The real Cuba may be just about ninety miles away from the tip of Florida, but where Señor Groove come from, in Miami, there’s more of it than anywhere else in continental USA. The Smith brothers – bassist Tim and guitarist Roddy – know a lot about what happens in their home-town and put a magnificent spin on the Afro-Caribbean music that has not only captivated the world, but nestles cheek-by-jowl with Jazz and almost every other contemporary stylistic idiom in music, wherever music is played and enjoyed. Happily, Señor Groove do it better than most and on Little Havana they prove it too with a fine grasp of the code of clave that is distilled into the music with refreshing originality from song to song; beginning to end.
This music is naturally rhythm-driven with the majestic rumble of Tim Smith’s bass, the energetic, floating lines of Roddy Smith’s guitar, the rolling thunder of Marcelo Perez’s drums, Murph Armstrong’s wonderful percussion colouring and the shimming brilliance of Martin Bejerano’s pianism. All of this comes to a head in “Little Havana” a rollicking song that roars in montuno and with a rippling Latin-Jazz groove that builds up enormously under Mr Bejerano’s complex tumbao. This, of course, comes after a superb unraveling of the clave code right out of the gate on “3.5 x 2”, which, in turn, is followed with a plush reading of the classic “Drume Negrita”; a version that is made quite special by the poetic grace of Roxana Amed’s vocal.
One is continually delighted with the ravishingly percussive tumbling groove every now and then gives way to a loose and funky rhythm as in the tantalising blue-grass-like shuffle of “Linville Falls” a riveting, dancing chart that begins in blue-grass mode and changes to a raucous samba before reverting back to its original groove. This is a magnificent feature for trumpeter Brian Lynch and for tenor saxophonist Ed Calle. The chart is followed by “Second Time Round” and here the spotlight reveals inimitable John Daversa who puts aside his trumpet for an EWI – the instrument that was virtually introduced into music by the late Michael Brecker. Mr Daversa is a powerhouse whenever he makes an entrance and his performance on this track is no different as he adds other-worldly tone colours to the twinkling of Roddy Smith’s guitar and Martin Bejerano’s piano.
Recorded sound balances detail and warmth, not to mention the highest level of virtuosity and invention, individuality and exploration at every turn. It’s also touching and toe-tapping in equal measure. Best of all it’s impressive musicianship from everyone involved, in response to the unique artistic vision of its co-creators from Señor Groove.
Track list – 1: 3.5 X 2; 2: Drume Negrita; 3: Little Havana; 4: Lellarap; 5: Linville Falls; 6: Second Time Around; 7: C 100
Personnel – Tim Smith: bass; Roddy Smith: guitar; Marcelo Perez: drums; Martin Bejerano: piano; Murph Aucamp: percussion; Tim Gordon: saxophone, flute and bass clarinet (2, 3, 7); David Sneider: trumpet (3); Brian Lynch: trumpet (5); Ed Calle: saxophone (5); Andre Bernier: organ (4, 5); John Daversa: EWI (6); Nick Lamb: synth (6); Connor Golden: synth (6); Roxana Amed: vocals (2); Gary Lindsay: string arrangements (2); David Davidson: violin (2); Karen Winkelman: violin (2); Monisa Angell: viola (2); Carole Rabinowitz: cello (2)
Released – 2019
Label – ZOHO Music (ZM201902)
Runtime – 38:09