Papo Vasquez' Pirates and Troubadors - Carnival in San Juan
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Papo Vasquez' Pirates and Troubadors
Carnival in San Juan
Cubop (

Trombonist Angel "Papo" Vasquez has been a master of his instrument since he was a kid, his Philadelphian/Puerto Rican/Nuyorican roots infusing his playing with Afro-Caribbean spirit and soul and the far-reaching outlook of jazz. He's done time in others' ensembles (including the great Fort Apache Band headed by Jerry Gonzalez), combined folkloric traditions with jazz while living in Puerto Rico and enjoyed a well-earned reputation as a musician of exemplary ability, strength and style. On his previous Cubop releases, At the Point Vols. 1 and 2, the African-connected Puerto Rican roots styles of bomba and plena were at the core of (mainly) original compositions that also had the loosely reigned but disciplined feel of "straight" jazz. It was stuff that bopped with fun and freshness, and he's got another 75 minutes of it on Carnival in San Juan, his third outing with his highly skilled Pirates and Troubadors band. The opening title track's swaying rumble of drums provides a perfect setting for the solos of Vasquez and his fellow horn men, along with some splendidly woody-sounding bass. "Plena Pa' Las Nenas" is all scratchy percussion and jovial horns, and Thelonious Monk's "Stuffy Turkey" struts with abundant sass as it leads into a sequence of tracks where Latin percussion is set aside in favor of drumset and a more conventional jazz air mellows the proceedings without dampening them. Nonetheless, it's the Puerto Rican colors that really draw you in as tunes like "Las Torres" and "Vianda con Bacalao" shine with both urban cool and island sun. The centerpiece of the album, though, has got to be "En La Cueva de Tan," which goes from a feel somewhere between tango and Cuban danzon into a crazed jam loaded with twists and turns. There is truly a carnival atmosphere to all this, and you'd be wise to accept the invitation of Vasquez and co. to step on in and soak it up. - Tom Orr

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