Best Latin Jazz Albums of 2013 – Part I

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Best CDs of 2013-1

2013 was a prolific year in terms of new Latin jazz albums being released. Perhaps as an appropriate response to the wrongful dismissal and eventual re-installment of the Grammy Awards Latin jazz category (only after a campaign promoted by many musicians and artists who actively fought for the re-installment). So many wonderful productions just prove that jazz within the realm of Afro-Latin and Pan-American music is more alive and vibrant than ever. That’s why my list of Best Recordings of the Year has expanded to 20. I simply couldn’t leave out some of those terrific albums. My list provides a big picture of the genre, and it showcases a wide variety of rhythms and influences. From the well-established and recognized Afro-Cuban, Brazilian, Puerto Rican rhythms, to the increasingly widespread Peruvian, Colombian, Venezuelan, Argentinian and other Latin American rhythms, as well as Flamenco.

Whether you like or dislike the term Latin jazz (some artists find it restrictive, like a box in which they don’t want to be thrown in). Whether you agree or disagree with its meaning and scope, in practical terms, it is an umbrella that covers and represents diversity and richness in musical creation. As such, it is useful and fills a gap. So, here it is, part 1 of my picks (The Editor’s Picks).

AfroHORN – Francisco Mora-Catlett: Rare Metal (AACE Records – USA)

For nearly 50 years Francisco Mora-Catlett has marched to the beat of his own drum. Rare Metal marks another step in the evolution of AfroHorn. Francisco Mora-Catlett is the recipient of several awards from The Detroit Council of the Arts, The Michigan Council of the Arts and The National Endowment for the Arts. In a career that spans nearly 50 years, Francisco Mora-Catlett creates music according to tradition that is elusive, defies definition and nourishes the spirit. – Read Our Interview

Carlos Martín: The Journey (Sedajazz Records – Spain)

There is a visceral ecstasy that runs through the music of The Journey, a veritable musical odyssey by the trombonist, occasional trumpeter and magnificent conguero, Carlos Martín. This is duende of a different kind, largely due to the fact that the music does not spring from the depths of an old soul in the throes of sadness and joy. But rather here is an Odysseus, cut from the old superhero, inhabiting a modern skin, made up like a magical patchwork quilt, of a myriad pictures and narratives grafted from days of yore and ancient times remembered even today. – Read Our Review

Michele Rosewoman’s New Yor-Uba: 30 Years – A Musical Celebration of Cuba in America (Advance Dance Disques – USA)

It is my contention that every recording has a compelling back story and “30 Years …” is certainly no exception. The ensemble’s story begins in Oakland, California circa 1970s, where Michele’s parents owned a record shop and exposed her to a wide variety of music, including R&B, jazz, the Blues and sacred music from around the world. The 2 CD-set contains 14 original compositions, the vast majority of which pay tribute to the Orisha deities…– Read Our Review

Leo Gandelman: Ventos do Norte (Northern Winds) (Azul Music – Brazil)

A record of exceeding beauty for he (Leo Gandelman) has a tone as warm as Stan Getz on tenor and as moist as Paul Desmond on alto saxophone, whose music he certainly heard and absorbed. Now that he is his own man and a sublime practitioner on all forms of the saxophone each time he plays and makes a recording, his position is elevated in the pantheon of saxophonists along with those he has admired over time. – Read Our Review

Bill O’Connell + The Latin Jazz All-Stars: Zócalo (Savant Records – USA)

There are so many reasons why Bill O’Connell’s record, Zócalo recommends itself. The title is charming. The ensemble on the date is what might easily qualify to be a super-group as it features such a stellar cast. Then there is Luques Curtis, one half of the now-famous rhythm section of the Curtis Brothers, a fine young bassist who seems to be in the vanguard of the most exciting new bass players that seem to have come out of nowhere to dominate music… – Read Our Review

Duduka Da Fonseca Trio: New Samba Jazz Directions (Zoho Music – USA)

Duduka Da Fonseca is a brilliant composer; something that goes unnoticed almost every time he issues a record. This time around there is an almost deliberate attempt to subsume his compositional abilities into his drumming. It is almost as if he has felt a “new thing” upon him in the same way as Ornette Coleman felt when he created his recordings of the late 50’s and early 60’s. Da Fonseca seems to be made almost entirely of music; so much so that his manner of playing suggests musical drumming rather than the mere rhythmic attack of conventional drumming. – Read Our Review

Mongorama: Baila que Baila (Saungú Records – USA)

This is the second recording of Mongorama after his debut album two years ago. With a new lead vocalist, James Zavaleta, Baila Que Baila has the fortune of having arrangers like the brilliant Oscar Hernández and Francisco Torres, and unrivaled performers like Justo Almario, Poncho Sánchez, Danilo Lozano, Joey de León, Oscar Hernández and René Camacho among others. This dream album is a committed tribute to Mongo Santamaría as nobody has done before. Jazz con charanga, or charanga-jazz if you prefer is the concept the band continues to explore… – Read Our Review

John Santos Sextet: Filosofía Caribeña Vol. 2 (Machete Records – USA)

One aspect of John Santos’ music that sets him apart from many artists in the Latin realm is the depth of its spiritual consciousness. This is almost immediately palpable on the album Filosofía Caribeña Vol. 2 by the John Santos Sextet. Of course, it is no small accident that the first track on the record is the superb elegy to the late alum, “Rev” Ron Stallings, simply entitled “Mr. Stallings”. The legendary tenor saxophonist was a member of Mr. Santos’ well-known Machete Ensemble and recorded with him in the early part of the 2000s… – Read Our Review

Hamlet and his Latin Jazz Experience: Pa ‘lante… Siguiendo el Camino (Freiaudio – Austria)

There is a visceral energy that courses through the primeval gut of Hamlet Fiorilli Müller’s record Pa ’lante… Siguiendo el Camino. This is largely due to the unfettered vitality of the horns and the percussion of his band, The Latin Jazz Experience. Of course, there is also Mr. Fiorilli Müller’s own musical dynamism and that of his bassist, who seems to not only egg him on, but also push the percussionists to their limit and beyond. – Read Our Review

Emilio Teubal: Música Para Un Dragón Dormido (Brooklyn Jazz Underground – USA)

Emilio Teubal delves into the world of magical realism, which seems to be a universe where he spends much of his time as a composer of music. This gives his compositions great character, a sense of mystery and colourful playfulness that is rare in music today. Along with this Mr. Teubal has a knack of telling his stories with brevity, fetching emotion and an intense kind of love that bonds him to the characters who inhabit his music roaming freely… – Read Our Review