In spite of the disclaimer in the liner notes, The Rough Guide to Latin Jazz does a fair job of covering the genre. The collection has drawn from the recordings of both the legends of Latin Jazz, such as Tito Puente and Eddie Palmieri, and the soon-to-be legendary artists.
The late "King of Latin music", Mr. Tito Puente, is represented here by his Latin Ensemble's 1986 recording of "Spain", a Spanish tinged, fusion piece composed by Chick Corea in the seventies and covered by a wide variety of jazz artists. Rubato tenor sax lines, backed by textural piano and accented by cymbal washes, set the stage for the band to enter, which does so with aplomb and fiery conviction. All solos are red hot but lack the self-indulgence so often associated with mainstream jazz, which is one of the nicest things about big bands, particularly Latin jazz bands. The piece climaxes with the tenor solo, the longest and most inspired of the three improvisations, and concludes with the melody, succinctly, before the fire is given a chance to die down.
When someone says Latin jazz, the first name that comes to mind is, invariably, Eddie Palmieri. Here he has contributed a tune called "Our Routine", a staple of his live shows. "Our Routine" begins with a call and response between Palmieri and his young grandson. Enter the band, with funky bass line, guiro, and all the requisite Latin percussion toys. The tune is based on a riff that Palmieri and his cohorts exploit to the hilt. It doesn't get any hotter, spicier, sweatier, or precise than this.
Another, slightly younger legend of the Latin jazz scene is Poncho Sanchez, who has offered a track called "Joseito", recorded in 2000 and released on his album Soul of the Conga. Joining Sanchez on this tune is the renowned organist Joey DeFrancesco, lending a bluesier, more R&B flair to the song than any other found on the CD.
Mongo Santamaria's "Princess", the fifth track on the album, strikes the listener as a little out of place, with the Fender Rhodes electric piano and seventies' light jazz feel. Roland Vasquez's "Palladium" also falls into this camp. Santamaria, a Grammy winning, master percussionist, might have been better epitomized by his recording of Herbie Hancock's "Watermelon Man". Unfortunately, Santamaria passed away recently. Hopefully, this album will create some new fans and help to keep his memory and music alive.
Of the younger set, Snowboy and the Latin Section, a group of musicians from the UK, offered the hottest track, a composition titled simply "Puente", obviously a tribute to the the master. This group of European musicians knows the heritage well and also seems to be blazing new trails.
Other notable tracks were "Es Solo Musica", the first track on the album, performed by a new group called Mamborama, and the Havana Flute Summit's "Maraca's Tumbao". As stated in the liner notes, Mamborama began as a project strictly for fun and quickly turned into one of the hottest new Latin jazz bands around. If "Es Solo Musica" is evidence of what this group can do on a regular basis, then they will be around for a long, long time. The Havana Flute Summit's "Maraca's Tumbao" features an amazing four-flute harmonized solo.
If you¹re already a Latin jazz fan, The Rough Guide to Latin Jazz would make a great addition to your collection, and might even introduce you to some new names. If you don¹t know much about Latin jazz but are curious, The Rough Guide is a great place to start, if for no other reason but the informative liner notes.