The Latin Tinge: Small Band Style

C. Michael Bailey By

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The article The Latin Tinge: Big Band Style looked at a spate of big band releases featuring Latin influenced jazz. An equally large spate of small band recordings devoted to Latin jazz has also been released. The two bodies of work are vibrant evidence that the Latin assimilation of jazz is one of the most fortuitous and productive artistic unions in music.

Jazz is a unique gift the United States has given the world. Not a static entity, jazz has been transmogrified internationally, as evidenced in Scandinavia with its Nordic big bands and in Italy with its fine small combos and soloists. The Germans made recording an art with the ECM and Winter & Winter labels. And it was the French and the Dutch who welcomed African-American expatriates to their friendly countries.

But it is the jazz of the American hemisphere that has experienced the greatest evolution. These recordings are evidence of this evolution.

Dafnis Prieto Sextet
Taking The Soul For A Walk
Dafnison Music

Cuban percussionist/composer Dafnis Prieto is first and foremost a technician, as his previous recordings About The Monks (Zoho Music, 2005) and Absolute Quartet (Zoho Music, 2006) reveal. Prieto's closest stylistic match may be the late drummer Tony Williams, when one considers the impact the two musicians have had on their instrument and jazz in general.

Prieto's compositions are infused with his acute brand of percussive rhythm, and it serves him well. He draws equally from hard bop and free jazz but never at the expense of form when employing the latter. "The Sooner The Better" readily illustrates this. The piece begins with a simple piano note doubled with Prieto's ride cymbal and Yunior Terry's intricate bass figures. The horns then join and the piece becomes polyrhythmic in the extreme. Pianist Manuel Valera is the glue that holds this fractured symmetry together. The song breaks into solos over the introductory sections and then the polyrhythmic sections. The juxtaposition is striking.

Dafnis Prieto is not content to simply replay the past. His vision of Latin jazz remains fundamentally Latin, while stretching the rhythmic boundaries of both composing complexity and the listener's pinched attention. That is not to say that his music is difficult to enjoy. It is not. Its invention is astonishing and its rewards ample.

Pablo Ziegler-Quique Sinesi with Walter Castro
Buenos Aires Report
Zoho Music

Nuevo Tango is what Pablo Ziegler calls his "plantation that Piazzolla built." Ziegler's previous releases in the tango idiom include Quintet For New Tango (RCA, 2000) and Baja Cero (Zoho Music, 2006). The latter of these sports the same lineup found on Buenos Aires Report.

Buenos Aires Report was recorded live at the Bimhuis in Amsterdam. Ziegler's new tango comes off very well in a live setting. Like Prieto, Ziegler is not satisfied staying in one creative place. He likes to push boundaries beyond the classic tango, taking its tradition with him. The disc includes nine of the sixteen pieces performed at the concert, begging the question as to why the entire set was not released. But no matter, the proof is in the pudding, and the Zoho Music powers-that-be did a good job sequencing of the disc.

Songs of interest include guitarist Quique Sinesi's "Milonga Para Hermeto," which possesses a rich and decadent melody organically seasoned with Walter Castro's bandoneon. Astor Piazzolla's "Libertango" is given its full measure by Ziegler, who treats the piece with both respect and abandon. Tango is impossible to dislike. It is beautifully steeped in tradition and culture and may be the greatest thing given the world from the Paris of South America.

Hendrik Meurkens
Zoho Music

Hendrik Meurkens' affinity for Latin jazz is no more unusual than that of George Frederic Handel's for Italian opera. Harmonica player and vibraphonist Meukens has previously divided his talents on Amazon River (Blue Toucan Music, 2005) and New York Samba Jazz Quintet (Zoho Music, 2006). These releases have been well received both for their new compositions and their interpretations of classic songs.

Meurkens possesses an advanced and beautiful harmonica technique. He easily belongs in the same company as Toots Thielemans and Stevie Wonder, both masters of the difficult instrument. His soloing, particularly on the opening title track, is sprite with ideas and sharp technique. The same is true of his vibes playing. On Jobim's "Voce Vai Ver," Meurkens is light and mercurial, attaining a creative tension potently present but almost imperceptible. That makes for sublime music making.

Meurkens closes this disc with "Bernie's Tune," leaving the Latin realm with a bop flavor. Meurkens has established himself as an expert Latin jazz interpreter. He adds to the embarrassment of riches that is Zoho Music. Let's hope for many more like this one.

Trio Da Paz & Joe Locke
Live At Jazzbaltica

Buried in Trio Da Paz's Live At Jazzbaltica is a standard that guitarist Romero Lubambo included on his album Softly (MaxJazz, 2006). There Lubambo weaved a Brazilian carpet with the bop classic "All The Things You Are." In a full band treatment, with vibraphonist Joe Locke to boot, Lubambo's original solo conception is vastly expanded.

Previous trio recordings, Café (Malandro Records, 2002) and Somewhere (Blue Toucan Music, 2005), fine as they are, only hint at the power this band has in concert. Da Fonseca is a powerhouse who can drive an entire performance by sheer will. Lubambo is a fabulously fast guitarist who spars effectively with the equally fast Joe Locke. Virtuosity is the order of the day on this disc.

Quieter moments do prevail and one is Jobim's perfect "Wave." The Trio and Locke together variously paint broad basic color strokes, as on "Pro Flavio," a Spanish guitar juggernaut, and finely detailed pastels, as on "Wave." Live At Jazzbaltica is among the best of the best Latin jazz releases, with the addition of Joe Locke only a plus for the already heady talents of the Trio Da Paz.

Tracks and Personnel

Taking The Soul For A Walk

Tracks: Taking The Soul For A Walk; The Sooner The Better; En Las Ruinas De Su Infancia; Until The Last Minute; Comandante; Just Say It; Tell Me About Her Two Excuses; I Felt You Were Coming Prelude Para Rosa; You'll Never Say Yes; Emergency Call.

Personnel: Peter Apfelbaum: soprano and tenor saxophone, melodica; Avishai Cohen: trumpet; Yosvany Terry: soprano and alto saxophone; Manuel Valera: piano; Yunior Terry: bass; Dafnis Prieto: drums; Itai Kriss: flute (10).

Buenos Aires Report

Tracks: Buenos Aires Report; Pajaro Angel; Places; Milonga Para Hermeto; Blues Porteño; Elegante Canyenguito; Muchacha De Boedo; Buenos Aires Dark; Libertango.

Personnel: Pablo Ziegler: piano; Quique Sinesi: guitars; Walter Castro: bandoneon.


Tracks: Sambatropolis; Nem Lá Nem Lá; Ocean Lights; The Bee; Fotografia; Hot And Stuffy; Voce Vai Ver; You Don't Know What Love Is; Choro De Neve; A Summer In San Francisco; Bernie's Tune.

Personnel: Hendrik Meurkens: harmonica, vibraphone (2,7,8,10,11); Rodrigo Ursaia: tenor saxophone (1,2,4-6,9), flute (3,7); Jed Levy: tenor saxophone (1,5,8,10,11), flute (2); Helio Alves: piano; Ian Macdonald: piano (8,11); Pedro Ramos: cavaquinho (9); Gustavo amarante: bass; Adriano Santos: drums (2,4,6-11), Mauricio Zottarelli: drums (1); Duduka Da Fonseca: drums (3,5).

Live At Jazz Baltica

Tracks: Dona Maria; Copacabana; Pro Flavio; Sword Of Whispers; Bachiao; Wave; All The Things You Are; Look To The Sky.

Personnel: Romero Lubambo: guitar; Nilson Matta: bass; Duduka Da Fonseca: drums; Joe Locke: vibes.

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