The West Coast's Henry Mora Orchestra is a mambo-era dance type of big band with its own updates to such musical reliquaries in the arrangements, R&B vocal inflections, its manifest salsa influences and the contemporary expressions of the soloists. 'Round Midnight
, however, is a swinging danceable piñata
with a mixed bag of candy. Not all tastes will be pleased with the styles of all seven performances, yet most listeners should be able to partake of the sweet and sour goodies and find something to their liking.
One of the hot sweets is "El Menú ...one of many internationally beloved hits from the musical institution known as El Gran Combo de Puerto Rico. Tightly, cheerful, swinging-yet-relaxed horn lines evoke the original's characteristic melodious rhythmic harmonic punch. This time, however, José "Papo RodrÃ-guez provides the percussive tightness. He used to be Poncho Sánchez percussive right hand and knows how to play a concept rather than impose a personal style upon it, thus enriching the music in both obvious as well as subtle ways. Dave Victorino's flute playing ought to be noted too. The orchestra is at its best in this one and, as they approach the coda led by Mora himself on trombone doing his best Moisés Nogueras impression, one can imagine a smiling Rafael Ithier eating up some gandules en escabeche.
The title cut is another entreaty. Its Spaniard undertones, before the initial brassed mambo, are classical big band toned. Afterwards, the band gets hotter on a montuno laden jam whereupon both trumpet and tenor sax blow. The ensemble choruses are swinging, energetic, the band is tight and the percussionists...featuring a drum solo by Gloria Estefan's trap drummer...have some fun with it too.
"Canto de el [sic.] pájaro features the best trombone performance from the band's leader and it's the only original from the band in the disk. Its melodies remind one of classic Cuban boleros.
On the sour side, one encounters their rendition of "Puerto Rico ...from the latter part of Ismael Quintana's historic run as Eddie Palmieri's singer. The vocals are quite forgettable, a recurring trombone riff after the bridge before the trombone solo sounds quite gallego or chitlin' circuit in jazzspeak. "Cry Me a River is a toss up. If you like salsa in English with R&B laced stylistic overtones in its vocal phrasing and attack, this one does the job quite well with a swinging big band. Many, however, don't care for salsa in English and the vocal improvisations don't quite measure up to the best deliveries in Spanish. "Lover Man starts rather abruptly...as if a portion of it was not included in the tape or signal transfer to the master and the alto solo could've used more cojones in its attack and delivery. In that regard, Charlie Biggs on trumpet outdid the saxophonist in that cut.
The bottom line is that this disk is danceable salsa/jazz with much spark and pizzazz.