Trombonist and bandleader Conrad Herwig has quite colorfully and majestically explored the Latin side of some of modern music's most enduring composers and performers, and herewith adds his survey of Herbie Hancock's compositional catalog to previous Latin sets that honored Miles Davis and Wayne Shorter. "It's a little daunting in the sense that these tunes are so iconic," Herwig admits. "I grew up idolizing Herbie's music. His tunes became the new standards for a whole generation of post-Coltrane players."
To navigate this territory, recorded in performance at the Blue Note in NYC, Herwig turned to two old friends: Trumpeter Randy Brecker, who first played with Herwig three decades ago; and pianist Eddie Palmieri, one of Latin jazz's reigning piano masters and one of Herwig's Latin jazz advisors for more than two decades. He also brought one new friend onboard: pianist Bill O'Connell, a veteran of classic sessions by Mongo Santamaria, Jerry Gonzalez, and others. O'Connell and Herwig either split or shared all these Latin Hancock arrangements.
Brecker's trumpet burns through the group's collective descarga on "The Sorcerer" like a flame through tissue paper, while O'Connell takes charge with a powerful improvised passage that refracts Hancock's original tune into shards of melodic light. Brecker's and Herwig's intertwined improvisational passages only send these shards flying higher and brighter.
But Herwig's closing trilogy, a howling ensemble hurricane, is simply as good as Latin jazz gets. O'Connell's arrangement strings tethers the familiar "Maiden Voyage" melody to soft horns that float in harmonic space, the shadow of a passing cloud that gently darkens the rhythm section's roiling sea, with Craig Handy on flute, Brecker on trumpet so soft that your ears hear flugelhorn, and O'Connell on piano, painting brilliant solo strokes. More than a beautiful rendition, "Maiden Voyage" rediscovers this jazz classic.
Palmieri jumps back in to help fire the remainder back up to a torrid Latin boil. Latin rhythms illuminate the sweet funky insides of "Cantaloupe Island," which, after Palmieri's two-fisted piano excursion, culminates in a blazing percussion/horn breakdown; with no piano or bass to anchor them to the percussion rhythms, Handy, Brecker and Herwig are left free to scatter and soar skyward like untethered birds. In a torrent, "Watermelon Man" pours out from the aftermath of "Cantaloupe," highlighted by Palmieri's spirited dialogue with the rhythm and percussion instruments.
Even on just the strength of these last three tunes, Herwig's Latin Hancock presents tremendously rewarding, eye-opening and ear-popping, new interpretations of classic jazz pieces.
Oliloqui Valley; One Finger Snap; Butterfly; The Sorcerer; Actual Proof; Maiden Voyage; Cantaloupe Island; Watermelon Man.
Conrad Herwig: trombone; Craig Handy: saxophones, flute, bass clarinet; Mike Rodriguez: trumpet; Bill O'Connell: piano; Ruben Rodriguez: bass; Robby Ameen: drums; Pedro Martinez: percussion; Eddie Palmieri: piano; Randy Brecker: trumpet.
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