Guitarists are few and far between in the Latin Jazz world, but Edgardo Miranda used his vast array of skills to make a career as a guitar player in the genre. His mastery of both Afro-Cuban and Puerto Rican rhythms formed the foundation of his playing, helping him spin authentic phrases in improvisations and beyond. His knowledge went beyond common salsa forms though; Miranda dug deeply into Cuban folklore and Puerto Rican jibaro music. Miranda knew the songs, traditional licks, and standard guajeos that shaped the style, and he integrated all of that into his guitar playing. He played the Puerto Rican cuatro at an equally high level, finding a place in traditional bomba and plena performances. Miranda fluently worked through jazz changes, integrating bebop lines, complex harmony, and thematic development with an equal artistry. Rock and funk rhythms played a significant role in Miranda’s voice as well, allowing him to walk into the contemporary music world at any moment. He expertly shaped his tone to fit the context of his performance, moving from clean, jazz inflected tones to dirty and loud distortion. Taste and keen artistic judgment always drove Miranda’s work – although he felt comfortable in many worlds, he never forced conflicting aesthetics upon a musical setting. These are the signs of an outstanding musician, regardless of instrument, and as a result, Miranda found a regular spot in many pieces of New York’s Latin Jazz world.
Despite his acceptance in New York’s Latin Jazz circles, Miranda appeared sporadically on Latin Jazz albums, mostly playing a supporting role. In many cases, musicians would form a more traditional ensemble including a rhythm section and wind players for their albums; Miranda would enter the mix for one or two tunes. Some artists would integrate Miranda to add a modern edge to their sound, referencing rock energy or electric textures with the guitar. Miranda could play with a fusion intensity or a jazz subtlety, so his guitar playing could add several different layers of color to a recording. Artists often included Miranda’s cuatro skill into their pieces that drew upon Puerto Rican bomba or plena. Very few guitarists played cuatro skillfully, and even fewer musicians could play the instrument with an authentic feel and approach; Miranda covered all these bases, so he was a perfect choice for any recording with a traditional Puerto Rican feel. Still other times, musicians would choose to use Miranda simply because he was an outstanding soloist, knowing that he would add a meaningful statement to his work. He found an abundance of work for many reasons; he simply acted as a guest in most cases rather than a regular band member.
I’ve collected several examples of Miranda’s work across a wide spectrum of Latin Jazz albums. Each recording demonstrates a different strength inherent in Miranda’s playing and showcases his versatility as a musician. Individually, each track stands as a prime example of his artistry, musical taste, and individual voice. As a collection, these tracks paint a more complete picture of Miranda the guitarist and Latin Jazz giant. Take a minute to check them out and remember this important figure in Latin Jazz.
1. “Gumbo” – Cortijo & His Time Machine, Rafael Cortijo
Miranda took a major role in the production of Cortijo & His Time Machine, and his unique skills allowed him to build a modern sound upon Cortijo’s authentic blend of jazz, bomba, and plena. “Gumbo,” a piece co-written by Miranda, illustrates this point strongly, with a contemporary funky sound built upon a standard percussive foundation. As a fat electric bass sound rides a solid backbeat, Miranda’s funky strumming offsets the bold Fender Rhodes sound. Miranda spontaneously bursts into extended single note lines that race in unison alongside the wind players, pushing the arrangement into a powerful momentum. There’s a healthy helping of jazz improvisation with solos from most musicians, including Miranda. His heavily distorted tone cuts through the ensemble with running lines and melodic ingenuity. Miranda continues to fill around melodies and other soloists, providing a consistent interactive voice throughout the track. The song evolves through a series of tempo and feel changes, walking the line between funk and traditional Puerto Rican styles. Miranda holds down the foundation throughout the song, allowing some deep insight into the fusion of modernity and tradition that made Cortijo & His Time Machine such as classic album.
2. “Evidence” – Ya Yo Me Cure, Jerry Gonzalez
When Jerry Gonzalez recorded Ya Yo Me Cure in 1979, he was still refining the concept of the Fort Apache Band, using a larger ensemble, which frequently used Miranda on guitar. Even at this point, Gonzalez walked the tightrope between jazz and Afro-Cuban music with a rare fearlessness – here, he combines the melodic shape of Thelonious Monk’s “Evidence” with the rhythmic structure of the classic Frank Emilio Flynn descarga “Gadinga, Modongo Y Sandunga” over a ferocious rumba. The group strolls through the melody with a confident looseness, moving into passionately wild improvisations from Gonzalez on trumpet and pianist Hilton Ruiz. Miranda hangs in the back throughout this piece of the song, cleverly comping unobtrusively around Ruiz’s active chordal work. After Ruiz storms through a bebop infused solo, Miranda enters his improvisation with long interesting lines that reference Charlie Christian more than Arsenio Rodriguez. Miranda smartly plays with a dry acoustic tone, outlining the changes with a knowledgeable approach that comfortably fits into Afro-Cuban rhythmic structures. “Evidence” displays another side to Miranda’s musicianship that finds him easily playing in a more traditional jazz context.
3. “On Broadway” – On Broadway, Tito Puente
Puente rarely used guitar on his Latin Jazz recordings, so the inclusion of Miranda served as a major complement to the guitarist’s skills. Pianist Jorge Dalto establishes the familiar vamp from the 1960s hit, giving Miranda a chance to engage in a brief improvisation. Puente’s rhythm section maintains an authentic cha cha cha while Miranda infuses the melody with all the funky grease of the original recording. The rhythm section starts pushing the groove slightly as Miranda improvises carefully around the melody. After a break, Miranda switches to cuatro for a traditional montuno and then a guitar solo that walks the line between contemporary licks and the cha cha cha’s rhythmic language. As Miranda falls more deeply into Afro-Cuban phrasing, the rhythm section explodes into double time for an exciting flute improvisation from Mario Rivera. The band returns to the original feel, giving Miranda an opportunity to restate the main theme. The overall track shines as a feature for Miranda, who plays with a refined ability to work authentically among one of the music’s best rhythm sections while referencing popular music.
4. “Patato’s Night Dance” – El Hombre, Carlos “Patato” Valdes
Miranda had the ability to take even a short appearance and make it into a memorable event, as evidenced in this track from conguero Carlos “Patato” Valdes’ album El Hombre. Pianist Edsel Gomez leaps into a slightly askew groove that adds tension into the underlying intensity of the rumba. The wind players create a contrast with a flowing melody over the driving percussion, led by the soft sound of Dave Valentin’s flute. It’s a delicate balance that the band firmly holds in place with skillful musical control. Once the band does explode into a frenzied solo section, it’s Miranda who leads the charge with an authoritative series of improvisational runs. His voice quickly jumps above the mix, cutting through the band’s thick sound with a biting tone and quick runs. The wind players return after only a short spot for Miranda, moving into a unison winding line and an extended solo for Valentin. Miranda sits out most of the song, but this track shows his keen musical sensibility leading him towards a short but impactful appearance.
5. “Ponte Pa’l Monte” – My Roots & Beyond, William Cepeda
Miranda spent years exploring traditional Puerto Rican music with Los Pleneros De 21 (and beyond), so his cuatro playing fit perfectly into trombonist William Cepeda’s concept of Afro-Rican Jazz. As “Ponte Pa’l Monte” opens, Miranda improvises tipico lines around an explosive trumpet before falling into a unison melodic line with pianist Eric Figueroa. Miranda’s cuatro trades places in the forefront with the jazz tinged horn section, the churning percussion, and Cepeda’s trombone, creating an interesting textural mix. While bassist Ruben Rodriguez takes a solo, Miranda wisely disappears into the background, allowing Rodriguez to take center stage. After an explosive percussion break, Miranda assertively states his territory with rapid runs that quickly demonstrate his chops. The onslaught of notes continues throughout the solo, yet Miranda never falls into the trap of virtuosity. He creates jagged rhythmic emphasis with the beginning and ends of his phrases that wrap tightly around the bomba sica foundation. This track finds Miranda in a combination of traditional Puerto Rican music and jazz, another context where his broad skills become just the right tool for the job.
6. “Oferere” – Chango Te Llama, Daniel Ponce
Throughout Chango Te Llama, Ponce maintains a traditional connection to Afro-Cuban rhythms and jazz harmony, but there’s a distinctly modern sensibility due to the inclusion of synthesized sounds and guitar textures. Ponce creates an ominous soundscape against the consistent pulse of bata drums on “Oferere,” transitioning into an edgy rumba with jazz changes and a memorable melody. The rhythm section establishes a driving vamp that serves as the foundation for several soloists, including trumpet player Michael Mossman. Tenor saxophonist David Sanchez tears through an intensive solo, transitioning into Miranda’s improvisation that wisely builds contrasts with a subdued entrance. Miranda takes his time developing his idea, playing melodically around the changes with a clean, reverb-drenched tone. A tasteful display of chops leads Miranda smoothly back into the bata drums and the main melody. Miranda displays artistic taste throughout the track, showing his ability to contribute to a Latin Jazz setting with a smart finesse.
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