spanish rice clark terry chico o'farrillLegendary trumpet player and jazz icon Clark Terry passed away this week, leaving a legacy of amazing music. There’s plenty of important recordings that highlighted Terry in a traditional jazz context – ranging from projects that he led like Clark Terry, Oscar Peterson Trio Plus One, and Ellington At Newport. Although he wasn’t known primarily as a Latin Jazz artist, he certainly explored the style – we’re going to take a look one of his best known ventures into Latin Jazz, Spanish Rice

While most of Terry’s influenced happened on the bandstand with traditional jazz greats like Duke Ellington and Count Basie, the trumpet player dipped his toes into Latin Jazz, most notably on the album Spanish Rice Recorded in 1966 for the Impulse label, the album paired Terry with important Cuban composer and arranger Chico O’Farrill, insuring a quality foundation to feature the trumpet player. O’Farrill was a smart musician, equally versed in traditional jazz and Afro-Cuban music, which gave him a wealth of colors for the project. The mention of these two names brings visions of amazing music to anyone familiar with their work – this is a jazz dream team combination that had the potential to create a landmark recording in Latin Jazz. In some ways, Spanish Rice delivered on that promise, with sparks of brilliance reaching through an uneven collection of music.

It’s hard not to love Spanish Rice – it was a diverse and fun set that let both Terry and O’Farrill cut loose in ways that can surprise and entertain audiences. The combination of traditional Son phrasing and bluesy inflections that Terry uses to navigate the melody on “The Peanut Vendor” is certainly inspired and when he cuts loose in an improvised statement, there’s a glimpse of Latin Jazz brilliance. The interplay between Terry and Duvivier on “Jooni” swings with a lazy intensity that speaks volumes about these musicians, but it’s the way that their lines bounce happily around the steady groove of Malambe & Julio Cruz’s swinging conga & bongo that really make the track come alive. The funky boogaloo groove on “Spanish Rice” brings thoughts of Mongo Santamaria to the forefront while the chatter between Terry and O’Farrill is addictively fun. Hearing Terry’s gorgeous tone light up a Cuban classic like “Contigo En La Distancia” brings wishes of volumes of Clark Terry led bolero albums. While it sits outside of the realm of Latin Jazz, there’s no denying that “Happiness Is” closes the album in a memorable way as Terry channels Louis Armstrong in a vocal performance that calls out everyone from Thelonious Monk to Mongo Santamaria. Spots of genius are scattered throughout Spanish Rice where we get exactly what we would expect from two giants of the jazz world like Terry and O’Farrill.

At the same time, it’s easy to wish for more after listening to Spanish Rice both on the jazz and Latin side of the equation. The arrangements are very tight, leaving little room for an all-out jam session. Terry gets lots of room to showcase his beautiful tone and impeccable phrasing, but it’s always constrained to a certain amount of measures. There were lots of other heavy weight players on the album, ranging from trumpet player Snooky Young to bassist George Duvivier and percussionist Frankie Malambe – it would have been nice to let them stretch their musicianship a bit. There’s also a sense that this project was meant to feature Terry with a “Latin Tinge,” and the integrity of Carribean and South American traditions certainly take a hit. That’s not to say that the album is “Latin Light” – the arrangements were constructed by one of the most important architects of Afro-Cuban Jazz and the percussionists are rock solid. It’s just that the Afro-Cuban influence serves more as flavoring than foundation and the majority of the musicians on the album are jazz players with little experience in authentic execution of Afro-Cuban rhythms. It would have been nice to hear Terry apply his chops to more meaty repertoire as well, leaving charts like “Mexican Hat Dance” and “Macarena” behind in favor of more Cubop inspired songs. In some ways, Spanish Rice leaves a longing, filled with thoughts of what could have been a legendary collaboration.

While Spanish Rice walked the line between authentic Afro-Cuban Jazz, swing, and fun hearted camp, it’s certainly an important meeting point between two musical icons. Terry and O’Farrill probably worked together on other projects – both musicians spent time performing and arranging for a variety of projects that moved between different genres. Spanish Rice symbolized a place where they could focus on Afro-Cuban Jazz and see what the tradition would inspire in Terry. It would have been nice to hear a “Volume 2″ of Spanish Rice where the two musicians got a chance to further explore their collaboration. With more extensive experience, it’s easy to imagine that Terry would have been an unbelievable Latin Jazz trumpet player. While the musical depth of Spanish Rice may be a bit of a mixed blessing, the fact that we got a collaboration between icons of both jazz and Latin music is something that we can – and should – cherish.

Check Out These Related Posts:
Revisiting Latin Jazz Classics: Afro-Jaws, Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis
Five Straight Ahead Latin Jazz Classics Featuring Willie Bobo
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