The prospect of Rubén Blades performing with the mighty Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra during the 2014-15 concert season must surely have had music aficionados holding their collective breaths just waiting to get into the venue. As it happens he did not disappoint. Moreover this performance by the celebrated Panamanian vocalist, composer and activist recorded at Lincoln Center’s Frederick P. Hall on November 15, 2014 is reminiscent of the legendary Frank Sinatra with the Count Basie Orchestra at Sands Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas in 1966 featuring Quincy Jones’ arrangements which Sonny Burke produced. It is certainly not a stretch – not with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, which is at the height of its powers performing this (shortened) repertoire featuring many stellar arrangements by the orchestra’s contrabassist Carlos Henriquez.
Editor’s Pick · Featured Album · Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis: Una Noche con Rubén Blades
Mr Henriquez was also graciously yielded to microphone by Artistic Director Wynton Marsalis announce the arrival of Mr Blades, a superstar and Muse for the bassist’s generation, growing up in the South Bronx. And that kicks off not simply a live concert, but an extravaganza featuring an hour-long (and then some) feast of music from the Latin-Jazz and American Songbooks. It is a monumental selection of songs that includes not only Cole Porter’s “Begin the Beguine” and Jimmy McHugh and Dorothy Fields’ “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love”, but also several rousing Latin-Jazz charts beginning with “Ban Ban Quere”. The dramatic twist somewhere in the middle of the recording features an arrangement of “Pedro Navaja” in which Mr Blades not-so-accidentally flips on his activist hat with poignant measures of music from Bertolt Brecht’s Threepenny Opera and Leonard Bernstein’s iconic West Side Story (those songs referencing “Mack the Knife” and “America” respectively), but the explosive crescendo during the penultimate medley (especially “El Número 6”) and most certainly comes during Mr Blades’ seminal classic “Patria” which closes the concert.
Clearly Mr Blades, who is celebrated not only for the clutch of awards he has won, is on the top of his game throughout. His tenor voice flows out of his throat like dark velvet and mellifluousness balanced by a touch of metal. He is one of the greatest ever interpreters of patriotic music – of which his own “Patria” dedicated to his homeland of Panama – is a bona-fide classic. His diction is a model, both expressive and crystal clear and like the greatest of vocalists – Sinatra and Nat Cole – he phrases with unforced eloquence, pointing salient words within a liquid legato. His flawless renditions of “Pedro Navaja”, “El Número 6” and, of course, “Patria” are all remarkable examples of this quality – typified by his ability to explode with unbridled joy with ebullient, and also squeeze out his elemental pain with regretful tenderness as he does in those songs.
The recording could well have been dedicated to the great baritone saxophonist and bass clarinetist Joe Temperley, missing at the time of this performance and listed but not on the recording, who passed away not long ago. His big boots and empty chair was ably filled by Paul Nedzela, who solos magnificently on “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love”, right after Ted Nash’s elegant flute solo. Throughout the repertoire Mr Blades also gets extraordinary support from his Latin percussionists and from drummer Ali Jackson as well who finally raise the performance of “Patria” to the rafters. But they are not alone in this regard. Wynton Marsalis pierces through the fabric of the song with a mystical, spine-tingling performance. Other soloists – especially Seneca Black on “Begin the Beguine” and Dan Nimmer, whose prodigious pianism is always one of the highlights of any performance by the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra – make this one of the finest live recordings ever to come out of New York’s iconic music organisation’s, reaffirming its commitment to upholding the tradition of the music of America.
Track list – 1: Carlos Henriquez Introduction; 2: Ban Ban Quere; 3: Too Close for Comfort; 4: El Cantante; 5: I Can’t Give You Anything but Love; 6: Apóyate en Mi Alma; 7: Pedro Navaja; 8: Begin the Beguine; 9: Sin Tu Cariño; 10: Rubén’s Medley: Ligia Elena/El Número 6/Juan Pachanga; 11: Patria (Encore); Bonus tracks – 12: Don’t Like Goodbyes; 13: Fever; 14: They Can’t Take That Away from Me
Personnel – Rubén Blades: vocals and maracas; Sherman Irby: alto and soprano saxophones; Ted Nash: alto saxophone, flute (solo 5) and piccolo; Victor Goines: tenor saxophone and soprano saxophone (solo 6) and clarinet; Walter Blanding: tenor saxophone; Joe Temperley: baritone saxophone; Paul Nedzela: baritone saxophone (solo 5); Ryan Kisor: trumpet; Kenny Rampton: trumpet (solo 3); Wynton Marsalis: trumpet (solos 1, 11); Vincent Gardner: trombone; Chris Crenshaw: trombone (solo 4); Elliot Mason: trombone; Dan Nimmer: piano (solos 3, 9); Carlos Henriquez: contrabass; Ali Jackson: drums (solo 10); With Special Guests – Eddie Rosando: backing vocals; Bobby Allende: congas (solo 10) and backing vocals; Marc Quiñones: timbales (solo 10) and backing vocals; Carlos Padron: bongos (solo 10) and vocals; Seneca Black: trumpet (solo 8)
Released – 2018
Label – Blue Engine Records (BE 0013)
Runtime – 1:36:40