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JAZZ | Jazz Spotlight

Masters of the Form Swing to Latin Rhythms

*** PAQUITO D'RIVERA, "100 Years of Latin Love Songs," Heads Up

*** JESUS "CHUCHO" VALDES AND IRAKERE, "Babalu Aye," Bembe Records

November 22, 1998|DON HECKMAN

Latin jazz, to most listeners, generally refers to a melding of either Cuban or Brazilian elements with American rhythms and improvisational styles. There are exceptions, of course; Andy Narell's development of Caribbean-styled jazz played on steel pans is one. But few jazz linkages have explored the many other rich musical traditions of the Caribbean and South America.

Paquito D'Rivera, the former saxophone- and clarinet-playing star of Cuba's Irakere--and for the past decade a U.S.-based, world-class jazz artist--takes a step in the direction of a broader Latin jazz definition with his carefully crafted program of love songs.

The album's 10 tracks encompass 10 decades of music and more than 10 countries (if one includes the worldwide success of the final track, Alejandro Sanz's "Corazon Partio").

Starting with the early Argentine tango "La Morocha" (1905), the program moves by decade through music from Chile, Colombia, Mexico, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Brazil, Puerto Rico and Venezuela. Some of the songs--Cuba's "Acercate Mas" (via Nat Cole's English version, "Come Closer to Me") and Antonio Carlos Jobim's "Corcovado"--will be familiar to many ears.

But what makes the performances particularly fascinating is that arranger Bob Belden has written orchestral accompaniments that maintain the flavor of the songs' original eras. And, despite the fact this sometimes results in soupy-sounding strings and some ballroom-style pizzicati, D'Rivera plays the melodies with such a surging jazz sensibility that even the most unlikely combinations work beautifully.

The album is further enhanced by interactive material, accessible via computer, that provides maps, historical information and a broad overview of the songs. One can only wonder why it took a small company such as Heads Up to produce an album that is as informative as it is entertaining.

Getting back to Afro-Cuban jazz, no one does it much better than pianist-bandleader-composer "Chucho" Valdes and the band Irakere. This latest outing is a particularly effective example of how they effectively blend jazz, dance rhythms and romantic vocals.

On Valdes' tune "Tres Dias," for example, the vocal is suddenly countered by horn section riffing based on an old bebop tune, "Oop Bob Sh'Bam." On Ernesto Lecuona's classic "La Comparsa," the song moves from a segment featuring a soaring high note trumpet to a synthesizer-driven segment passage underscored with a mixture of funk and salsa. The 14-minute title track, on the other hand, features a gripping vocal from Lazaro Ros simmering with the Yoruba ritual qualities that have had such an important impact upon Cuban music.

It is, in sum, music that manages to satisfy many tastes. It's entirely possible for dancers to respond to the tracks on the album without concern for the music's jazz qualities. It's equally possible for jazz audiences to ignore the words and enjoy the brisk horn passages and solid solo work. Not a bad accomplishment, and one that, perhaps, should be kept in mind by more jazz artists.


Albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor), two stars (fair), three stars (good) and four stars (excellent).

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