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Following up his 2000 début, Flamenco Jazz Latino , guitarist Mark Towns returns with another dose of Latin/Cuban-inflected jazz on Passion , again featuring flautist Hubert Laws. While not exactly a groundbreaking affair, there are enough pleasant melodies and good playing to make this album worth a spin for fans of the genre. The question is: does it merit repeated play?
Passion also reunites Towns with pianist Rainel Pino and bassist Anibal Ambert, both players who are comfortable with the breezy ambience and sensuous pulse of Towns’ material. Towns is a guitarist who, with admirable technique and an elegant sense of melody, is able to take a tune like the Average White Band’s “Pick Up The Pieces” and reinvent it with a clave; surprisingly, it works. His own compositions are attractive in an innocuous way; they are engaging, but not necessarily substantive enough to stand out in the memory. Still, it is clear that Towns has an understanding of the style; there are moments of subtlety, and there is nothing heavy-handed about the way he or his bandmates approach the material.
Laws, who has graced literally hundreds of albums but records under his own name more infrequently these days, adds a pretty texture to “Desert Flower,” “Ever After,” and the more brooding “Rainy Night.” While not a stretch for him, his contributions are welcome as they break up a samey ambience about the rest of the recording.
It’s difficult to assess what is exactly right or wrong about this record. The playing is good, the compositions credible, the treatments authentic; what is missing is a sense of uniqueness, a sense of adventure, something to lift the playing and writing above that of others operating in the same space. Yes, it’s all good, but when the next record of Latin/Cuban music comes out will it be easily forgotten? Sadly, the answer is likely yes.
Still, for listeners looking for something attractive to while away some time or put on as pleasant dinner music, one could do far worse than Mark Towns’ Passion. Listeners looking for something that stands out, however, will have to look elsewhere; as competent as this record is, it simply doesn’t have the ingredients of a classic or even highly memorable Latin album.