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Stefon Harris / David Sanchez / Christian Scott: Ninety Miles

John Kelman By

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They're all relative youngsters in a jazz world that still finds nonagenarians like Dave Brubeck hitting the summer festival circuit. Tenor saxophonist David Sanchez may be the elder statesman on the marquis of Ninety Miles, with vibraphonist Stefon Harris in the middle position at 38 and trumpeter Christian Scott still on the shy side of 30, but each of them has already made his mark, making this an all-star in-the-making American/Cuban collaboration on an upward trajectory.

Scott's visibility has been soaring, with an album almost every year since Rewind That (Concord, 2006), and delivering incendiary live performances like his 2010 Ottawa Jazz Festival appearance. Harris' career has unfolded a little more slowly since bursting out with Cloud of Red Dust (Blue Note, 1998), but an impressive 2006 Montreal Jazz Festival appearance and sophomore set with his electrified Blackout on Urbanus (Concord, 2009) proves his mesh of cerebral sophistication and get-down grooves remains intact. Sánchez is even more patient, with albums coming every three or four years, but in the time between Cultural Survival (Concord, 2008) and now, he's kept busy with Kenny Werner, heard in a 2009 Montreal performance and on the pianist's Balloons (HalfNote, 2011).

For non-Americans, the significance of Ninety Miles—the distance between coastal United States and Cuba—might be lost; small, perhaps, but with the troubled past between the two nations, it's always held greater significance. Over a year of red tape was required to bring Harris, Sánchez and Scott together with two outstanding Cuban piano quartets—one led by Rember Duharte, the other by Harold López-Nussa, who wowed audiences at Germany's 2010 Enjoy Jazz Festival—but it was clearly worth the effort. Ninety Miles combines originals from the two Cuban pianists with two tunes by Sánchez and three from Harris, including a new look at the title track to the vibraphonist's Black Action Hero (Blue Note, 1999) that's faithful, but achieves far greater liftoff, thanks to López-Nussa's drummer, brother Ruy A Lopez Nussa and percussionist Edgar Martinez Ochoa. It's a song that defines the entire set, filled with irresistible rhythms, memorable melodies and some of the most flat-out exhilarating playing heard from everyone involved.

A marriage (well, two, really) made in heaven, then, but one that doesn't neglect the need to balance the more energetic material with some much-needed respite. Despite being propelled lightly by Ochoa's bata, Sánchez "The Forgotten Ones" is an atmospheric breather, a four-minute duet for the saxophonist and the shimmering, ethereal Harris. And while the three stars are working with two similarly configured Cuban groups, Osmar Salazar's electric bass on tracks like the effervescent "Congo" pushes the bottom end differently than acoustic bassist Yandy Martinez González's Latin swing on Harris' "And This Too Shall Pass."

Without compositional representation, Scott has to rely on his inestimable chops and taste to make his presence felt, but with brash solos like his searing, stratospheric work on "Congo," there's little fear of being ignored. Together with Harris, Sánchez and their Cuban friends, Ninety Miles is music that could bridge the gap if it was ninety light years.

Track Listing: CD: Ñengueleru; E'cha; City Sunrise; The Forgotten Ones; Black Action Figure; Congo; And This Too Shall Pass; Brown Belle Blues; La Fiesta Va. DVD: Sneak peek of the documentary, Ninety Miles; City Sunrise (live); La Fiesta Va (live).

Personnel: Stefon Harris: vibraphone; David Sanchez: tenor saxophone; Christian Scott: trumpet (1-3, 5-8); Rember Duharte: piano (1, 6 8), voice (6); Osmar Salazar: electric bass (1, 6, 8); Eduardo Barroetabena: drums (1, 6, 8); Jean Roberto San Miguel: batá, congas, percussion (1, 6, 8); Harold López-Nussa: piano (2-3, 5, 7, 9); Yandy Martinez Gonzalez: bass (2-3, 5, 7, 9); Ruy Adrian López-Nussa: drums (2-3, 5, 7, 9); Edgar Martinez Ochoa: congas, djembe, percussion (2-3, 5, 7, 9), batá (4).

Title: Ninety Miles | Year Released: 2011 | Record Label: Concord Picante


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