Latin jazz has been called the perfect union: the artful combination of the dynamic rhythms of the Caribbean with the melodic sophistication of jazz. That also describes the music of AfroBop Alliance, an exciting 7-piece ensemble based in the Washington DC area. With the release of their first CD, “Encarnacion (Incarnation)” AfroBop Alliance makes a bold statement about their approach to Latin jazz.
“Encarnacion” features 8 compositions that reflect the width and breadth of contemporary Latin jazz. The classics are well represented. Cal Tjader’s Viva Cepeda doesn’t lose the feel of his classic quintet now that it is arranged for the three AfroBop horns. Dizzy Gillespie’s Con Alma gets a special treatment from AfroBop’s resident arranger and trombone player Dan Drew. The band added an extra beat to the jazz standard Stolen Moments yet it never loses any of its swing. And that most Latin of all jazz standards Caravan is played with the sabor that Puerto Rican composer Juan Tizol must have imagined for it.
Mention must be made at this point of the company AfroBop Alliance keeps. Featured on the CD are two of New York’s most in demand musicians, trumpeter Ray Vega and pianist Arturo O’Farrill. Vega’s bop-influenced Latin trumpet (or is it the other way around?) recalls both small group bebop as well as the typical conjunto so popular in Cuban music. Taking a break from conducting Jazz At Lincoln Center’s prestigious new Afro Latin Orchestra, O’ Farrill works his piano stylings into the fabric of the tight bond the group has developed.
AfroBop’s leader and drummer Joe McCarthy knows how to spot talent. His choice of composer Michael Phillip Mossman to write the bulk of the material on “Encarnacion” allows for an introduction to this top notch Afro-Cuban composer. His Dance of Denial was a staple in recent years of Ray Barretto’s heavily jazz flavored Latin jazz outfits. The emotional centerpiece of the record is To Wisdom the Prize from the groundbreaking group known as Jerry Gonzalez and Ft Apache. The title cut is written by Ed Fast, a friend of the band who wrote it specially for McCarthy and his band mates: trumpeter Tim Stanley, saxophonist Luis Hernandez, trombonist Drew, bassist James Fowler, pianists Harry Appleman and Mike Whitaker and percussionist Felix Contreras.