Lists are great conversation starters and they certainly spread information in an intelligent and straight-ahead way, but they have one major drawback – they have to end somewhere. By design, lists can only include a finite number of participants; this number can be one or maybe it’s one hundred, but it has to end somewhere. The list designer needs to be selective in their choices, understanding that somewhere along the line, their selections will be limited. In a way, the finite quality of lists gives them their strength – readers can move towards new ideas in easily digestible chunks. Lists also infuse the participants with a given feeling of authority, implying a sense of superiority simply through their inclusion. Readers relate to this “best of” mentality and they are more likely to pursue the music on lists. Despite the benefits, lists still end, and regardless of the best intentions, somebody gets excluded from the list.
The current Jazz Now trend challenged writers to create a list of 5 albums that would introduce new listeners to the modern jazz world; finding only five albums posed a daunting task to say the least, but I think that I’ve found a loophole. Almost all the writers that tackled the Jazz Now challenge found their five albums, but they also included a comparable (or longer) list of honorable mention albums. The original list of albums stretched into ten albums, while others made it fifteen albums, while still more made it twenty albums. I can completely relate to this loophole, it seems only fair. Despite the fact that today’s audience look backwards for their musical inspiration, musicians have continued to move forward at full speed. Numerous high quality Latin Jazz releases have appeared over the past few years, and there seems to be no stopping in the future. Narrowing down this onslaught of fantastic music to simply five albums gives a small taste of the musical banquet in today’s Latin Jazz world, but who wants just a taste? Most people want the full seven-course meal, and they would enthusiastically encourage us to add more albums to the list. At least, I like to think that they would . . . because I can’t stop with just a taste of today’s Latin Jazz world – it’s simply too good.
I’ve compiled a short list of additions to my original list that broaden the scope of the original idea and expose the new listener to a variety of important Latin Jazz artists in the modern world. My first list purposely included a wide swipe of musicians using Latin rhythms from across the Caribbean and South America that dived into less traditional Latin Jazz performance and composition approaches. I wanted to challenge a new listener’s ideas about what constituted Latin Jazz and help them think about the genre’s inherent possibilities. While my extended list doesn’t shy away from artists with those qualities, it also includes artists that play upon some more traditional concepts. Throughout both lists though, the bottom line still remains – these are all albums that provide solid entry points into the modern Latin Jazz world. If I’ve still forgotten albums or artists, please leave your suggestions in the comments below – let’s keep on extending the list. Enjoy!
A Genesis, Insight
A genre’s youngest musicians often bring new concepts into the style, usually through the infusion of youthful exuberance and sheer will power. Zaccai and Luques Curtis stand on the forefront of the Latin Jazz world’s young generation, but their music stems from extensive experience, formal training, and an undying dedication to the music. Two of the busiest musicians on New York’s Latin Jazz scene, the brothers have done their homework in every way possible, integrating equal lessons from Eddie Palmieri, Hilton Ruiz, John Coltrane, and Miles Davis. The result is modern jazz that stretches freely while staying intimately connected to the clave. It breaks new ground with every track, but stays firmly tied to traditional concepts. The music bubbles with spontaneous interaction but keeps a solidly funky foundation. Through long and hard work, the Curtis Brothers have found a perfect combination of old and new concepts that represent the future of Latin Jazz – with so many years ahead of them, we can anticipate that this album is the first of many powerful statements.
Metamorphosis, Yosvany Terry
Although saxophonist Yosvany Terry in only reaching his late thirties, he has lived a comprehensive musical life, going through many artistic experiences that touch upon a variety of world. From his upbringing among folkloric musicians to his thorough classical training and a deep immersion in modern jazz, Terry has built a style that fluidly combines all of his musical experiences. His well-conceived concept and deeply rooted skills appear across Metamorphosis, which walks the line between jazz charged improvisations, traditionally formulated compositions, and funky arrangements. Terry combines electronic sounds from synthesizers to guitars with aggressive percussion and drums that lean between Latin, funk, and swing. He composes angular melodies that provide some tension against the heavy groove that struts through the background. Terry’s improvisations stream fluidly throughout the album, freely exploring the changes while quoting Charlie Parker occasionally and accessing Santeria chants at other times. Terry finds modern connections between genres here, drawing upon his personal experiences to create a sound alive and new.
Things I Wanted To Do, Chembo Corniel & Grupo Chaworo
From the days of Machito and his Afro-Cubans to the present era, the New York sound has always played a major role in the development and evolution of Latin Jazz. Some musicians have played upon the area’s ingrained sense of tradition, releasing tired rehashes of songs that have decades of history behind them. Others, such as Chembo Corniel, build upon the area’s established tradition with a new sense of enthusiasm and a creative integration of new ideas – a powerful trend that you can hear on Things I Wanted To Do. Corniel brings together a collection of New York’s most vital players, including pianist Elio Villafranca, saxophonist Ivan Renta, and drummer Vince Cherico; the results are simply stunning. Corniel brings new meaning to the word tradition, showing it as a living, breathing, and modern concept; he also shows us that the New York sound still holds plenty of room for growth.
Perspectiva Fragmentada, John Santos Quintet
Percussionist John Santos has sat at the forefront of the San Francisco Bay Area Latin Jazz scene for over two decades, defining the area’s sound. Much of this work was done with his large band, The Machete Ensemble; but after twenty years, Santos opted for a smaller group. His second recording with this format shows maturity and artistic growth, not to mention some solid composition and performance skills. He brings along some heavy weight friends from Machete along for the ride, collaborating with timbalero Orestes Vilato and flautist John Calloway. He also finds inspiration in some young blood, employing pianist Marco Diaz and bassist Saul Sierra. The combination of musicians shades Santos’ strong connection to tradition with a distinctly modern and compelling edge. This album not only reflects Santos’ influence over the Bay Area Latin Jazz scene’s evolution, but it also show his place at the front of it’s future.
Jazzambia, Paoli Meijas
When given the opportunity to lead a band, percussionists often lean towards more traditional statements, finding compositions that wrap neatly around their bag of authentic rhythms. Paoli Meijas puts this thought to rest as he explodes into a sea of modern jazz techniques on Jazzambia, letting contemporary compositions set the mood for the albums. His rhythmic structures certainly rely upon traditional forms, but he approaches these stylistic elements with flexibility and freedom – the clave becomes a liberator here, not a confining factor. Meijas also draws upon rhythms from his native Puerto Rico at several turns, exploring a musical culture that simply get far too little space in the Latin Jazz world. The able percussionist gets plenty of help along the way, with a legion of strong musicians that share his modern vision; these artists include saxophonist Miguel Zenon, drummer Antonio Sanchez, pianist Luis Perdomo, and bassist Hans Glawischnig. The album never gets caught in standard Latin Jazz traps – instead, Meijas relishes in the freedom of modern jazz, showing us a keen mind in tune to today’s music world.
Buenos Aires Tango Standards, Pablo Aslan
Much of the strength behind tango lies in its extensive composition; while tango will include bits of improvisation regularly, spontaneous creation rarely defines the genre. Just because extensive improvisation hasn’t played a major role in the history of tango doesn’t mean it can’t play a part in the future of tango, as Aslan displays aptly on Buenos Aires Tango Standards. He takes a series of compositions from the tango repertoire and reworks both the form and performance approach to place them in a jazz quartet setting. The arrangements are sparse though, as Aslan simply provided his musicians with sketches of each form. The musicians provide the excitement here, turning each tango classic into a free form trip through modern jazz. Fortunately Aslan collaborates with musicians that understand both tango and modern jazz, including trumpet player Gustavo Bergalli and drummer Daniel Piazzolla. Aslan delivers an innovative crossing point between tango and jazz that completely re-invents the definition of each genre.
The Gardener, Darwin Noguera’s Evolution Quintet
Chicago certainly has a rich history tied into jazz and blues, but Latin Jazz has sat on the fringe of the scene for quite a while. Pianist Darwin Noguera has been changing that perception slowly but surely, both with his big band the Afro-Latin Jazz Ensemble of Chicago and with his Evolution Quintet on the album The Gardener. Noguera integrates his youthful energy and advanced musicality into the album, but he also brings a variety of Latin influences from Nicaragua and Peru. There’s creative songwriting, memorable playing, and distinctive arranging. Noguera makes a major statement about the strength of his musicianship and he tells us that there’s some great Latin Jazz outside the meccas on either side of the country.
Do you have a suggestion for a list of essential modern Latin Jazz recordings that would inspire a new listener? Let us know by LEAVING A COMMENT below – the longer the list, the better!
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