Many musicians established the infusion of soul music into Latin rhythms throughout the 1960s and 70s. Ray Barretto, Mongo Santamaria, and Eddie Palmieri all effectively brought together funky soul and clave into a mixture that respected the history and aesthetics of both genres. Their music appealed to a wide audience, it proved financially successful, and influenced a generation of musicians. Younger musicians have taken this concept and altered it to include heavy doses of rock and funk. Their intentions follow their mentors, yet only the most insightful musicians truly capture the same spirit and balance of both styles. Saxophonist Scott Martin strongly brings Latin, soul, and jazz together into an inspiring mixture on Menudo & Gritz.
A Strong Connection Between Jazz and Latin Styles
Many songs emphasize the connection between jazz and Latin rhythms, flavoring the band’s approach with soul. Pianist Chris Barron subtly drives “Quarter Moon” with a Fender Rhodes montuno, locking the song into a traditional son montuno feel. Trombonist Andy Martin utilizes a practiced jazz approach, smoothly riding over the rhythm. Scott Martin digs into the clave, while trumpet player Stan Martin delicately plays around the rhythm. Timbalero George Ortiz builds the song to a dramatic close with his exciting solo. Scott Martin and guitarist Rick White outline an understated melody on “Funky Flute,” setting the foundation for an open descarga. Martin constructs an engaging melodic idea on flute through the use of percussive ideas. White’s extended solo brings a horn like fluidity to a variety of melodic concepts before returning to the melody. Bassist Rene Camacho displays an inventive use of virtuosity and bluesy phrasing, leading into a vamp for conguero Joey DeLeon’s climactic solo. A staccato bass line and organ stabs fill a Cha Cha Cha rhythm on “Listen Up.” Scott Martin builds excitement through his high-energy tenor sax solo, leading into another strong statement from White. The Martin brothers expertly shape an understated melody over a songo groove on “Ojah.” Scott Martin presents a smooth voice with a short soprano sax solo, leading into a rhythmically varied solo from Andy Martin. Camacho maintains his funky groove while DeLeon’s conga solo explores the song’s rhythmic possibilities. The band demonstrates a knowledge of Latin music and strong improvisation skills on these tracks, displaying deep roots in these genres.
An Affinty for Soul and a Concrete Connection to Latin Jazz
Other songs rely heavily upon the music’s funky side without diluting the Latin influence. Camacho’s stuttering bass line immediately conjures a Tower of Power influence in “Bettin’ On A One Eyed Jack.” Andy Martin develops his solo through a steady barrage of notes and rhythmic intensity until Martin screams into the song with an extreme high register note. His bluesy licks build into a frenzy before a short and syncopated statement from drummer Ramon Banda. “Menudo and Gritz” finds a comfortable balance between Ortiz’s driving Cha Cha Cha, Banda’s backbeat, and Camacho’s funky bass line. Stan Martin provides a strong solo before Andy Martin asserts a powerful statement full of rhythmic syncopations. Scott Martin plays an intensive solo, leading back into the melody. Synthesized strings lay the foundation for Scott Martin’s heart felt reading of the melody on the bolero “Abuelo (Gene’s Song).” He exposes a personal side on his extended solo with carefully chosen notes and thoughtful phrase development. Barron delivers a strong statement using a Fender Rhodes full of vibrato, which adds an atmospheric approach. The steady bass line and bluesy melody on “Stuff” emphasizes a funky side to the Cha Cha Cha. The horns propel the band into White’s guitar solo with steadily scooped notes. Scott Martin phrases with a soulful coyness that complements the song’s retro feel. The musicians definitely display an affinity for popular styles, but they maintain a concrete connection to both Latin and jazz at all times.
Vocal Tracks With a Consistent Approach
Several songs include vocals, extending the band’s reach into a popular music audience. The rhythm section establishes a Cha Cha Cha groove before Scott Martin provides a strong vocal on “Sunny.” The song moves into an instrumental section for Martin’s extended solo. Barron delivers an energetic solo that moves between flurries of notes and syncopated rhythms. After Martin restates the melody, White brings the song to a close with a solo over a repeated vamp. Camacho assertively opens “Just Don’t Want To Be Lonely” with a slap bass line, joined quickly by Barron’s montuno. White’s vocal captures the spirit of classic 1970s soul bands, and the horns support him consistently with catchy mambos. Scott Martin creates a solo that moves between singable phrases and jazz ideas. After vamping from the horns and White, Barron provides a short solo statement, ending on a positive note. Scott Martin sings with a confident tone on “Unchain My Heart,” while the band rides on a retro mix of samba and 1950s rock. Martin and White both approach the song as a jazz solo vehicle, maintaining their intensity and character throughout their solos. The tight arrangement includes horn hits and strong rhythm section work, delivering a radio ready mix of jazz and popular music. “Watusi Boogaloo” recalls the open descarga feel of many Latin-soul combinations of the 1970s. Scott Martin digs into the song with a lengthy solo until trumpet player Dave Martin provides a short and strong improvisation. The coro and basic mambo found here perfectly reflect the classic boogaloo sound. These tracks aim for radio airplay, yet they remain stylistically consistent and complement the instrumental songs.
Both a Tribute and a Promising Future
Scott Martin successfully captures the essential musical elements of Latin, soul, and jazz on Menudo & Gritz, creating a distinct musical blend. The band demonstrates strong improvisational skills throughout the album, molding both jazz changes and popular songs into powerful solo vehicles. The percussionists all have solid Latin foundations, and they wisely complement it sparsely with backbeats. Barron’s organ and Camacho’s diverse bass skills provide the funk edge, often breaking from traditional Latin roles to imply soul music. The vocal tunes add commercial appeal; yet stay firmly rooted in clave, maintaining their stylistic integrity. Scott Martin’s arrangements unify all the musical ideas into one smart package, brimming with creativity, energy, and stylistic integrity. His high quality work serves as both a tribute to the past Latin-soul innovators and a look into a promising future for the genre.