exemplifies the city's response to the deadly coronavirus pandemic, while the music is perhaps Bless' way to help listeners leave their concerns elsewhere for a few moments and bask in the warmth and happiness of lovely sounds whose fascinating rhythms, if not hypnotic, are at least upbeat and seductive.
From the outset, it is clear that Bless has learned his lessons well. His trombone fits snugly into any Latin groove, and he is never at a loss for something pleasing to impart. Bless and his teammates ease into the fray with his "Chasing Normal," a deceptively laid-back canter, before upping the ante and the tempo on Rudy Calzado's light-footed "Ganga" and Baden Powell's Afro-samba, "Canto de Ossanha." Trumpeter Bill Mobley wrote the serpentine "49th Street," Antonio Carlos Jobim the soft and gentle "Ligia." Flutist Alejandro Aviles makes it a sextet on "49th Street" and Bless' "The Key," although he solos on neither one. Bless and crew are especially persuasive on James Taylor's ardent "Fire and Rain," which precedes the well-ordered finale, Ray Santos' breezy mambo, "Sunny Ray."
As on any synopsis of Latin music, a compatible rhythm section is essential, and Bless has chosen his with care. Drummer Pablo Bencid and percussionist Luisito Quintero are from Venezuela, and even though pianist Mike Eckroth and bassist Boris Kozlov hail from north of that border, they are so immersed in the patterns and sounds of Latin jazz that the listener might easily believe that they too harbor a more equatorial heritage. The same applies to their solos, which invariably summon forth the spirit of the enterprise. In sum, a carefully designed and adeptly performed scenario of Latin jazz. One only wishes there were more of it: eight songs, forty minutes. Not as concise as some albums, but nonetheless rather shy of generous. On the upside, scarcely any of that time is misspent.
Chasing Normal; Ganga; Canto de Ossanha; 49th Street; Ligia; The Key; Fire and Rain;
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