Music consumption has changed drastically over the past ten years; from the Mp3 to the iPod and now streaming music services, we’ve found many ways to keep more music in our ears more often.  Streaming music services have been helping me stay connected with music on a more regular basis recently, providing a dream worthy listening experience.  It’s not just the ability to hear music any where you go at any time of the day, the amazing part of the deal comes from the ability to choose anything you want.  Pay ten dollars a month and you’ve got access to millions of albums from all eras of history, crossing every style imaginable.  It’s risk free listening that should inspire most listeners – ever wonder about a classic album or read a review of an interesting new release but just didn’t have the cash in your pocket?  No worries here; if you’re hooked up with MOG, Rhapsody, or one of the many new subscription services, chances are you can pull up that album and check it out.  There are gaps in the library, but in reality, the selection covers enough to keep you busy while they fill in the holes.  

Hearing the music that you loves becomes easy, and finding new music becomes even more simple.  You’ve always got the choice to browse leisurely through the site, picking and choosing anything that catches your attention.  The selection can be overwhelming for even the most focused listener though, so fortunately these services make things easier.  Searching by genre helps narrow your choices, but generally only delivers the most well-known artists and albums.  Once you find the major names in each style, you can follow links to similar artists.  You’ll start finding some new stuff here, undoubtedly uncovering something that piques your interest.  Sites like MOG include a social element that allows you to get recommendations from other listeners with similar interests and even include radio options that provide suggestions based upon your previous choices.  It’s easy to get carried away . . . in a good way, leading you to a wealth of unheard music.

I’m currently using both MOG and Rhapsody, two fantastic services that have kept me listening to a long list of fantastic music.  I’ve made an important discovery through this experience – I’ve missed a lot of great music over the past few years.  Over the past several weeks I’ve been doing some catch-up, checking out a number of great albums.  I’ll be sharing these overlooked treasures from time to time, starting with this list of four great albums that have recently caught my ear – enjoy!

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Texas Rumba, Harvie S
I actually discovered this one through a trail of referrals, but the journey was well worth it. While looking through a page of new releases on iTunes, I came across the most current album from Harvey S, Cocolamus Bridge. I went right to Rhapsody and found the album, jumping right into some great music from the bassist. It brought back memories of another fantastic release from Harvie S, Funky Cha, so I went digging – my search took me to the inspiring tracks on his 2004 release Texas Rumba. The bassist displays some formidable chops on the album, but his compositions really take the spotlight. The upbeat mood on “Texas Rumba” brings out a playful improvisatory spirit in Harvie S’s musicians. An attention grabbing bass vamp opens into a full fledged descarga on “Good News,” giving several band members a chance to improvise. Pianist Daniel Kelly implies a clave feel with a syncopated vamp on “From Now On” while the leader provides some beautiful bowed bass. The epic 13 minute “Underneath It All” shows the full range of Harvie S’s skills, as he cleverly blends modern jazz, latin undertones, and very open improvisation into an engaging piece. A driving son montuno charges underneath a mysterious melody on “Blindside” opening into a fantastic bass solo from Harvie S. There’s a wealth of intriguing compositions and inspired performances on Texas Rumba, making this one well worth the listen.

Vol. 1, Aruán Ortiz Trio
Pianist Aruan Ortiz first caught my ear through his stunning work on flautist Mark Weinstein’s Timbasa. Once I heard his free-form approach to Latin music and jazz on his recent recording Alameda, I knew I had to hear more from him. A quick trip to MOG got me listening to Vol. 1, another spectacular take on the distinctly modern line between Cuban culture and jazz. The trio floats between airy swing and freely interpreted Latin rhythms on “Pasos Perdidos,” opening the door for exploratory improvisations from bassist Peter Slavov and Ortiz. Drummer Francisco Mela improvises freely around the sly clave feel to the melody on “Mompouana” setting the stage for a highly conversational approach to solos from Ortiz and Slavov. There’s an open and contemplative feel on “Isosteles” as the group winds between flowing improvisations and sharp rhythmic turns. New Orleans comes bursting from the trio’s performance on “Paco Manzana,” as New York flavored swing, Caribbean rhythmic edges, and a funky second line groove come together. The group recalls Miles Davis’ rhythm section from the sixties, albeit with a Cuban tinge, on “Blanco O Negro,” smacking brash rhythmic turns into an uptempo swing feel. There’s a sense of modern experimentation and playfulness here, similar in feel and approach to Alameda; for those looking at the next stage of evolution between jazz and Latin music, Vol. 1 is a good place to start.

Secret Dream, Chevere De Chicago
Some groups just simply inspire a listen based on reputation alone, as was the case with this release from Chevere De Chicago, Secret Dream. I first became acquainted with Chicago’s Latin Jazz scene through my interview with Dan Melnick last year, discussing the city annual Latin Jazz Festival. One name that kept arising was Chevere, a group that I had never heard . . . until I discovered MOG. One listen to Secret Dream revealed their appeal to me; the album contains a diverse mixture of music that authentically connects with Cuban and Brazilian rhythms, jazz, rock, and more. An energetic samba sends the band screaming into a fusion like fury on “Secret Dream,” fueled by Chris Cameron’s organ and Ernie Denov’s distorted guitar. Despite a fiery rumba guaguanco from the rhythm section, the group maintains a laid back to feel the melody on Herbie Hancock’s “Dolphin Dance,” leading into a variety of feel changes and top notch improvisations from saxophonist Steve Eisen, Denov, and Cameron. “Elegua/Rumba Chevere” contains some impressive percussion work from the group, leading into a blazing rumba jam. A witty interplay leads into a chromatic melody over a fierce son montuno on “Pucho’s Pretzels,” setting the stage for strong solos from Cameron on both organ and piano as well as trumpet player Mark Ohlsen and Denov. Chevere De Chicago provides a rich musical mixture based upon strong Cuban and Brazilian roots on Secret Dream, easily living up to their pronounced reputation.

Soul Eyes, Craig Russo Latin Jazz Project
Although I was well aware of the outstanding work from drummer Craig Russo’s Latin Jazz Project due to their 2008 release In the Middle, that was all I had heard. While listening to a mixture of great straight-ahead Latin Jazz from Poncho Sanchez, Cal Tjader, and more, a song came up in my recommended list from Russo. An inspired version of “You Stepped Out Of A Dream” over a bomba rhythm, this track came from their 2004 album Soul Eyes – a fact that sent me straight to Rhapsody. The album features some outstanding Latin Jazz arrangements of standards from all different eras. The recording opens with a rousing version of João Donato’s “Sabor,” sparkling with lively solos from tenor saxophonist Chip McNeil, trumpet player Jeff Helgesen, pianist Sean Parsons, and drummers Russo and Jeff Magby. The group shows their affinity for Wayne Shorter with a memorable style shifting version of “Speak No Evil” and a moody 6/8 interpretation of “E.S.P.”. The title track “Soul Eyes” finds new life as a driving cha cha cha, motivating some fantastic solos from alto saxophonist Douglas Little, bassist Tim Curtright, and Helgesen. The band displays a gentle side on a smoldering bolero version of “A Flower Is A Lovesome Thing,” allowing McNeil and Parsons to reveal a lyrical touch. Russo and his group applies creativity and stylistic smarts to these arrangements, letting them dig into their jazz chops with some nice improvising, making Soul Eyes a must-hear Latin Jazz release.

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Check Out These Related Posts:
Spotlight: In The Middle, The Craig Russo Latin Jazz Project
Weekly Latin Jazz Video Fix: Aruán Ortiz
Supporting A Growing Latin Jazz Scene: The Jazz Institute Of Chicago
Remembering Monk Through Latin Jazz

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