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Jazz Review

Matos Propels Latin Sounds With Percussive Momentum

November 27, 2000|DON HECKMAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Percussionist Bobby Matos may not have the highest visibility among the Southland's Latin jazz players, but that hasn't diminished the quality of music offered by his energetic ensembles. On Friday, in the opening set of a three-night run at Catalina Bar & Grill, Matos and his Afro-Cuban Jazz Ensemble shrugged off a somewhat tepid beginning to deliver a typically foot-tapping blend of salsa rhythms and jazz improvisations.

Positioned front and center behind his timbales, Matos was the musical commander-in-chief, his stolid, magisterial presence the factor that pulled the disparate elements of the music into a propulsive rhythmic vehicle. Never a showboat player, despite his articulate drumming skills, he clearly preferred to use his easygoing percussive drive as the music's high-voltage sparkplug.

To his credit, Matos also spoke frequently between songs about his illustrious predecessors, paying tribute to the impact that Tito Puente, Dizzy Gillespie, Mario Bauza and John Coltrane, among many others, have had upon his music. And he confirmed those influences in virtually every number, especially in the crisp, bop-tinged pieces composed or arranged by saxophonist-flutist Michael Turre.

Much of the set was devoted to material in preparation for a new album. Despite the unfamiliarity of its content, however, the packaging was straight out of the Matos Latin jazz lexicon--a blend of elements that reaches back to his early immersion in New York salsa rhythms, adds his love of John Coltrane and Charlie Parker, and spices the mix with an unerring instinct for danceable, body-moving rhythms. (One young couple, in fact, found the groove so irresistible that they moved to an offstage area to find room for some brisk salsa stepping.)

Matos' latest album, "Live at MOCA" (Cubop Records), has begun to generate some buzz for his attractive music, and that's all to the good. But this dedicated, veteran artist and his steaming concoction of African, Latin and jazz rhythms, deserves a far wider hearing.

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