Jazz Pilgrimage 2001, the annual offering by Hollywood Arts Council at the Ford Amphitheatre, has had its ups and downs over the years. But Saturday night's show was a flat-out winner. The combination of the Jazz on the Latin Side All-Stars and Francisco Aguabella & Oriza managed the difficult task of being both entertaining and informative, colorfully displaying the arc reaching from the roots Afro-Cuban rhythms of Aguabella to the large ensemble jazz and salsa of the All-Stars.
Aguabella, who was the Arts Council's musical honoree of the year, opened the evening with a stunning display of percussion, song and dance. Roving across rhythms ranging from bembe and bata to rumba and comparsa, he sang chant-like songs--some associated with Cuban Santeria--in call-and-response fashion with a chorus of singers. Some of the numbers were illustrated by dancers in styles encompassing roots from Africa and Spain.
But the heart of the set was the playing of Aguabella, himself, working on congas as well as the two headed, conga-like, bata drum, interacting with a percussion ensemble. His assured, masterful proficiency, in which the most basic rhythmic patterns were turned around and continually reexamined and amplified, was the product of a creative genius. Although the tribute to his decades of low visibility playing is a bit late in coming, it is--and continues to be--fully deserved. Aguabella is one of a kind.
The All-Stars ensemble was originally organized to celebrate the 10th anniversary of Jose Rizo's KLON-FM (88.1) radio show. But it quickly found a life of its own with two recordings now in release.
Given the lineup and the quality of the music, however, much of it composed by Rizo (who hosted the evening), it won't be surprising if the All-Stars continue to grow as a highly marketable entity in their own right. Performing "Arabian Moods," "Mamacita Caravana" from the first album and "Presentimiento" and "Jazz on the Latin Side" from the second CD, the group wrapped up a stirring set with a spontaneous jam built upon the irresistible groove of "Descarge Cachao" (laid down brilliantly by bassist Rene Camacho).
All of this was delivered by a congregation fully justifying its All Star label. Soloist after soloist offered high voltage improvised efforts: tenor saxophonist Justo Almario, trumpeters Sal Cracchiolo and Ramon Flores, trombonist Arturo Velasco, flutist Danilo Lozano, violinist Pablo Mendez and pianist Donald Ortiz. There were also solo spots for the incomparable drumming of Alex Acuna and the conga playing of Poncho Sanchez. Add in vocals by Freddie Crespo and Victor Baez, and the sum still doesn't fully illustrate the extent of the sheer musical excitement generated by this extraordinary collection of players.
At a time when most of the recent headlines regarding Latin music have been devoted to the questions surrounding the Latin Grammys, it was a distinct pleasure to hear a collection of music--from traditional to contemporary--affirming the vital importance of the Southland as a world center for this robust musical genre.