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Positive Feedback ISSUE 22
november/december 2005


Latin Jazz - Christmas Stocking Stuffers
by Victor Chavira

Jazz on the Latin Side All Stars, The Last Bullfighter

José Rizo has been the host of Jazz on the Latin Side radio program on KKJZ in Long Beach for over fifteen years. In January 2000, on the occasion of the show's tenth anniversary, Rizo organized a concert featuring original compositions and standards played by a BIG band consisting of some of the best musicians on the west coast Latin Jazz scene. The event was recorded, and yielded two live CDs on Cubop records. For this project, Rizo decided to reunite the All Stars and record them live in the studio for his newly formed label, Saungú–a phonetic take on Justo Almario's pronunciation of "sounds good."

The CD opens with a rousing rendition of Dizzy Gillespie's "Bebop" that features blistering solos by the Almario on tenor sax, Francisco Torres on trombone, and Alex Acuña on drums. Lee Morgan's cha cha "Caramba" follows, with fine flute work from maestro Danilo Lozano. The star of the session, penned by Jose Rizo and arranged by Paul Lopez, is the CD's title track. The music starts in syncopated paso doble mode, but transitions and weaves through charanga and rumba in an expert exhibition of musical prowess. The memorable melody and dynamic changes will keep serious dancers swinging for years to come.

Another musical highlight is "Trane Ride," by Francisco Torres. The piece starts with a musical quote from Coltrane's A Love Supreme, then shifts to an Afro-Cuban, "Impressions"-like excursion of torrid tenor work from Justo Almario. The funkiest cut on the CD is "Ironman James," with an elastic electric bass line combined with a rhythm-and-blues-inspired horn section. The recording closes with another hot dance number, "Yo Soy la Rumba," featuring the vocal talents of Freddie Crespo.

The recording is mostly live, with minimal overdubs. The dynamic constrasts produced by the eight-member horn section are explosive. The soundstage is deep, with the musicians forming a large arc behind the plane of the speakers. This first studio session by Jose Rizo and company has something for the jazz listener and the Latin dancer to love. Let's hope this is the first in a long line of recordings for this great ensemble.


Bobby Matos, Acknowledgement

Percussionist Bobby Matos is a transplanted New Yorican who has been making music on the west coast for many years. A deep love for the music of John Coltrane links this recording with the CD by the Jazz on the Latin Side All Stars. In contrast to José Rizo's big-band approach to the music of the legendary saxophonist, Matos takes a smaller-scale, more personal perspective. The featured horn player on this session is Frank Fontaine, Jr., whose rich, dark tone is a perfect conduit for Coltrane's compositions.

The first 'Trane tune on the CD is an eight-and-a-half minute version of "A Love Supreme." With a band half the size of the JLS All Stars, the Bobby Matos Ensemble musicians have plenty of room to explore Coltrane's harmonic ideas.  Rather than the dynamic drumming of Elvin Jones, however, a quick clave beat and Afro-Cuban drumming compel the music forward. "Tunji," the second Coltrane cut on the CD, features soulful solos by Dan Weinstein on viola and Theo Saunders on piano. "Equinox" is also given an eight-minute-plus workout, with the talented Mr. Weinstein on trombone (shades of the late Chombo Silva, who doubled on violin and sax).

The rest of the tunes on Acknowledgement are original compositions by Matos that make the most of his charanga-esque format. "Song for Jud" is an upbeat number that is dedicated to Matos' son and features an energetic conga solo by Robertito Melendez. "Motivos de Jazz" is a slow-tempo tune that showcases fine interplay between muted trumpet and violin. The music on this CD is more suited to a small jazz club than large dance hall. The recording is appropriately intimate, with a notable sense of air around the musicians in the studio. I was particularly impressed with Matos' expressive cymbal work throughout the recording. I highly recommend either of these CDs. Buy both of them and stuff a Latin Jazz lover's Christmas stocking with joy.