Various: Puerto Rico Heineken Jazzfest

Javier AQ Ortiz By

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Although no one was honored at the ’99 edition of the Heineken Jazzfest (HJ), “Poncho” Sánchez certainly deserved the honor. Other than Ernesto “Tito” Puente, no one has ever gigged more as a Latin Jazz performer. Still today (6-’02), he is the most active Latin Jazz act in the world and sells better than most, if not all.

“Cold Duck Time/Listen Here” is Sánchez’s representation here. “Poncho” has fun playing for a good time with his audiences and he delivers. A date with him is filled with fine vibes, steady performances, dancing and funky grooves. This cut is no exception to that rule. He is one of the last congueros of its kind representing a particular transitional stratum in the conga drumming geology. “Poncho” makes you feel good, other Latin Jazz artists impress you. There is a sea of emotional and intellectual differences between those poles and therein lies some of the reasons for his appeal and popularity.

Ralph Irizarry & Timbalaye issued a couple of well-received recordings among critics. In “Piesotes,” or “Large Feet,” one can see why such impressions were favorable. Irizarry’s solo is a good example of a more contemporary style of playing timbales.

Russ Freeman & The Rippingtons played “Topaz” in their contemporary fashion with comfy chords, feels and orientations doused with some Latinization in both the arrangement as well as the performance. This tune feels like a warm day at a Puerto Rican beach cooled by the ocean breeze, while watching people having active fun along the shores.

The participation of the Eliane Elias Trio is held under the potent aromatherapy of multiple sources of pleasure that delve into a wide array of suggestive and economical musical smells, as they dangle their particular type of punch into a compact performance.

“Catilangua Latemué,” is a high pressured musical hybrid in which Jerry Medina engages in scatting and vocal improvisations within an unusual framework. This is a highly danceable tune not recommended for people with high blood pressure or cardiac weaknesses.

In “One By One,” Benny Golson fronts the The Jazz Messengers: Legacy of Art Blakey. Clocking at more than 10 minutes, all the outstanding members of the group honor all things jazz carrying out its banner with virginal swing.

Dennis Mario, the artist that painted the logo for this edition of the HJ, and his group Kobana Negra, are recorded here for the first time. Mario plays percussion and his band fusions jazz with Iberian, Caribbean and contemporary musical strains to produce a felicitous brand of Latin Jazz that reminds one of violinist Ángel Olmos’ Strings & Percussion. Both groups produce excellent music that seeks to create a type of lexis that is not solely committed to nationalistic concerns. Their respective takes on jazz are based on recipes that include a wider amount of world items than the Latin Jazz mainstream currently affords.

The plena rhythmic underpinnings of two of the last three tunes in this recording come up with invigorating alternatives to the dominant Afro-Cuban rhythmic stem cell in Latin Jazz. In the first of them, “Mr. BB” –featured in Watermelon ManCharlie Sepúlveda’s last record to date (6-’02), sax, trumpet, piano and conga, ought to be closely observed. William Cepeda interprets one of his compositions with plena variants constructed with other recycling processes that keep the jazz elements firmly entrenched within said genre’s molecular structures. Both, Sepúlveda and Cepeda, are jazz and plena native speakers and all levels of their performances here are creditable representatives of the translation of jazz into Puerto Rican idioms.

“Majadería Absoluta,” might had something to do with the eventual creation of the Majaderos group led by Ángel “Cachete” Maldonado, the self-proclaimed founder of Batacumbele . This is a jam session based on the melodic and rhythmic content of a phrase from a vocalized Cuban composition that reads: “Ese amor que tú me darás/Mi china/Ese amor que tú me darás” (That love that you will give me/Baby/That love that you will give me/). It jams hard and continuously featuring veteran players such as Juancito Torres on trumpet, with a killer opening solo, Anthony Carrillo on bongos, and a “Papo” Vázquez trombone closing glee. There are other musicians involved in this performance other than the ones credited in the liner notes.

Notes: All performing groups at the HJ ‘99 seem to be represented in this recording. Dennis Mario did the festival’s logo that year. The cover art can be seen at the Merchandise section of the HJ website. This edition of the HJ was held at the Parque Sixto Escobar.


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