Live Rock: Los Lonely Boys and Los Lobos at the Greek Theatre

July 31, 2011

By Mike Finkelstein

On Friday night a not quite sold out, but certainly revved up, Greek Theater audience was treated to a most appealing double bill of high profile American Latino rock bands.   Beginning their impressive career well over three decades ago,  Los Lobos first blazed the trail that Los Lonely Boys now walk.   Now, Los Lonely Boys are a hot young act that headlines above Los Lobos. But the two bands are friendly and the members mixed and sat in freely during each others’ sets all evening long. The night’s music was a celebration of blues, Norteno music, rock ‘n roll, and Tejano music, to name but a few of the influences that converge somewhere near the borders of California and Texas with Mexico.

Los Lonely Boys

Los Lonely Boys are brothers Henry Garza on guitar, Jojo Garza on bass, and Ringo Garza on drums, out of San Angelo, Texas, and they call their music Texican rock ‘n roll.  While they have an appealingly huge, warm, and busy sound, they also manage to give each other a lot of room to flap their instrumental wings at any moment.   They aren’t locked into a rigid set of arrangements, but what they play is ultra tight, and they do love to jam.   On Friday, these jams percolated  and would burst into snips of songs like “Sunshine of Your Love.” As LLB tap an idea around between them – much like kicking a musical hackeysack — these fellows sound as though they have been playing music with each other all their lives.  Moreover, when Henry and Jojo sang together it was often in unison.   Their voices are different enough to contrast but similar enough to blend as one.

Los Lonely Boys’ songs are based mostly on blues progressions fleshed out with a lot of smooth syncopation.  Each song had a lot of room for experimentation.  Every idea was laid down, elaborated upon enough to advance the song and then gave way to the next one. The lyrics were mostly about desire as in “Oye Mamacita,” and “Road to Nowhere” or lifting the spirit and making the world a better place, as in as in their huge hit, “Heaven.”   Then again, “16 Monkeys” was quite whimsical and playful.   It will be intriguing to see where a group this talented will take their songwriting in the future.

No power trio will fly without a charismatic leader who plays hot lead guitar and sings.   Henry Garza is cut from this rock star cloth.   He is tall with long hair, long arms, long legs, and a very engaging vibe to him onstage.  Most importantly he has the sound – the big, sizzling Texas Stratocaster sound made popular by Stevie Ray Vaughan and several others after him.    His style on guitar brimmed with showmanship and motion, but he stayed within himself and allowed his sound, rather than an excess of notes,  to get the point across. We first got a glimpse of him during Los Lobos set when he walked on and guested on three songs, tearing it up with the Wolves on “Hey Joe,”  and “La Bamba/Good Lovin’.”

The power trio is a tried and true lineup in rock which demands that each player cover a lot of musical ground to keep the sound interesting.  What actually put LLB over the top instrumentally was Jojo’s bass performance.  He plays a six string bass, which gives him chordal possibilities not available on 4- or 5- string basses.    In its higher ranges, a six string bass moves into the realm of a baritone guitar, which meant that Jojo could meet his brother Henry in the same tonal registers and then peel off elegantly up or back down to the bass registers.   Since a 6 string bass has an extra high and low string Jojo’s lines were riveting, as he skillfully constructed his runs to include the high highs and the low lows.  It gave them a modern sound and proved that a six string bass can work beautifully in a rock band.

Los Lobos

Los Lobos opened the show, hitting the stage as the sun went down, and powered through favorites like “La Bamba,” “Shakin’ Shakin’ Shakes,” and “Don’t Worry Baby.” Their 90-minute performance also included two runs through “Cumbias,” a high-energy style of Latin dance music. Over the years (30+) the Wolves have built up a very impressive catalogue of songs in both English and Spanish.  On Friday no less than four of their tunes were sung in Spanish.   “Yo Canto” was a standout and the title cut of their new album Tin Can Trust was mesmerizing.   The band has always featured its members changing instruments.   While we are used to seeing David Hidalgo switch from guitar to accordion routinely, he actually sat in on drums with the Lonely Boys on “Heaven.”   At times the sound system at the Greek didn’t really seem to achieve the separation between the two guitars and Steve Berlin’s baritone sax that it has before.   Still, it wasn’t the sort of inconvenience that could stop a band like Los Lobos from making its musical points.

As the show progressed it became clear that this was a double billing of bands who play great music and live to play.  The stage was at times a revolving door for members of both bands and their delight in the moment was infectiously obvious.  It made for a very special night of music, indeed.

To see more reviews by Mike Finkelstein click HERE.


Quotation of the Week: Arthur O’Shaughnessy

July 29, 2011

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“We are the music makers,
And we are the dreamers of dreams,
Wandering by lone sea-breakers,
And sitting by desolate streams;
World-losers and world-forsakers,
On whom the pale moon gleams:
Yet we are the movers and shakers
Of the world for ever, it seems.”

Arthur O’Shaughnessy (from”Ode”)


To read more Quotations of the Week click HERE.


An Appreciation: Gil Bernal

July 28, 2011

A few days ago we received a missive from Brick Wahl telling us that he had ended his association with the L.A. Weekly.  “Brick’s Picks has left the building” was the way he put it.  A bit later we discovered that his continuing problems – “micro-editing,” “rewriting” —  with a new editor had driven him to end the tenure of his widely read “Brick’s Picks” column. 

“I walked,” he said.  But it’s hard to understand how the Weekly could have allowed Brick’s departure to take place.  No one has done a better job of covering the Southland jazz community.  His intelligence, skill, musical insights and whimsical humor were immensely valuable – if, obviously, underappreciated–  assets to the Weekly.  And it’s their loss.   

Here at iRoM, however, we’re happy to welcome Brick’s presence and his far-reaching talents on our site – and often.  Here’s the first installment of what we hope will be many Brick Wahl bylines at iRoM.

By Brick Wahl

Gil Bernal died last week. We had no idea till we saw Johnny Whiteside’s beautiful  obituary in the Weekly. It shook us a bit, reading that. You see, Gil Bernal had played some of the most gorgeous tenor sax we had ever heard, played it right in front of us. We froze, listening.  That tone, that feel, that sound…it seemed to go all the way back to Prez. It devastated us.

Gil Bernal

You just don’t hear that sound anymore. You didn’t learn to play like that in college, or from a teacher, or anywhere nice and clean and respectable.  No, it was an old school tone, learned on endless nights of endless gigs, or on the tour bus, at cutting sessions till dawn. Jazz wasn’t academic then, wasn’t art and certainly wasn’t America’s Classical Music. It was way too real for that. This was inside stuff, all smoke and booze and sweat and pain and absolute joy. God and the devil together.  This was jazz.

So we said something like that in print. We got a call. It was Gil. He tells us that we had gotten it exactly, that for the first time someone had gotten down in words what he was trying to do. It was like a sucker punch. Here we hated writing about jazz, dancing about architecture, wishing we had never started this stupid gig in the first place, and a man who’d played the most moving thing we had heard in forever thanks us for getting it.

This fucking music, it gets in your bones playing it, listening to it, even writing about it. It haunts you, it addicts you, it ruins you. Gil’s sound broke our hearts, and his passing does it again.  Oh God we love this jazz music.


Konik’s Commentary: “(K)Jazz is Dead”

July 26, 2011

By Michael Konik

Since the 1970s, for as long as I’ve been aware of the music commonly known as “jazz,” various authorities, mavens, and aficionados have been declaring it dead or soon-to-be-deceased. “Jazz is dead.” “Jazz is dying.” “Jazz is going extinct.”

If this is so, the suffering patient has been enduring a kind of decades-long hospice care that would bankrupt Medicaid. While it’s true that jazz record sales comprise a comically small percentage of the (withering) recording industry and an even smaller slice of the radio market, and live music venues calling themselves jazz clubs close more frequently than sales of foreclosed homes, the music itself is gloriously alive.

Michael Konik

Thanks to college jazz programs, the advent of cheap recording technology, and an irrepressible need for members of a free society to express themselves individually and collectively, there are more artists than ever creating modern American music rooted in improvisation. Some of it swings, some of it doesn’t. Some of it employs traditional jazz instrumentation, some does not. (Almost all of it, even the stuff that sounds resolutely “out,” remains firmly rooted in the Blues, the ancestral wellspring of nearly all popular American music.) Most folks who care about profound sounds are uninterested in the banal question “is it jazz?” since the form itself is (and always has been) evolving and shifting shapes. We who admire and revere artists as disparate as Bobby McFerrin, Brian Blade, and Maria Schneider aren’t much concerned with the marketing umbrella these un-categorizable creators fall under. We just know they’re alive and happening and necessary listening. They’re now.

KKJZ 88.1FM in Los Angeles (Long Beach, actually), is one of the few full-time jazz stations remaining in the United States. (New York, Denver, and San Francisco, among a handful of others, are home to thriving and exciting jazz stations, which anyone anywhere can access online.) K-Jazz, as it’s commonly known, is a “member-supported” radio station, which means that in addition to the “corporate underwriting” — read: advertising — they solicit, the station relies on the charitable contributions of its listeners, or “members,” to flourish. One of the oft-repeated and apparently compelling sales pitches the station employs is, “Help us keep jazz alive!” The implication is the same as it’s always been: jazz is a dying art form with a small but devoted cult of supporters, and without K-Jazz nobly spinning the nobly unpopular recordings over the airwaves the noble music will indeed finally suffer the ignoble demise everyone’s been forecasting forever.

If you listen to K-Jazz regularly, or if you examine their archived playlists from the past 6-months or so, since a new Music Director named Lawrence Tanter, public-address announcer of the Lakers, took over, you could easily get the mistaken impression that jazz really is dead, that it is largely the provenance of dead people or those, like Dave Brubeck, in the twilight of their life. Living artists do get played, but they’re a minority. It wasn’t always like this. The KKJZ DJs, who previously were allowed the latitude to program their own shows according to their individual personalities and tastes, drawing on the vast (and sometimes intimidating) trove of new music being produced, are now limited to a narrow palette of aural colors dominated by cats and kittens whose work, while historically significant and possibly immortal, is the stuff of Smithsonian archives and Ken Burns documentaries. Count Basie, Billie Holiday, and Art Blakey are wonderful artists. But they’re early chapters in an ongoing narrative, not the climactic finish to the story. Listen to K-Jazz enough and you could get the impression that jazz isn’t a thriving, vital, contemporary art form but something that belongs in a museum. Or a hospital.

Outside of New York City, Los Angeles is home to more brilliant jazz musicians than any place on the planet. These folks don’t just gig in local venues and contribute their talent to movie and TV soundtracks. They make recordings that are played in every region of the United States. Some of them have international reputations and touring careers. Some of them have the powerful marketing imprimatur of Grammy nominations attached to their names. Many of them are younger than 50. But if K-Jazz were your primary source, you wouldn’t know they exist. I recently searched for the names of a dozen Los Angeles-based female vocalists, all of them quite alive, including a couple of the Grammy girls and two singers who currently have albums on the national JazzWeek radio chart. Total number of spins on KKJZ for the past two weeks? Zero.

Speaking of the Grammys, last year’s Best New Artist wasn’t Justin Bieber or a rapper. It was a 20-something jazz musician – bass and vocals – named Esperanza Spalding. She gets played on KKJZ as often as our local stars: almost never.

When the most progressive and current sounds emanating from KKJZ come from the overnight syndicated host Bob Parlocha, who’s steadfastly committed to what he calls “mainstream jazz,” you know that it’s not jazz that’s dead or dying. It’s the station that curates it. I don’t know anyone under the age of 45 who listens to KKJZ regularly. They don’t need to hear “Take Five” or “All Blues” every day. These “younger” people have been given tacit permission from “America’s Jazz and Blues Station,” as KKJZ likes to bill itself, to dismiss jazz as music intended for old folks, performed by old folks, best enjoyed as an antique cultural curiosity.

It’s not. Jazz is the sound of present-day America and, increasingly, the world. Jazz is searching and subversive, bold and beautiful, questioning and quiet, loud and proud. No, jazz is not popular music. In a 140-characters-or-less society, jazz music, like anything else that requires mindfulness and careful attention, appeals to a shrinking demographic of thoughtful and engaged citizens. But dead it’s not. Gatekeepers of the art form would do well for both themselves and the culture-at-large to stop living in the past and start celebrating jazz’s present-day vitality. The labels and genres and marketing tactics will inevitably change; the musical continuum – the entire thing, from Pops to the present — endures.

* * * * * *

Best-selling author Michael Konik is the proprietor of the independent jazz & blues label FreeHam Records. He’s produced several notable CDs, including albums by Linda “the Kid” Hopkins, Mr. Z, and the fast-rising jazz vocal artist, Charmaine Clamor. His latest book is “Reefer Gladness: Stories, Essays and Riffs on Marijuana.”

To find out more about Michael Konik, click HEREFor more information about Freeham Records, click HERE.


Picks of the Week: July 25 – 31.

July 25, 2011

By Don Heckman

Los Angeles

Justo Almario

- July 26. (Tues.)  Justo Almario Quartet.  Saxophonist/flutist Almario is one of the Southland’s great jazz treasures, a player who moves convincingly across every jazz arena. Vibrato.  (310) 474-9400.

- July 27. (Wed.)  Gladys Knight and James Ingram.  The one and only Grammy-winning Empress of Soul shares the stage with the smooth sounds of balladeer Ingram.   Hollywood Bowl.   (323) 850-2040.

- July 28. (Thurs.)  David Angel’s Saxtet.  Angel continues his quest to showcase the jazz saxophone in all its glories.   Charlie O’s.  (818) 994-3058.

- July 28. (Thurs.)  Red Baraat.  The band that has convincingly married the Punjabi bhangra percussion rhythms with spunky New Orleans brass makes its West Coast premiere appearance.  The Skirball Cultural Center.   Free.  Seating on first come basis.  (310) 440-4500.

Ann Hampton Callaway

- July 28 – July 30.  (Thurs. – Sun.) Ann Hampton Callaway.  Blessed with one of the jazz vocal world’s most gorgeous, emotionally pliant voices, Callaway is also a convincing pianist and a masterful musical storyteller. Catalina Bar & Grill.   (323) 466-2210.

- July 29. (Fri.)  Los Lonely Boys and Los Lobos.  One of the major pop music breakthroughs of the past decade, the Grammy winning, platinum producing Lonely Boys share the stage with the older, more established, but no less compelling Los Lobos. The Greek Theatre.  (323) 665-5857.

- July 29. (Fri.)  John Proulx, Kristin Korb and Dave Tull. Trio’s like this don’t come along very often.  Pianist Proulx, bassist Korb and drummer Tull are all first rate instrumentalists  But each of them is also an appealing jazz vocalist.   Vitello’s.  (818) 769-0905.

- July 29 & 30. (Fri. & Sat.) Michael Feinstein and the Singing Stars of Television.  Pianist/singer Feinstein, who matches his musical adroitness with a dedication to the glories of American song, performs with Wayne Brady, Florence Henderson, Cheyenne Jackson and Dick Van Dyke.   Hollywood Bowl.    (323) 850-2040.

- July 30. (Sat.)  Trouble in Tahiti. The too-rarely seen Leonard Bernstein one-act opera receives a rare and unusual performance in a night club setting.  Jessica Marney and Phil Meyer star.   Vitello’s.  (818) 769-0905.

- July 30. (Sat.)  Shoghaken Ensemble and Tigran.  An evening overflowing with the colorful, far-reaching melodies and rhythms of Armenia.  Grand Performances.

(213) 687-2159.

- July 30. (Sat.)  Chuck Manning Quartet.  Versatile tenor saxophonist Manning brings an inventive point of view to his bop-influenced, straight ahead style.  His stellar backing includes Jay Daversa, trumpet, Pat Senatore, bass and Jimmy Branley, drums.  At 6:30 and 10:30, the Otmaro Ruiz duo.   Vibrato.  (310) 474-9400.

Peter Frampton

- July 30. (Sat.)  Peter Frampton.  One of the icons of classic rock, Frampton was a co-founder of the group Humble Pie when he was only eighteen.  Still a star, this time out he performs his multi-platinum album Frampton Comes Alive! in its entirety.  Greek Theatre.   (323) 665-5857.

- July 30 & 31. (Sat. & Sun.)  The Central Avenue Jazz Festival.  The 16th annual festival, always a showcase for the Southland’s finest, takes place in one of the founding places of Los Angeles jazz.  This year’s line up includes: on Saturday: Pete Escovedo, Kamasi Washington, the Pan Afrikan People’s Arkestra, Karen A. Clark Project, Ashley Siris, Dorian Holley, The LAUSD All-City High School Jazz Band.  On Sunday: The Gerald Wilson Orchestra, Katia Moraes and Sambaguru, Deacon Jones with Ray Goren, Ernie Andrews, Jazz America tribute to Buddy Collette.  The Central Avenue Jazz Festival takes place on Central Ave. between 42nd and 43rd streets.  Free.  (213) 473-2309.

San Francisco

New West Guitar Group

- July 27. (Wed.)  New West Guitar Group. A trio of gifted young guitarists – John Storie, Perry Smith and Jeff Stein, the New West players have thoroughly authenticated their ability to move freely and imaginatively across jazz, rock, folk and beyond.  Freight & Salvage.   http://www.thefreight.org  (510) 644-2020.

- July 29. (Fri.)  Lavay Smith’s Crazy in Love with Patsy Cline.  The one and only sultry siren finds entertaining common ground between jazz, blues and country.  Freight & Salvage Coffeehouse.   (510) 644-2020.

- July 31 – 31. (Sat. & Sun.)  The Fab Four.  Tribute bands seem to be proliferating in every direction.  But none do a more entertaining job of it than the Fab Four’s ear and eye catching versions of the Beatrles. Yoshi’s San Francisco.    (415) 655-5600.

New York

- July 26 – 30. (Tues. – Sat.)  Leny Andrade“From Rio With Love.”  The title is great, but it doesn’t say it all.  Andrade, in fact, has for years been one of Brazil’s most proficient jazz vocal artists, combining her deep understanding of Brazilian rhythms with an equally inventive jazz style.  Birdland.     (212) 581-3080.

- July 26 – 31. (Tues. – Sun.)  Fourplay. Guitarist Chuck Loeb joined founding Fourplay members Bob James, keyboards, Nathan East, bass and Harvey Mason, drums in 2010.  The result has been a further musical enhancement of a group that has always had the ability to find the creative heart of whatever style they elect to play.  The Blue Note.   (212) 475-8592.

Claudia Acuna

- July 26 – 31. (Tues. – Sun.)  Claudia Acuna.  In a jazz world overflowing with talented female vocal artists, Acuna continues to soar freely at the highest levels of the art.  Chilean born, she mastered the basics quickly, but what makes her special is the way she has shaped her version of those basics into her own mesmerizing musical story telling. (212) 258-9800.   Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola.

Paris

- July 29. (Fri.)  Ravi Coltrane Quartet.  Tenor and soprano saxophonist Coltrane has successfully accomplished the difficult task of creating his own convincing musical identity, expanding inventively from year to year, inspired but undistracted by the greatness of his father.  New Morning.    01 45 23 51 41.

Justo Amario photo by Tony Gieske.


Live Jazz: Phil Upchurch and Sonya Maddox-Upchurch at Vitello’s

July 24, 2011

By Tony Gieske

I’d like to thank a guy on YouTube  who saved me the trouble of thinking up a lead for this review of  Phil Upchurch’s set at Vitello’s the other night.

“One of the few guitarists to take really scary chances when playing and leave you on the edge of your seat,” the guy who called himself “taildragger51″ wrote.

I knew what he meant because Upchurch’s album Darkness, Darkness, which got played for two straight days at a party I went to in Chicago, contained a perfect example of this ability  on the track titled “What We Call the Blues”: One great ending after another, each one more brilliant, deep and satisfying than the last. And none of them interfering with the full size backing band.

So Upchurch’s tact proved all the more remarkable during his performance at the side of his new bride, Sonya Maddox-Upchurch. She is an agile singer with a voice like clover honey; and it would be hard to find a performer who knows more about staying out of the way of the star, without false modesty. You should hear him on YouTube with organ star Jimmy Smith on “Chickenshack.”

At Vitello’s, the songs were all originals with solidly built chassis, adroitly positioned climaxes and big endings. Upchurch again formed a kind of shadow government as his wife emoted. The lyrics were another ball of wax.

A typical example was one about a “trophy wife” whose husband doesn’t love her in the hallway, only at the party on the other side of the door.

That is an idea of a sort, but perhaps it belongs to the genre with which Mrs. Maddox-Upchurch is handier, the singing commercial. She is the CEO of Wondervision Entertainment and Music, and has performed in more than 200 TV commercials for such clients as Listerine, Orville Redenbacher Popcorn, Wal-Mart, Home Depot and Gatorade.

The couple dedicate their spare time to spreading the gospel with their Christian Music Marriage Ministry. And they are members of the Crenshaw Christian Center, led by Frederick K.C. Price, D.D.

OK, OK, it may seem like a long way from what we call the blues. But I gotta say these two guys can blow.

Photos by Tony Gieske.  To read and see more of Tony’s essays and photos click HERE.


CD Reviews: Machito, Bobby Sanabria, Arturo O’Farrill, Pedro Giraudo

July 20, 2011

Big Band with a Latin Accent,Then & Now.

By Fernando Gonzalez

El Padrino (Fania/Codigo)

Machito

The big band occupies a special place in Latin Jazz history. For starters, in the 1940s and ‘50s, the orchestras led by Tito Puente, Tito Rodríguez and Machito, the real life Mambo Kings, not only defined a certain sound, putting jazz instrumentation, harmonies and improvisation to true Afro-Caribbean grooves, but also seemed to bring out the whole country to the dance floor.

A lot has happened since.

Those classic bands remain the high water mark in Afro-Caribbean jazz.  But the term Latin Jazz has regained its true meaning,  encompassing a broader, truly Pan American sound.

The two-disc compilation El Padrino  revisits the work of Frank “Machito” Grillo and his exceptional band The Afro-Cubans. Anchored by friend and his brother-in-law,  saxophonist Mario Bauzá, an essential figure in the development of Latin Jazz, Machito and His Afro-Cuban blended sophisticated jazz arrangements and improvisations over authentic Afro-Cuban rhythms.  The results were explosive.

Collections such as El Padrino are samplers, conditioned by available recordings, licensing issues, and the curator´s taste. That said, the music here is a treat.  Fittingly, the set opens with “Tanga,” a Bauzá composition considered the first Latin jazz piece,  and goes from there. It includes fine examples of the band in full flight (check “Wild Jungle,” “Cannonology,” featuring Cannonball Adderley, Ray Santos’ Latinized blues “Azulito,” or “Mambo a la Savoy,” for starters).  And it also showcases the woefully underrated singer Graciela Pérez — Machito´s foster sister, better known simply as Graciela. Recognized as an interpreter of ballads, her work on El Padrino offers a good argument for reconsidering her standing as a big band singer, contributing a sense of swing and a certain cheeky sassiness (check “Si Si No No”) to the music. The collection also includes tracks with Marcelino Guerra (“El Guardia con El Tolete”), and flutist Herbie Mann (“Brazilian Soft Shoe,” “Love Chant”).

Cooly riding this beast of a band was Machito, front man, maraquero (maracas player) extraordinaire, and a singer with an expressive, caramel toned voice and impeccable sense of time.  Decades after it was a originally played and recorded, Machito’s music has lost none of its power and grace.

Tito Puente Masterworks Live (Jazzheads)

Manhattan School of Music Afro-Cuban Jazz Orchestra, Conducted by Bobby Sanabria

Timbalero, composer, and bandleader Tito Puente once built an explosive orchestra that became one of the friendly competitors of Machito’s band at the now legendary Palladium Ballroom on West 53rd St. and Broadway.  Leading a big band of students at the Manhattan School of Music, drummer, percussionist and educator Bobby Sanabria celebrates Puente’s work in Tito Puente’s Masterworks Live.

The repertoire nods to Afro-Cuban religious music (“Elegua Changó”),  some classics (“Picadillo,” “Ran Kan Kan,” “Cuban Nightmare,” but not “Oye Como Va”),  and a couple of jazz standards (Oscar Pettiford’s “Bohemia After Dark,” “Autumn Leaves”).

While most of the arrangements in this recording are reconstructed from Puente’s original versions, as Sanabria explicitly points out in the album notes, “the performances here are not nostalgic.”  Instead, he and his charges update Puente’s sound while going for the precision and excitement of his bands. That’s not only a worthy tribute to the past, but also a celebration of the future of this music.

40 Acres and a Burro (Zoho)

Arturo O’Farrill & The Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra

Pianist and composer Arturo O’Farrill has held together the Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra for more than three years after losing its home base at Jazz at Lincoln Center. Better yet, O’Farrill and the orchestra have continued to push and grow, exploring beyond Afro Cuban music while consistently producing rich, valuable work.

In 40 Acres and a Burro, O’Farrill smartly explores rumba (the explosive “Rumba Urbana”) and Puerto Rican bomba (in the knotty, angular “A Wise Latina,” written to honor Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor).  He looks into Brazilian choro (Pixinguinha’s “Um a Zero” in a fine arrangement by Nailor Proveta — leader of the excellent Banda Mantiqueira – featuring superb playing by Paquito D’Rivera on clarinet).  There’s also Afro-Peruvian festejo (“El Sur”), modern tango (Astor Piazzolla’s “Tanguango”, turned here into a tart, urgent New Yorker tango),  an Afro-Latin-Celtic piece (“She Moves Through The Fair”) and a couple of classics, the bolero “Almendra” and  Dizzy’s “A Night In Tunisia.”

Not surprisingly, O’Farrill and the band sound at once precise and loose-fitting. There is brilliant ensemble playing and soloing and, most engaging, they also sound fearless. They can even transmute anger and pointed  social commentary into sly fun — just check the title track.

Córdoba (Zoho)

Pedro Giraudo Jazz Orchestra

While O’Farrill’s adventurous big band Latin Jazz takes Afro-Caribbean rhythms as a point of departure, New York based bassist and composer Pedro Giraudo anchors his music on traditional styles of his native Argentina.  Córdoba — titled after the Mediterranean city, and a province in Argentina where Giraudo was born — is his  fifth album as a leader and shows an increasingly sure hand both in writing and arranging.

The approach here is orchestral, not merely tutti intros plus solos over the rhythm section and splashes of big band writing.  Rather, Giraudo uses sectional call and response, contrapuntal textures, tempo changes, and a muscular use of the rhythm section. There’s a reason why his press material speak of Charles Mingus, Carla Bley, and Duke Ellington as influences.

As foundation, Giraudo uses traditional rural Argentine styles — the slow, blues-like baguala,  the zamba,  and the chacarera. This is big band Latin Jazz with a different, fresh  accent.


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