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The Colors of Latin Jazz: Soul Cookin'

(Concord; US: 8 Feb 2005; UK: Available as import)

Latin jazz is a very happy marriage. It’s one of those couplings that makes everybody feel better—a husband and wife who, even after 50 years of marriage, seem titterpated just to be holding hands. “Latin” brings the old-time dance groove to the front of every tune. “Jazz” brings a bank of horns in soulful shout or the cry of a Hammond organ riding over the timbales. When I’m out on a steamy Saturday night, I just like to know what this couple is out there too, smiling at each other, ready to groove until even midnight is forgotten.


Soul Cookin’ is the latest in the “Colors of Latin Jazz” series—each one a batch of lip-smackers from the monstrous Latin jazz catalogue of the old Milestone imprint and the current Concord Picante label. Each collection seeks to highlight a different shade of this rich body of music: bossa nova, mambo, descargas, romantic balladry, Afro-Cuban bop, or the hot use of the vibraphone. This stew of tunes is designed to showcase the collision of Afro-Cuban rhythms and salsa instrumentation with the “soul jazz” fashion that emerged in the late ‘50s and ‘60s.


So what you’ve got here is: fat slabs of down-home chicken shack funk shot through at the blood level with Latin rhythm, particularly the kind of timbale-conga-guiro groove that demands hip movement. Mongo Santamaria and Poncho Sanchez represent with four tracks each, and that about says it—the Blue Note soul of tunes like “Watermelon Man”, “The Sidewinder”, and “The Sermon” gets the full Afro-Cuban treatment.


Some would call it ecstasy. I agree.


The recordings collected here span almost 40-plus years of the Latin jazz tradition, but it is remarkable to notice that the oldest recordings here are almost indistinguishable from recent music—that’s because the basic formula for bottom-shaking Latin jazz has never been in doubt. All the tracks by Mongo—a legendary Cuban master conguero—are from record dates in 1962 and 1964 featuring jazz heavyweights like Chick Corea, Nat Adderley, Hubert Laws and Pat Patrick. The most recent music is from the Ellington of salsa, pianist Eddie Palmieri, and his date La Perfecta Dos, which is an updating of a classic recording for 1962. Both those extremes sound as fresh as tomorrow’s hot remix, and the dates in between are prime as well.


Who needs this disc? Not Latin jazz experts, who will already own much of this music from the original sources. But almost anyone else with the most passing interest in Afro-Cuban music will love it. A few of the tracks are stone classics. I’m particularly partial to Cal Tjader’s “Guarachi Guaro (Soul Sauce)”, which is a pure vibes-heavy delight and Chico O’Farrill’s contemporary update on his classic arrangement of Dizzy Gillespie’s Cubano-bop classic “Manteca”.


Twelve of the 14 tracks here have names like “Lip Smacker”, “Sweet Tater Pie”, and “Corn Bread Guarjira”, so it’s plain that the Concord marketing folks had as much to do with choosing these tunes as some musicologist. But if what you have in mind is a summer barbeque, maybe a party that lingers after sundown, then some dancing in backyard as the summer humidity lingers in the air—you could not choose a better soundtrack than Soul Cookin’.


Now, take off your shoes, tuck your napkin into your shirt, and get ready to eat with your fingers while you boogie with your feet.

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Will Layman is a writer, teacher and musician living in the Washington, DC area. He is a contributor to National Public Radio and frequently appears as a guest on WNYC's "Soundcheck" as a jazz critic. He plays both funk and jazz in the bars and clubs in and near the nation's capital. His fiction and humor appear in print and online.


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