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Papo Vasquez Mighty Pirates Troubadours: Detroit, MI, September 1, 2012

Steve Bryant By

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Papo Vasquez Mighty Pirates Troubadours
Detroit Jazz Festival
Detroit, MI
September 1, 2012

When a musician decides to play Latin,, it is easy for him to get pigeonholed into the Salsa circuit with a little instrumental mambo disguised as Latin jazz thrown in. This isn't the case for trombonist Papo Vasquez who, for the last 20 years produced some of the most creatively eclectic and innovative music in the Afro-Latin Jazz genre. For one, the Puerto Rican Vasquez grew up in the Badlands of North Philly, a town where aspiring players have to be well-versed in bop, funk blues and avant-garde. In addition, the town is such that even the Latin music that comes out of there has a harder edge than the NY Latin. Vasquez, who started out playing in the Nuyorican salsa scene, joined the seminal group Libre and helped to found the legendary Puerto Rican aggregation Batacumbele. Vasquez, who grew up listening to Slide Hampton, Curtis Fuller, and J.J. Johnson, is just as well-versed in bop as he is with Afro-Latin and his music is a mofungo of all of these influences.

Even though Vasquez has been to Detroit before, this was the first time that he appeared as a bandleader at the Detroit Jazz Festival. Vasquez brought his group Mighty Pirates Troubadours, a motley crew of veteran and young players which included the likes of the overlooked Willie Williams on tenor, Rick Germanson on piano, Dezron Douglas on bass, Alvester Garnett on drums, the great bonguero Anthony Carillo, as well as Carlos Maldonado on other percussion. The Festival put The Pirates in the Hart Plaza Pyramid stage, an intimate outdoor site which is known for its great acoustics and gave the set the feel of a backyard jam.

Vasquez, who's got that gangsta vibe going on when it comes to bending genres, started the set with a number off of his new CD Oasis (Picaro Records, 2012), titled "Manga Larga." He called the set to order by blowing a "real" goat's horn. Then the drummers started hitting a Bomba/Plena rhythm on cowbells and Dezron Douglas laid down a nasty tumbao, before Vasquez stepped in with a dissonant solo reminiscent of Roswell Rudd. The piece ended with solos by Carrillo and Maldonado, who laid down a fiery open rumba. The next tune "Sol Tropical," was an exuberant jump-up which called to mind saxophonist Sonny Rollins' "St. Thomas," with a joyful turn by Willie Williams and a pizzicato bass solo by Douglas.

Other memorable tunes off the set included "Que Sabes Tu," a Bomba-based polyrhythmic burner which featured a bangin' guest turn by Detroit trumpeter Michael Walter White and had all three horns in a scorchin' three-way lead-off, and "Oasis" a world music mashup encompassing BombaRican Afro-Cuban as well as bop. The Pirates closed the set island style with "Plena Drumline, which had that Ponce feel, with Vasquez channeling Juan Tizol and the whole group grabbing panderos (tambourines) and leading a Plena parade through the exuberant crowd. The Pirates possesses that rare combination of musical proficiency and energy, which is able to generate excitement during its "invasions."

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