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Carli Muñoz, with Eddie Gómez & Jack DeJohnette
Pelosenel Q Lo Records (

Sonido Isleño
Vive jazz!
Tresero Productions (

Los Pleneros de la 21
Para todos ustedes
Smithsonian Folkways

La Cumbiamba eNeYé
Self published (

Mark Weinstein & Cuban Roots
Algo más
Jazzheads ( /

Omar Sosa
Otá Records (

The musical interplay between North America and the Spanish-speaking Caribbean (both island and mainland) goes back to the earliest days of recording technology. Indeed, U.S. recording companies recorded in Havana before they ever got to New Orleans, the putative birthplace of jazz. The liberalization of U.S. immigration laws in 1965 only augmented a process of migration that was already well established, and furthered the musical cross-fertilization thus stimulated. Of course, Latin jazz is no one thing, as several recent recordings from the Colombia-Cuba-Puerto Rico-Dominican Republic-New York axis illustrate.

Journeyman Puerto Rican pianist and composer Carli Muñoz has covered the jazz and rock waterfront from San Juan to New York to Los Angeles, performing with artists as diverse as the Beach Boys, George Benson, Chico Hamilton, Wayne Henderson, Charles Lloyd, Sabú Martínez, Joe Morello, Wilson Pickett and Juancito Torres. Today he operates (and often performs at) a jazz supper club in Old San Juan, a major island musical crossroads. On Maverick, recorded in New York, Muñoz teams with bassist Eddie Gómez and drummer Jack DeJohnette, with a straight-ahead jazz repertoire (no Latin jazz here) including six of his own compositions; rounding out the set are Keith Jarrett's "Margot" and two standards, "You Don't Know What Love Is" and "In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning." While there are allusions to Bill Evans, Kenny Barron and McCoy Tyner, this relaxed and erudite studio session is no derivative outing. The players grant one another plenty of room to stretch out and develop their independent inspirations. Guests include Don Byron (clarinet on an uptempo "Three Little Steps to Heaven"), David Sanchez (sax on the title track), and Jane Scarpantoni (cello on "Yellow Moon Tune," the gospel-tinged closer).

Formed in 1996 by tresero-guitarist Benjamin Lapidus, Sonido Isleño (a core ensemble of six on guitar, tres, cuatro, bass, flute, tenor sax and a panoply of percussion) combines the experience of artists who have recorded and performed with Ray Barretto, Candido Camero, Celia Cruz, Paquito D'Rivera, Ibrahim Ferrer, Orlando "Cachaito" López, Eddie Palmieri, Bobby Sanabria, Mark Weinstein and more. Lapidus holds a doctorate in ethnomusicology, and has extensively researched the music of Cuba. He teaches tres and guitar at New School University's Jazz and Contemporary Music Program, and world music courses at City University of New York; Lapidus also has been scholar-in-residence with the Jewish Museum for its Cuba programs. A lively and many textured outing, Vive Jazz! (the group's fifth release) applies a jazz sensibility to a knowledgeable meld of folkloric influences from Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic. For a taste of where Sonido Isleño comes from, "East of el Son, Wes of el Tres" (a patent allusion to Wes Montgomery) calls to task know-it-alls who "talk a lot, saying that this thing jazz is not something I should play on my tres," proceeding to lay the critics flat with a virtuoso performance to end the argument. Further on, a jaunty "Ornetteando" imagines Coleman jamming with a Cuban son ensemble. Hybrid Latin music at its funky best from the largest Caribbean city in North America.

From its New York founding in 1983, Los Pleneros de la 21 remains a major proponent of traditional African-Puerto Rican bomba and plena music. Dating from the First World War, plena is an up-tempo urban song form that coalesced as rural people of mixed ethnicity left subsistence farming to become commercial sugar plantation workers and urban laborers. Plena lyrics are topical, steeped in ironic social commentary and biting humor, while the traditional ensemble comprised guitar, cuatro, güiro, and maracas. Cuban dance music's popularity (especially the son) encouraged the addition of bongos, congas, and eventually, piano and brass. Still, even those groups influenced by Cuban music still play many older popular plenas. Bomba's African roots are manifest in its polyrhythmic conformation, its short recurring melodic phrases and repeated call-and-response vocals, and its active, collective performance aesthetic; rhythmic complexity, vocal textures and interactivity between musicians and dancers are more important the lyrical content. Dance group Cortijo y Su Combo and celebrated singer Ismael Rivera revived plena and bomba in the 1950s, a legacy that greatly influenced salsa's New York evolution. Los Pleneros embrace this eclectic orientation, calling on guests including salsero Hermán Olivera, singer Miriam Félix, trombonist Ángel "Papo" Vázquez, and San Francisco Bay Area Latin percussion master John Santos. They perform an engaging blend of traditional songs and original compositions. Especially notable is "Isla Nena" (repudiating the U.S. Navy's long occupation of the Puerto Rican island of Vieques); a powerful contemporary interpretation of the Don Rafael Cepeda Atiles classic "Habla Cuembé"; a driving remake of Ismael Rivera's well-known plena "Chiviriquitón" (here including a biting bilingual rapping commentary on the Nuyorican experience);and the extended closing salute to the deities in bomba form, "Semillero."

Based in New York, assembling musicians and dancers from Colombia, Chile and New York, La Cumbiamba eNeYé specializes in Afro-Colombian folk music of both the Atlantic (bullerengue, champeta, cumbia, fandango, gaita, puya, son corrido) and Pacific (abozao, currulao) coast regions. Lead vocals and call-and-response chorus are central, with an intense brass and woodwind sound (gaita, trumpet, bombardino or euphonium, trombone, soprano sax), together with tiple, guitar, bass, marimba, drum set and Afro-Colombian percussion. Listeners familiar with African musics of coastal Ecuador and Peru will find a certain resonance here. In constant demand among Colombians and other Spanish-speaking audiences in the New York metropolitan area, La Cumbiamba's popularity (as one of at least a dozen local Colombian ensembles) underscores how Afro-Colombian genres have gained growing acceptance in Colombia and in the Latin diaspora, particularly with younger audiences. Marioneta, their first release, captures the essence of their popularity at New York venues ranging from Summerstage to the club circuit. Energetic performers, they win over even the most uninformed audiences with their articulate, passionate style and percussive, irresistibly danceable repertoire. Quite distinct from standard Latin fare, this lively recording is for anyone wishing to expand their awareness of the breadth of contemporary South American music in the global boroughs of New York.

Flautist Mark Weinstein cut his chops on trombone in the 1960s with a who's who of jazz (Chick Corea, Kenny Durham, Maynard Ferguson, Lionel Hampton, Larry Harlow, Barry Harris, Joe Henderson, Herbie Mann, Tito Puente, Clark Terry, Cal Tjader, the Palmieri brothers, etc.). After his critically acclaimed Cuban Roots (1967) melded the influences of Mingus, Machito and Palmieri, Weinstein got fed up with the music industry and logged a doctorate in philosophy, trading in his trombone for flute, which he learned while writing the dissertation (his day job is professor and department chair at Montclair State University). An intersection of jazz and Afro-Cuban folklore, Algo Más assembles the considerable talents of guitarist Jean-Paul Bourelly (Miles Davis, Roy Haynes, Elvin Jones, Pharoah Sanders, Cassandra Wilson, etc.), bassist Santi Debriano (Chico Freeman, Freddie Hubbard, Hank Jones, Don Pullen, Sam Rivers, Pharoah Sanders, Archie Shepp, Randy Weston, etc.), Cuban singer-percussionist Pedrito Martínez (a fellow Palmieri alum), and three more drummers, Nani Santiago, Gene Golden and Skip "Brinquito" Burney. Showing a profound grasp of Afro-Cuban musical foundations, Algo Más combines-to arresting effect-Yoruba chants and dense percussion with an eclectic amplified guitar (Hendrix wah-wah and Montgomery octaves) and ethereal soprano, alto and bass flutes. This is a deep recording that reveals more nuance with every listening. Consider "Caminando con Agayú," just one sublime example. Another Weinstein project in the works to watch out for is a Berlin recording session with Omar Sosa on vibes and marimba (his first instrument) with sundry musicians from the Ivory Coast and Nigeria.

Speaking of Omar Sosa, the Cuban pianist-composer-bandleader describes Ballads, a retrospective on his early work, as "ten themes of yesterday," but his artistry is only forward looking. Evident throughout is the inspired introspection that suffuses Sosa's work. "The spirits play through us," he says, a matter-of-fact observation borne out in his invocation of the Cuban orishas who animate his live performances and recordings alike. The individual virtuosity of the gifted talents he enlists is self evident, but the overall approach is understated, and resonant throughout is the ensemble effect, an exquisite collective sound. Hear the expressive lyricism of "Para ella," the muted orchestral breadth of "Gracias señor," the serene ebb and flow of "Para dos parados," the subtle montuno drive of "Antes de ir va esto," or the tender bolero of "Mis tres notas." Sosa's faraway balladry is dappled with allusions to Frederic Chopin, Keith Jarrett and Bill Evans, but the instrumental signature is purely his own. Sosa is an artist who listens, intimately, and in so doing, he inspires the finest in all who will hear, musicians and audience alike. - Michael Stone

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