Really getting a sense of the bigger picture of Latin Jazz history requires a lot of listening, digging up music from both the past and the present. Many musicians built a solid foundation for the style over the past hundred years, and since the forties and fifties, much of that was caught on recordings. A deep understanding of the bigger picture of Latin Jazz demands serious listening to these influential artists. At the same time, Latin Jazz keeps evolving with a wealth of new artists bursting onto the scene every day. As these artists push the music in new and interesting directions, it’s important to keep one eye on their progress. Once you’ve got all that music in your listening queue, you’ve only just begun – then you’ve got to check out all the music that sits in between the past and the present. Just the wide breadth of music that stands to be heard is an overwhelming prospect, one that needs to be taken one step at a time.
Even breaking this task down into bits, the larger issue becomes the simple access to such a massive amount of music. Finding the time to listen to everything in a focused and thoughtful manner takes some thought; if you have to spend hours hunting everything down, it becomes a lifelong pursuit. Professional musicians and historians have gone this route for years – it’s a hard earned task that takes diligence and patience. Modern modes of musical access have changed things to a certain extent – we have access to more music than every thought possible. A quick trip to the iTunes store allows us to purchase digital music from across the decades – the type of study we’re talking about costs a pretty penny though. Streaming music services change the whole picture; for a monthly charge, you’ve got unlimited access to a massive catalogue. This allows for the serious type of listening that we’re addressing.
I’ve been dipping into streaming music services for a while now, and after much experimentation, my current preference is MOG. They’ve got a huge back catalogue that includes essential Latin Jazz listening like Machito, Tito Puente, Cal Tjader, and more. They’re constantly updating their available tracks as well, delivering new albums from a wide rage of modern musicians like Joscha Oetz, Spanish Harlem Orchestra, Paquito D’Rivera, and more. You won’t find everything, but you’ll come pretty close – it’s an amazing resource that opens a world of music. In the last Overlooked Treasures feature, I shared four albums that were new discoveries for me. Today, I’m focusing on the idea of listening to a broad range of music, so I’ve picked something from the past and something from the present that I’ve recently heard on MOG – enjoy!
Cuban Fire, Stan Kenton
Stan Kenton’s 1960 album Cuban Fire represents not only the high point of his experimentations with Cuban rhythms, but also a seminal recording in his overall career. Always a daring artist, Kenton went into this project determined to maintain his highly original sound while structuring the orchestra’s performance around authentic Cuban rhythms. Bongocero Willie Rodriguez helped Kenton organize a powerful Afro-Cuban rhythm section that included conguero Tommy Lopez, lending the recording it’s deep roots. Long time Kenton collaborator, composer and arranger Johnny Richards provided the repertoire for the album, doing his research to find a way to combine the sharp rhythms of Afro-Cuban music with the lush sound of Kenton’s band. Powerful brass hits announce the beginning of “Fuego Cubano (Cuban Fire)” with a characteristic Kenton flair, before the band winds through a dramatically orchestrated section and jazz solos over a bolero. A moody rumble from Kenton’s low brass explodes into a lively son montuno on “Quien Sabe (Who Knows),” creating a space to showcase Kenton’s many able soloists. A sole trombone glides over an Afro rhythm and delicate wind support on “La Quera Baila (The Fair One Dances),” until a bongo feature sends the band charging into a double time swing section for aggressive improvisations. Contrasting textures quickly coalesce into a blazing rhythm section momentum as the winds play an upbeat melody on “El Congo Valiente (Valiant Congo),” giving way to some fiery saxophone solos. All six pieces of the original Cuban Fire Suite appear on this version of the classic album, along with 6 Afro-Cuban flavored pieces from Kenton’s later mellophone band. Kenton his a career high on Cuban Fire, imbuing Afro-Cuban Jazz with rich harmonic textures that displayed the power of forward looking concepts combined with traditional music.
Bilbao-La Habana Y Vuelta, Daniel Amat
Cuban pianist Daniel Amat’s 2010 release Bilbao-La Habana Y Vuelta presents a good look at a smart Latin Jazz artist with one foot in tradition and one foot in the future. The collection of original compositions and arrangements stay firmly rooted in Afro-Cuban rhythms, largely structured in a tipico fashion. Amat integrates a healthy dose of jazz into his repertoire though, bending the edges of tradition to fit his personal approach to the music. A collection of heavy duty guest artists join Amat throughout the album, pushing his music into another level of class and style. Flautist Orlando “Maraca” Valle spins delicate flute lines around a sensitive vocal on the danzon “Carraguao Se Botó,” giving way to an impressive solo from Amat on the mambo section. The rhythm section accents a virtuosic melody from Amat with syncopated hits on “La Rumba Está Buena,” until a strong vocal leads the group into a frantic timba section full of driving montunos and a memorable tres solo from Pancho Amat. A piano and tres duet sends Daniel Amat racing into a cleverly structured solo on “Montuno Bop,” and after an energetic vocal, he hands the piano to Chucho Valdes who delivers a powerful statement. A lively melody and improvisation from Amat flies over a rapid son montuno on “Recuerdos” until an explosive percussion break sends the band charging into a timbfied songo intensity. Amat delivers a strong combination of traditional forms, jazz flair, and smart musicality on Bilbao-La Habana Y Vuelta, showing us the benefits of an eye on the past and an eye on the present.
Check Out These Related Posts:
Overlooked Treasures: Four Latin Jazz Albums That You’ve Got To Discover
Weekly Latin Jazz Video Fix: Jack Costanzo
Setting The Record Straight: George Russell, Cubano Be, Cubano Bop, And The Origin Of Latin Jazz
Latin Jazz Album Artwork: An Essential Piece Of The Digital Music World