courtesy of the artist
Miguel Zenon's new album Esta Plena represents a lot of what's happened in Latin jazz this decade.
You may remember that whole Most Important Albums of the Decade discussion we had last week here at A Blog Supreme, in reference to the All Songs Considered feature. This half-week, the bloggers supreme are helping to fill in the gaps. Yesterday, Walter Ray Watson looked at a different Jason Moran record; today, Felix Contreras looks at the decade in Latin jazz. —Ed.
The last ten years could be described as the decade Latin jazz began to flow widely beyond the pulse of the Afro-Cuban clave.
I say that with reservations. As long as musicians have been playing mambos over jazz standards, they have also been experimenting with various Latin rhythms that come from beyond Cuban barrios. But the last decade saw some very impressive leaps forward in the creation of an organic mash-up of progressive acoustic jazz with various Afro-Caribbean or indigenous rhythms from throughout the Spanish-speaking world.
While there are several worthy candidates as poster children of that movement I'll have to go with Miguel Zenon as the standout. For me, his new album Esta Plena was the crystallization of a sound he's been developing over the last 10 years. It's daring, it's challenging; it makes me want to dance, it makes me think. And it swings.
"Despedida," from Miguel Zenon, Esta Plena (Marsalis Music). Miguel Zenon, alto saxophone, background vocals; Luis Perdomo, piano; Hans Glawischnig, bass; Henry Cole, drums; Hector "Tito" Matos, lead vocals/percussion (requinto); Obanilu Allende, background vocals/percussion (segundo); Juan Gutierrez, background vocals/percussion (seguidor). Released 2009.
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Honorable mention should also go to pianist/composer Ed Simon, originally from Venezuela, and drummer Dafnis Prieto, who is synthesizing his mastery of Afro-Cuban music into writing that is distinctly his own. They're just two among a handful of players and composers who are quietly making the big noise of change.
Jerry Gonzalez, in Calle 54.
Jerry Gonzalez, in Calle 54. Miramax Films
I'm adding a vote for Musician Who Made The Most Interesting Career Change Of The Decade: trumpeter Jerry Gonzalez. He relocated to Spain in the early part of the decade, and found a musical rebirth amid flamenco-influenced Spanish jazz musicians like pianist Chano Dominguez, vocalist Martirio and producer/bassist Javier Limon.
His 2001 recording Jerry Gonzalez y Los Piratas del Flamenco (released in the U.S. in 2004) closes the circle on bebop, Afro Cuban rumba and flamenco with a New York style swagger that only he could pull off. He still occasionally commutes back to the U.S. for performances with his Afro Cuban/bebop lab band Fort Apache, but mostly, he says he sleeps late, stays up later and plays in many creative environments. "It's like New York in the '50s!" he says.
courtesy of the artist
Arturo O'Farrill's Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra.
Arturo O'Farrill's Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra. courtesy of the artist
Finally, my vote for Latin Jazz Hero Of The Decade: pianist/bandleader Arturo O'Farrill. Despite a very rocky (and ultimately disrespectful) rejection of his Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra by Jazz At Lincoln Center, he continued to say to anyone who would listen: our music must have an institutional home.
So O'Farrill started a non-profit called the Afro Latin Jazz Alliance, dedicated to preserving the music and heritage of big band Latin jazz. With a new home further uptown at Symphony Space, and a Latin Grammy win, Arturo O'Farrill continues to fight the good fight and make great music while doing so.