Snowboy: Afro Cuban Jazz

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By Maurice Bottomley

The Sunday Sessions at the Hi-Hat in North London have a special place in English club culture. Every week some of the best dancers on the jazz/Latin scene turn out to spin, twirl and gyrate to batacuda rhythms, mambo classics, ‘70s jazz-funk and hard bop anthems. The last refuge of the early eighties jazz dance explosion, this frenzied ritual is presided over by the DJ Snowboy, a large, muscular, intense individual with an unsurpassed collection of Latin and rare soul classics. Southend’s self-titled “pit-bull jazzman” Snowboy (Mark Cotgrove) is not just one of the elite underground DJs but as a conga player and band leader has been developing a formidable reputation as a live act. On this, his fourth album, he has finally captured the energy and drive of both the club sessions and stage performances.

This not a subtle album. Nor, thankfully, is it one of that proliferating species of club-bossa nova, easy listening, ambient affairs. This is hard, sweaty dance music, propelled furiously by conga and timbales and embellished with horns and Hammond organ. Snowboy is no maestro of the congas, so do not expect the shifts of mood and tone of Robin Jones or Mongo Santamaria. What Snowboy has in abundance is power and rhythmic intensity. This album does not let up for a moment. This is not Latin music as background for a sophisticated soiree. This is hard jazz mambo to make you move.

Although the musical direction of the album is very much Snowboy’s, the actual highlights come from the very accomplished band members. From the opening salsa-mambo (“Oya Ye Ye)” to the frantic jam (“Descarga Angixi”) that closes the album trumpet, keyboards, sax and trombone ensure the album is always more than pure percussive force. The players are all stalwarts of the London acid jazz/Latin scene and make up an effective unit as well as supplying some rich solo work.

Pride of place has to go to keyboardist Neil Angilley, probably best known for his work with Down To The Bone, an outfit with a similar dance-floor driven approach. Angilley on Fender Rhodes and particularly on Hammond Organ proves himself to be in the first flight of exponents of that instrument so dear to the Acid Jazz fraternity. His work on “Blues Para T” and “El Campeon Del Mambo” is particularly fine. Sax-man Neil Cowley enlivens a number of tracks (such as “Straight From The Gate”) and shows why he is so in demand on the London circuit.

This is not an album for purists, but nor is it some cod-Latino exercise. Snowboy loves the ‘70s sounds of both Salsa and Jazz Funk. He is striving to develop those styles into a tight and raw dancer-friendly fusion—emotionally authentic to both the music’s Cuban roots and the London sound. Tito Puente, Eddie Palmieri and Ray Barreto lurk behind these grooves but so do the JTQ, and the DJ sets of Gilles Peterson, Dr. Bob Jones and Snowboy himself. Acid Latin—if you like.

If you have witnessed the Hi-Hat sessions or the Jazz Room at Southport then this album takes you right back there. Don’t worry if you haven’t, Ubiquity has managed to package up the flavour of that experience in all its dynamism, hard work and sheer gusto. This is jazz with attitude, no pretensions and fire in its belly. Snowboy has finally managed to turn his obsession into a project that works over a whole album. No greater tribute could be paid to this album than to say that any track could sit easily alongside the classics and rarities that make up his own DJ sets. Next album soon, please.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/snowboy-afro/