Noteworthy Recordings of 2011

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    Feature Article Written By NY Co-Editor, Tomas Peña

    Gregor Huebner - El Violin Latino GREGOR HUEBNER – EL VIOLIN LATINO (TIMBA) 
    Gregor Huebner’s latest CD is not so much an album as a travel narrative. On, "El Violin Latino" the German violinist and composer, who makes his home in Harlem, retraces the evolution of a repertoire that spans continents and centuries even as it remains in the shadow of the European canon. By turns sexy and sly, impassioned and dreamy, his collection of well-known tunes, unexpected arrangements and original compositions brings together far-flung members of the fiddle diaspora. In some ways, it’s the story of the prodigal violin: of how the most aristocratic of instruments crossed the Atlantic and found itself in the rhythm section of a Cuban charanga band, or in a brothel in Buenos Aires. Review by journalist Corinna da Fonseca-Wollheim of the Wall Street Journal.
    Maraca and his Latin Jazz All Stars - Reencuentros   MARACA AND HIS LATIN JAZZ ALL STARS – REENCUENTROS, LIVE AT THE GRAND THEATER OF HAVANA (DESCARGA SARL- CD/DVD)
    This is the recording that Maraca’s fans have been waiting for. Recorded live at the Grand Theater in Havana, Cuba (2010), it presents Maraca’s collaboration with the Havana Chamber Orchestra and includes standout contributions from pianist Harold Lopez-Nussa, Japanese violinist Sayaka, saxophonist David Sanchez, drummer Horacio “El Negro” Hernandez, percussionist Giovanni Hidalgo and others. The recording takes the listener (and viewer) on a musical journey through the history of traditional and contemporary Cuban music. The repertoire includes such classics as “Camerata en Guaguancó” (a Guido López-Gavilán composition), “Serenata Cubana” (an Ignacio Cervantes piece), Chano Pozo and Dizzy Gillespie’s, “Manteca” and a number of original compositions, including “Afro,” “Danzón Siglo XXI,” and “Nueva Era.” “Reencuentros” is a showcase for Maraca and his distinguished guests and in this writer’s opinion, his finest recording to date. TP.
    Jose Rizo's Mongorama   JOSE RIZO’S MONGORAMA (SAUNGU RECORDINGS)
    “Mongorama” is no ordinary band. Its self-mandate of paying tribute to the charanga/jazz musical period extensively explored by Mongo Santamaría and his band mates, saxophonist Chombo Silva and flautist Rolando Lozano, involves revitalizing Mongo’s music and the charanga tradition he helped to develop. Rizo, as producer and bandleader and musical director Danilo Lozano incorporate new arrangements and orchestrations, modern variations of the themes without losing the essence of the rhythm and the infectious “danceability” of the music. The hip, jazzy feel exudes throughout the vocal and instrumental deliveries on this recording. Engaging and enjoyable at the same time, “Mongorama” equally pleases the listeners (jazz and Latin music fans) and the dancers. Great job accomplished by pianist Oscar Hernández with his arrangements and Francisco Torres as well. This is an album recorded live-in-studio over a two days fantastic musical journey. The music on this CD has is fresh, spontaneous and has those improvisational elements inherent to Jazz and Afro-Cuban descargas. This approach works perfectly well for these seasoned, highly-trained cats, who proudly follow in the footsteps of Maestro Mongo Santamaría. Review by Danilo Navas, Editor and contributing writer for Latin Jazz Network.
    Cachao - The Last Mambo   CACHAO – THE LAST MAMBO (EVENTUS ENTERTAINMENT/LATINUM MUSIC)
    This historic and heartfelt 2 CD set documents the final performance by bassist and mambo legend Israel “Cachao” Lopez leading a 24-piece orchestra. The concert, which celebrated the bassist’s 80 years in music, was held at the Ziff Opera House at the Adrienne Arsht Center in Miami Florida in 2007. At one point in the recording Cachao becomes reflective, “Tonight I am feeling very emotional” says Cachao, “80 years in the music business. Do you know what that is? It’s no joke.” The Last Mambo transports the listener to the legendary master’s final performance and it’s the next best thing to being there. TP
    Charito - Heal the World   CHARITO – HEAL THE WORLD (ZOHO RECORDS)
    This jazzy tribute to Michael Jackson is a refreshing and pleasant surprise. Vocalist, Charito, who is obviously a huge fan of Jackson, handles the material with passion, intimacy and swing. Moreover, she breathes new life into Jackson’s hits:  “Rock with You,” “Human Nature” and “Never Can Say Goodbye” among others. The recording was produced by West Coast percussionist Harvey Mason, who has worked with Dionne Warwick and Whitney Houston. Mason has assembled a distinguished group of musicians and the arrangements are familiar yet fresh. Heal the World is a heartfelt and uplifting tribute to the King of Pop. It’s the feel good album of the year. TP.
    Omar Sosa - Calma   OMAR SOSA – CALMA (OTA)
    Calma is Omar Sosa’s fifth solo piano recording and perhaps his finest. The CD is comprised of 13 solo piano improvisations, fusing stylistic elements of jazz, classical music, ambient and electronica. As the title implies, the overall feeling is relaxed and introspective. According to Sosa, “Each song is an inspiration for the next, and improvisation is the basis of musical expression. I wanted to play from beginning to end without thinking – just feeling where each note would take me, following the voice of my soul.” Rhythmically, the feeling of the CD is unhurried and meditative. Sensations of floating and suspension of time prevail. Review: Otá Records.
    Jerry Gonzalez y El Comando de la Clave   JERRY GONZALEZ Y EL COMANDO DE LA CLAVE (SUNNYSIDE)
    “González is as brilliant an improviser as he is a melodist. He is like a master-weaver when he plays, weaving color and subtle shades into a musical tapestry that is beautiful and rare. His phrasing flutters airily across this artifact that becomes the trumpeter’s playing field. The album is truly flawless from end to end, but several performances are monumental. The turning of “Love for Sale” into a personal statement is one. González leads the ensemble in what must surely be one of the finest versions of this piece. It is no more a lovelorn ballad that it is purported to be. But while still retaining its balladry, González turns it into a sensuous melody full of ebullient twists and turns between trumpet and percussion. Then on Duke Ellington’s “In a Sentimental Mood” the ponderous quietude of the song is transposed, with a voluptuous Latin tinge into a dramatic contrapuntal excursion between voice and trumpet, presided over by some miraculous-sounding triplets on bass. And, of course, the duende of Diego El Cigala’s voice drives the music of “Avisale a mi Contrario”. That and González’s molten, brassy lines make a magic so rare and powerful that the sound of the song—and the album—lingers a lot longer than the last single note played by the trumpeter, thus confirming that Jerry González is everything that a great virtuoso is cracked up to be.” Excerpts from review by Raul da Gama, contributing writer for Latin Jazz Network.
    Michel Camilo - Mano a Mano   MICHEL CAMILO – MANO A MANO (EMARCY)
    In Mano a Mano, Michel Camilo, returns to one of his most effective settings, the trio, but with a twist, using congas and small percussion, instead of trap drums. Featuring longtime friends, master conguero Giovanni Hidalgo and bassist Charles Flores, Michel’s trio creates a lighter, more open sound, still powerful, yet also with a certain sweet mango-flavored lyricism that proves to be a perfect vehicle for a wide ranging repertoire that includes eight original compositions and three standards. The group represents not only a “meeting of the minds, each with his own rhythmical baggage and rhythmic notions but also considering Michel hails from the Dominican Republic, Giovanni hails from Puerto Rico, and Charles is Cuban, the coming together of three potent Afro-Caribbean musical traditions. Review: www.michelcamilo.com
    Harold Lopez-Nussa - El Paraiso de las Maravillas   HAROLD LOPEZ-NUSSA – EL PARAISO DE LAS MARAVILLAS (IMPORT)
    Upstart pianist, Harold Lopez-Nussa hails from a musical dynasty – his uncle is the pianist Ernan Lopez-Nussa and he is the son of drummer Ruy Lopez-Nussa. Nussa came to my attention through his work with the Ninety Miles Project and Maraca’s Latin Jazz All-Stars, where he steals every scene in which he appears. Nussa is probably best known for his work with the legendary Cuban vocalist Omara Portuondo and his group, Herencia.  The Montreal Gazette describes Nussa as, “A virtuosic pianist brimming with passion and tempered by self-knowledge and sensitivity… there’s keyboard mastery and a rich rhythmic vocabulary combined with heart-and-soul harmonies.” You are going to be hearing a lot from this dynamic, young pianist in the future. TP
    Pablo Aslan - Piazzolla in Brooklyn   PABLO ASLAN – PIAZZOLLA IN BROOKLYN (SOUNDBRUSH RECORDS)
    During the late 1950s Astor Piazzolla made a recording titled, “Take Me Dancing,” strictly for U.S. consumption (the recording is currently out-of-print). Suffice it to say, it was not one of Piazzolla’s most inspired recordings (Piazzolla called it a ‘disaster’). Fast forward to present day where Pablo Aslan reexamined the material, discovered a “rhythmic approach that was obscured by the writing” and took the material on as an artistic challenge. “Piazzolla in Brooklyn” includes re-arranged and expanded versions of Piazzolla originals such as “La Calle 92,” “Triunfal,” “Counterpoint,” and “Show Off” as well as “Laura” and “Lullaby in Birdland.” Aslan’s quintet features the top young veterans of Buenos Aires jazz and tango scene including Astor Piazzolla’s grandson, drummer Daniel "Pipi" Piazzolla. A fitting tribute to Astor Piazzolla on what would have been his 90th birthday. TP
    Tito Puente Masterworks Live! Manhattan School of Music Afro Cuban Jazz Orchestra By Bobby Sanabria   TITO PUENTE MASTERWORKS LIVE! – MANHATTAN SCHOOL OF MUSIC AFRO CUBAN JAZZ ORCHESTRA BY BOBBY SANABRIA (Jazzheads)
    “Masterworks Live” is a passionate and spirited tribute to El Maestro, Tito Puente. Under the direction of drummer, educator Bobby Sanabria, the Orchestra breathes new life into a variety of Tito Puente classics. Some time ago I had the pleasure of seeing the orchestra in action and I am happy to report that “Masterworks Live” does an excellent job of transporting the listener to a ringside seat at the Manhattan School of Music. Taking on the repertoire of legendary figure in Latin music is an audacious task but Sanabria and the orchestra rise to every challenge and then some. “Masterworks Live” is a recording that would have made Tito Puente very proud. Long live the King! TP
    Mark Weinstein - El Cumbanchero   MARK WEINSTEIN AND ARUAN ORTIZ – EL CUMBANCHERO (Jazzheads)
    Flutist Mark Weinstein is a daring and innovative artist who is never content to rest on his laurels and “El Cumbanchero” is living proof. Here, Weinstein and co-conspirator, pianist Aruan Ortiz explore charanga, a style of Cuban music that was popular from the late 19th century to the mid-20th century and recasts the form in contemporary terms.  Essentially, Ortiz’s arrangements open up the melodic and harmonic possibilities and Weinstein explores the rhythmic complexity within each newly arranged composition. According to Weinstein, “El Cumbanchero” might be the best album I have ever recorded. Aruan Ortiz who wrote the arrangements for string quartet and contributed three original compositions has written one of the most amazing pieces of music I have ever had the pleasure of playing. The fact that he gave this music to me and permitted me to respond with complete freedom is one of the greatest gifts I have ever received.” Suffice it to say, “El Cumbanchero” is yet another feather in Mark Weinstein’s and another addition to his impressive body of work. TP
    Arturo O' Farrill and the Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra - 40 Acres and a Burro   ARTURO O’ FARRILL AND THE AFRO LATIN JAZZ ORCHESTRA – 40 ACRES AND A BURRO (ZOHO)
    Earlier this year I had the pleasure of speaking with pianist, musical director Arturo O’ Farrill and he made the statement with regard to creating new music” “Lord, I want to be on unsure footing, I want to be challenged, I want to feel like I am always and every day, not comfortable, not retreading. It’s really important to me that every time I play the piano that it is a new experience. If I walk away from writing a piece and I don’t feel that I have done something new, I feel guilty! I feel like I have shucked and “jived” my responsibility.”
    On “40 Acres and a Mule” O’ Farrrll finds inspiration in music from Brazil (Pixinguinha’s "Um A Zero" and Hermeto Pascoal’s "Bebê"), Peru (Gabriel Alegria’s "El Sur"), Argentina (Astor Piazzolla’s "Tanguango") Cuba ("Ruminaciones Sobre Cuba") and beyond. Furthermore, he uses his large ensemble like an artist uses a palette, creating different musical scenarios from piece to piece. O’ Farrill describes “40 Acres and a Burro” as “pure unabashed jazz and 100% unabashed Latin (music) and it melds them beautifully, and does it from the perspective of Peru, Argentina, Puerto Rico, Cuban and Ireland.” TP.

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