The Spotlight Series highlights upcoming Latin Jazz musicians that have yet to reach national recognition. Many of these musicians thrive in local scenes and some tour in support of releases. All these musicians contribute greatly to the overall Latin Jazz scene, and they deserve our “spotlighted” attention.
As a Latin Jazz artist builds a fan base, they face contrasting audience expectations about their repertoire. Most American listening audiences expect a Latin band to perform passionate dance music. These audiences can’t see past labels like Latin Jazz or Salsa, they want the thrill of a dancehall. The jazz audience demands creative artistry that moves beyond established patterns. These fans reject traditional salsa, relegating it to the popular music realm. Some Latin Jazz artists won’t find problems with integrating a commercialized sound into their repertoire while others may see it as an attack on their integrity. A listener’s preconceived notions create problems; if an artist favors either side of the equation, they risk loosing a piece of their audience. Layla Angulo attacks this issue directly by delivering a strong mixture of improvisational integrity and dance flair throughout Live at The Triple Door.
Dancehall Energy and Improvisational Priority
Several songs blend Latin dance music aesthetics with jazz ideals without loosing either genre’s foundation. A modern Cuban timba montuno and coro opens “La Noche Del Tambor,” immediately engaging Angulo in a fiery call and response. After powering through the song’s cuerpo, vocalist Carlos Cantante demonstrates his improvisational skills with a rhythmically intricate pregon. A strong mambo builds into an intensive solo from trombonist Stuart Hamley who quickly creates high energy in a short statement. A typical Salsa horn arrangement introduces “Muneca,” which once again highlights Castante’s strong vocals. He builds tension through several skillful pregons until the band shrinks behind pianist Eric Verlinder. Colorful rhythmic punches develop into bursts of modern harmony as Verlinder works the band into a frenzy. Hamley’s brash tone forces syncopated figures against the rhythm section as his solo grows through bold energy. “Que Te Valla Bien Sin Mi” moves between a common Salsa rhythm and a Puerto Rican bomba, until Castante’s vocal structures the song around a dance aesthetic. A creative arrangement maintains excitement, focusing upon rhythmic changes, breaks, and plenty of room for Castante to improvise. Verlinder brings a rhythmic approach to his solo again, yet he spends much more time developing themes across his statement. “La Rumbera” boldly creates a tight call and response between horn lines and coros until vocalist Eddie Rodriquez introduces the lyric. His understated improvisatory approach leads into Verlinder’s typically musical solo. A powerful mambo introduces Angulo’s improvisation a unique display of wit and ingenuity. Each song brings dancehall energy to the audience while infusing it with a strong improvisation priority.
Jazz Credibility and Important Contrast
Many tracks emphasize instrumental jazz, creating extensive space for harmonic diversity and creative statements. A broad 6/8 introduction quickly moves into an up-tempo son montuno for a cleverly developed melodic theme. After a brief return to 6/8, the rhythm section provides a fast and funky groove beneath Hamley’s creative idea development. The band once again jumps into an intensive son montuno while Angulo deftly weaves quick lines through the texture. The wind players revisit the melody before playing hits for timbalero Edsson Otero’s exciting solo. Bassist Jeff Norwood’s unique vamp opens “Desesperos,” followed by a memorable melody. Angulo shapes ideas into rhythmically diverse lines until flautist Galand Green develops a quick solo. Verlinder brings rhythmic propulsion to his work, which segues into a strong horn mambo over a timba breakdown. Each of the horn players trade fours with the percussionists before the song ends, creating an inspired interplay. Otero’s cajon grounds the extensive percussion introduction over a Peruvian rhythm that opens “A Golpe De Cajon.” The creative horn writing explores the 6/8 rhythm while providing harmonic color, melodic development and a defined structure. Angulo utilizes the inherent tension in the 6/8 groove and rhythmically displaced figures to create an engaging improvisation. The band soon transitions into a solo percussion texture that demonstrates Otero’s firm skills on the cajon. Angulo opens “Tus Manos” with a lush melody, full of delicate vibrato, which slowly transitions from a bolero into a son montuno. The coro provides an introduction for Green’s choppy baritone sax solo that moves into Verlinder’s creative improvisation. The band explodes into a double time feel for exciting solos from bongocero Rafael Quinones, conguero Walter Torres, and Otero on timbales. These songs establish Angulo’s jazz credibility and provide a distinct contrast to the group’s more danceable material.
The Best of Both Worlds
Angulo brings together the best elements of both jazz savvy and dance excitement on Live at The Triple Door, creating an appealing mix for all Latin music fans. Her creative writing frames the rhythms in a unique way that displays personality, stylistic integrity, and a thorough understanding of both dance and jazz forms. Angulo’s inclusion of diverse Latin genres, including both modern and traditional Cuban rhythms, as well as Puerto Rican and Peruvian styles brings depth and weight to the music. Her band’s inspired performance transmits through the live recording, revealing both professionalism and an unbridled enthusiasm. Each musician brings a distinct improvisatory voice to the ensemble, allowing listeners to specific characteristics: Angulo’s fluid virtuosity, Hamley’s brash and aggressive approach, or Verlinder’s rhythmic intensity. The group’s salsa pieces never loose site of band’s jazz roots, always leaving space for improvisation and spontaneity. The jazz tracks never move too far from a danceable foundation while straying away from an overly commercial sound. Angulo’s carefully crafted balance of artistic integrity and raw dancehall vigor guarantees satisfied listeners, regardless of their initial expectations.