All-star bands create music that brims with possibilities; yet the outcome runs the risk of positive or negative results. Combining high caliber musicians brings expectations of potentially powerful music. We naturally assume that since these musicians create incredible work individually, they should build masterpieces together. Years of experiences give these artists the necessary knowledge and skill, so they carry a greater chance of delivering memorable music than inexperienced musicians. The possibility of a tragic mismatch also exists when a group of distinctive artists join forces to create music. These groups often lack a central focus, and the resultant recordings sound more like grand jam sessions. Each musician’s individual approach shines through, but the collection of voices never gels. José Rizo’s Jazz on the Latin Side All Stars brings together the best musicians in the busy Los Angeles Latin Jazz scene on Tambolero, a seamless combination that contains outstanding big band Latin Jazz.
Rizo’s Strong Latin Jazz Composition
Rizo’s musical voice provides focus to several strong jazz tracks. An extended open feeling permeates the up-tempo introduction to “Granizo,” which leads into a rhythmic melody. A sax and flute soli opens into an energetic statement from saxophonist Justo Almario, accentuated by powerful brass punches. As Almario weaves through the powerful texture, the rhythmic section establishes a vamp for conguero Joey De Leon’s solo. A thin texture accompanies the 6/8 rhythm on “Señor Olmos,” only to be attacked by sharp band hits. The trombone melody emphasizes the style’s polyrhythmic nature, embellished by intertwining lines from the saxes and trumpets. Baritone saxophonist Scott Martin develops an engaging improvisation by exploring several different views of the rhythmic foundation, all tied together with authentic jazz melodies. A more rhythmic and bluesy solo from alto saxophonist Robert Incelli creates contrast, until the band breaks into solo percussion. Francisco Aguabella provides a thoughtful and meaningful solo on bata, which transitions back into the melody. A trio of flutes from Almario, Martin, and Danilo Lozano introduce the melody on the Cha Cha Cha “Amanecer,” which slowly builds into a full band sound. Pianist Joe Rotondi begins his solo behind the melody’s end, gradually building into a rhythmic climax against the arrangement. Sal Cracchiolo builds a solid flugelhorn solo through flurries of notes until trombonist Francisco Torres creates rhythmic tension with a bold improvisation. Each of these tracks highlight Rizo’s musical taste, built upon a thorough knowledge of Latin music and jazz.
Latin Dance Music, Wrapped in Jazz
Some songs touch upon Latin dance music, while maintaining a solid sense of jazz background. A classic mambo recalls a Tito Puente influence on “Mama Vieja,” quickly making way for Freddie Crespo’s strong vocal. The clever horn writing and rhythm section unity push Crespo’s vocal over the top, providing a perfect feature. An involved mambo establishes a powerful sound before the band drops volume for Rotondi’s syncopated solo. Crespo’s pregon finishes the song on a high note, displaying his immense improvisatory skills. A recurring guaguanco provides contrast to the dance feel on “El Eco del Tambo.” Crespo improvises a wealth of pregons through the changes, giving way to a skillful and exciting timbale solo from Jimmy Branly. A trombone duel between Torres and Andy Martin brings out the best in both players; their percussive phrasing and bold momentum builds the band into a frenzy. A subdued montuno opens Sanchez’s Cha Cha Cha “Baila Mi Gente,” soon joined by the familiar coro. Clever use of texture and thoughtful pregon work from Crespo breath new life into this well-worn standard. Lozano creates a rhythmic solo over the montuno, pushed forward with some strong brass lines. A catchy coro frames the distinctive sound of Sanchez’s phrasing, as he builds a powerful solo. These songs maintain the musicians’ background in dance music; yet wrap them with jazz harmony, improvisation, and interesting arrangements.
A Solid Background in Jazz and Latin Music
Other pieces reference a more traditional side to the ensemble, referencing a background in both jazz and Latin music. An introductory saxophone riff hints at the melody to Charlie Parker’s “Ah Leu Cha,” which fits comfortably into a quick salsa rhythm. Trumpet player Bijon Watson smoothly navigates the song’s complex harmony with short rhythmic ideas until trombonist Andy Martin creates a different feel with long jazz lines. Rotondi establishes an active montuno through the changes for a tasteful and skillfully constructed solo from conguero Poncho Sanchez. The passionate scream of Almario’s solo sax opens the rumba on “Buscando al Curanero,” until the percussionist execute a unison lick to move into the main rhythm. Vocalist Alfredo Ortiz provides a combination of traditional melody and original lyrics over the sparse texture of solo percussion. As the rumba builds momentum, Aguabella demonstrates his impressive quinto skills, spelling out years of history in a short solo. As the coro continues, Almario builds an exciting statement against the percussion with a fiery Aguabella interacting. A textural introduction opens an intensive version of Wayne Shorter’s “Yes or No.” As the familiar melody enters, the rhythm section consistently moves between swing and Latin, providing a varied texture against the song’s open harmony. Trumpet player Gilbert Castellanos plays a virtuosic solo through the song, displaying a balance of technique and musical taste. Almario’s statement shines with personality, building into a colorful improvisation from drummer Marvin “Smitty” Smith. The group’s connection with their musical background roots the numerous voices in tradition.
The Jazz on the Latin Side All Stars deliver all the exhilarating possibilities of a high power gathering on Tambolero, setting a modern example for top notch musical collaboration. Rizo’s choice of musicians and compositions are both inspired. He combines musicians from several generations, all with a complimentary aesthetic, resulting in a group that sounds like it has performed together for years. As a composer, Rizo brings together an extensive knowledge of Latin music history and a tasteful musicianship. Francisco Torres’ arrangements serve as a binding element that centers the band’s focus on a musical goal. His rich harmonic approach, diverse rhythmic settings, and varied textures give the band the challenging material necessary to engage these musicians. The performers respond enthusiastically to Rizo and Torres’ dedication and strong concept; each track contains an inherent thrill and inspiration emanating from their work. They obviously enjoy the experience and take a great deal of pride in the album, which translates clearly throughout. Tambolero not only more than fulfills the possibilities created by gathering these musicians; it confirms their all-star status.