Spotlight: Blue Mambo, Blue Mambo

by chip on October 21, 2008

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.

Blue Mambo
Blue Mambo

The idea, sound, and aesthetics of blues have become a fundamental piece of twentieth century music, altering the landscape of popular culture. As a style unto itself, the blues exists as an emotional power punch that communicates to most listeners through simplicity and soul. The word blue has become a synonym for sadness and a downtrodden outlook – a person can effectively express a basic human condition by simply saying, “I got the blues.” Blues scales and chord changes became the basic building blocks of jazz, informing the style’s melodic and harmonic language. The jazz world took the basic blues form and turned it on its ear with advanced harmonic twists and adventurous melodic variations. No matter how much the jazz world included complex mutations of the blues though, its musicians always found ways to return to the basics of blues with styles like hard bop and fusion. The rock world thoroughly embraced blues, building upon the common blues licks and chords with an aggressive approach. Modern musical styles now build everything upon the blues, and today’s groups simply need to find original ways to embrace the style. The New York based group Blue Mambo takes on this challenge by mixing a variety of blues influenced music together with Latin styles on their self-titled debut Blue Mambo.

Putting The Blues Flavor In The Forefront
A series of songs put the blues flavor in the music’s forefront, relying heavily upon blues forms, melodies, and instruments. The cha cha cha “Get It While You Can” opens with a heavy backbeat and a catchy blues melody, pushing it stylistically towards boogaloo. Trumpet player Guido Gonzalez takes an understated approach to his improvisation, reflectively spacing blues notes throughout his statement. Guitarist Charles Alletto assertively fills his solo with common blues licks, until saxophonist Al Acosta enters with a jazz flavored approach to the song. Short melodic licks repeat over the soul-drenched sound of a blues organ on “Belleville Blues.” Alletto spins long jazz-informed blues lines, contrasted by Gonzalez’s stretched notes and delicate tone. Keyboardist Joe Manozzi milks the organ’s downhome blues sound with an energetic solo before Acosta winds clever jazz lines around the form. A laid-back ostinato rides over a traditional cha cha cha groove on “Junction Blues,” while the wind players use long notes to construct a melody. Acosta and Gonzalez trade lines between group interludes, displaying significant chops and style. The band quiets beneath Manozzi, as he plays spacious lines filled with soft embellishments. These pieces state the group’s blues influence unabashedly, drawing upon the blues style’s common elements.

Looking Through A Jazz Perspective
The group channels their blues influence through a jazz perspective on a variety of well-constructed songs that balance between commercial appeal and jazz improvisation. The group swings through a samba rhythm beneath Acosta’s addictively catchy flute melody on “Gabriella.” Gonzalez enthusiastically embraces the chord changes, wrapping creative ideas around the song’s core foundation. Acosta obviously appreciates the harmony as well, developing a melodic statement before drummer Victor Rendon explodes into a full batucada samba section. Bassist Solo Rodriguez provides a steady vamp over a son montuno groove on “Nova Blue,” allowing the wind players to shape a mysterious melody. Alletto combines blues notes with long modal statements, adding some Wes Montgomery influenced chordal lines into his intriguing sound. Gonzalez moves quick lines over the changes until the rhythm section adds a funk feel behind Acosta’s assertive solo. The wind players move through a subdued melody on “Triste O Alegre” as the rhythm section jumps between son montuno and samba. Gonzalez rides off the groove, finding a rhythmic propulsion to his solo with carefully placed runs over the son montuno. The rhythm section changes pace behind Acosta, moving into samba as he drives bebop-tinged lines through the song. These songs show the group’s jazz side and reveal their awareness of the strong connection between jazz and blues.

Finding Blues In Contemporary Caribbean Settings
The group explores the influence of the blues in modern Caribbean music with a set of songs built upon contemporary styles. Manozzi and Alletto intertwine complementary montuno figures, leading into a cleverly written melody on “Café Sin Leche.” Acosta and Gonzalez both take aggressive blues based solo, separated by a funky Cuban timba breakdown that pushes the song into high gear. Manozzi maintains the timba theme with a driving montuno beneath Rendon’s powerful drum solo. Manozzi and Rodriguez play a bold introduction over a soca groove that leads right into the catchy melody on “Caribbean Swing.” After a series of band breaks with fills from Rodriguez, Rendon, and Alletto, Gonzalez jumps into a lively solo with repeated rhythmic figures over the basic harmony. Rendon fills through another series of breaks until Acosta spins playful rhythmic variations with his soprano sax. The band creates a strong timba feel with Manozzi’s funky montuno, Rodriguez’s slapped bass, and Rendon’s drum breakdowns on “Timbason.” Gonzalez plays quick lines over a son montuno rhythm until the rhythm section explodes into a heavy funk backbeat for Acosta’s solo. The rhythm section lowers its dynamic for Manozzi’s tension-filled statement, leading into an exciting percussion exchange between Rendon and conguero Yasuyo Kimura. The tracks recognize the blues undercurrent that rides through contemporary Caribbean music.

Finding A Connection To The Blues and So Much More
Blue Mambo connects to a variety of blues influences on their first release, finding clever ways to explore these paths while staying true to Latin roots. The heavily blues flavored tracks stay drenched in greasy soul while opening the door for jazz improvisation. The use of blues guitar and organ sounds makes the connection to the styles even more concrete. Looking at some pieces through a jazz perspective allows the performers to display a different set of improvisational chops, giving the album variety of depth. There’s a straight-ahead Latin Jazz vibe that runs through all the tracks, both danceable and commercially accessible. The band performs cohesively both on a musical and conceptual level – there’s a unity that pushes the group forward into an addictive inertia. Alletto finds unique spots for the guitar to function in Latin music, as a comping instrument, a montuno player, and a solo voice. Rendon, Kimura, Rodriguez, and Manozzi easily move through a variety of Cuban, Brazilian, and Trinidadian feels, supporting the soloists and creating a good shape in each song. Acosta and Gonzalez prove themselves as able soloists, moving between blues and jazz sounds, as well as assertive and sensitive approaches. Blue Mambo presents an enjoyable set of music on Blue Mambo, showing the music’s blues foundation and it’s evolution into so much more.

Check Out These Related Posts:
Revisiting Latin Jazz Classics: The Other Road, Ray Barretto
Album of the Week: Menudo & Gritz, Scott Martin
Balancing The Aesthetics of Popular Music and Latin Jazz
Spotlight: Into The World – A Musical Offering, Andrea Brachfeld

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