Perhaps the most surprising musical trend of the past decade, signs of the growing influence of a thriving population finally gaining some semblance of mainstream acceptance, has been the recent popularity of Latin pop music. MTV and mainstream radio handed us Ricky Martin, J-Lo, Enrique Iglesias and the rediscovery of Santana. Simultaneously, the vitality of Latin jazz, critically acclaimed but commercially flaccid since the heydays of Cal Tjader and Tito Puente, has risen once again with prime players like Los Hombres Calientes and Cubanismo leading the charge. The two main disseminators of the Latin jazz rebirth are Ry Cooder’s excellent documentary/album Buena Vista Social Club and Jose Rizo’s southern Californian staple Jazz on the Latin Side, a radio show on KLON.
Using his thorough knowledge of the genre, as composer, performer and fan, Rizo has turned Jazz on the Latin Side into a megaforce. With its finger on the pulse of Latin Jazz, defining and broadening the genre, paying homage to its forebears and creating new stars out of deserving young players, Jazz on the Latin Side is a national treasure, promoting a musical form with a variegated ancient history and creating for it a bright future.
In commemoration of the tenth anniversary of Jazz on the Latin Side, this all-star performance, comprised of cagey veterans and spicy newcomers on the Latin jazz scene, is a clinic in Latin jazz, the infectious interplay of jaw-dropping percussive proficiency, throaty squealing brass, stout fluid bass, tinkling piano and warm friendly vocals. The Allstars represent well the many moods of Latin jazz throughout, from habanero hot to tomatillo cool and everything in-between, and echo the true knowledge of the genre that Jose Rizo has, as he composed five of the six tracks on the album.
The clave shuffle of “Shortcuts”, a picante number with dextrous percussion, terrific horn interludes and jangly piano, is an auspicious opener; from the reaction of the crowd, you can tell that if this club has a dance floor, it will soon be full. “Mujer Chicana”, is a more relaxed mood, recalling Miles Davis’s “Sketches of Spain”; a cool jazz number that envisions limning the town square on a cool night after a long hot day just hoping that the girl you’ve stealthily followed won’t see you, but also hoping that she does. “Arabian Moods”, a tempo-twisting number full of percussion worship, stalwart trombone and impeccable trumpet soloing is presumably (at least in title if not music) a nod to the Spanish-via-Moorish influence on Latin music.
Every track on “Allstars” is a tour-de-force, avoiding the pratfalls of the typical supergroup and never coming near the feel of just a jam session. The smooth transitory interplay of drums, bass, horns, winds and piano shows great teamwork, displaying the talents of all the players equally rather than pushing a singular star to the front. Yes, there are standout performances all over this album—the sweltering muted trumpet solo on “Descarga Cachao” and Susie Hansen’s electric violin work come to mind—but the true star, promoted at every moment with ease and perfection, is Jazz on the Latin Side, the preeminent Latin jazz radio show in America, if not the world. Allstar jam sessions usually lack cohesion and commitment; they show promise but fail to deliver. However, “Allstars” flexes but never breaks. It spins and twirls ‘til it’s dizzy. It connects the past, present and future of Latin jazz. It delivers far beyond its promise.