The Calle Loíza Jazz Project Emerges

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FELDMAN-DAVIS: Seven Steps to Heaven. CHURCHILL-MOREY: Someday My Prince Will Come. NELSON: Stolen Moments. HANCOCK: Dolphin Dance. ROBISON-HILL: Old Folks. BRUBECK: In Your Own Sweet Way. MONK: Well, You Needn’t. GORDON-WARREN: There Will Never Be Another You / Melvin Jones, Gordon Vernick, tpt; Xavier Barreto, fl; Mark Monts de Oca, pno; André Avelino, gtr; Tony Bautista, el-bs; Candido Reyes, guiro; JimmyRivera, dm; Reinel López, Brazilian perc; Javier Oquendo, congas; Ivan Belvis, perc / Independent release, no number

The basis of this CD was a quartet that pianist Mark Monts de Oca and drummer Jimmy Rivera formed at the Apple Jazz Club on Calle Loíza in Puerto Rico in 1990. After the tragic death of an unnamed friend in 2018, these musicians re-gathered to make a tribute album. That album (also unnamed in the publicity sheet) sparked an interest in re-forming the quartet to make further albums, but now expanding the size of the group with the addition of a flautist and various Latin percussion instruments. This disc is the result, a collection of eight jazz standards arranged in a Latin style.

The band is certainly lively enough, full of pep and energy, but what struck me most was the fact that despite all the Latin influence this is still a jazz band in the classic sense of the term, based as much if not more on the bop and cool schools from whence most of these pieces emerged. Trumpeter Gordon Vernick is a real live wire, playing interesting and blistering solos, while pianist de Oca is a bop pianist in the Horace Silver or Jimmy Rowles mold. It’s almost as if the Latin influence were overlaid on the jazz, not the other way round.

One of the more interesting arrangements is that of Frank Churchill’s Someday My Prince Will Come, a Bill Evans favorite. Here, the tempo is increased somewhat and the band plays this jazz waltz with a subtle feel in the first chorus before suddenly shifting to a funky 4 when guitarist Avelino comes in. And here the Latin rhythm becomes more prominent as well. And once again, it is Vernick who is the star of the show with Dizzy Gillespie-like playing, although de Oca also contributes a nice solo and Barreto’s flute is briefly heard before a group vocal behind Vernick’s second solo.

Oliver Nelson’s Stolen Moments also undergoes a Latin shift, the tempo slowed down a bit from the original and the jazz beat overlaid, once again, on the Latin feel. At his entrance, bassist Bautista briefly quotes Tchaikovsky’s Marche Slave. Not surprisingly, Herbie Hancock’s Dolphin Dance features de Oca on piano, but also some nice soft-grained orchestration. Vernick again does his Dizzy impression, and a fine one it is, too. On this one, de Oca plays his best solo (up to this point) on the album. I have to be honest, though, about one thing: Bautista’s consistently ugly rock bass tone got on my nerves, even though he played actual jazz solos.

I’ve also never liked Carson Robison’s tune Old Folks, not even (particularly not even) when Bird recorded it with a stupid-sounding vocal group behind him. It’s a terrible song with an overly-simple structure, and I’ve never understood why jazz musicians were ever attracted to it. I skipped through it after the first minute in order to get to the wonderfully imaginative version of Dave Brubeck’s In Your Own Sweet Way, a real gem with Vernick playing the opening melody before de Oca comes in with a very Latin-sounding piano break.

The remainder of the CD goes along similar lines, Bautista sounding like the sore thumb in the group while Vernick and de Oca dominate the solo space, ending with a really nice rendition of There Will Never Be Another You. Overall, a pretty good album. If you can stand Bautista’s bass better than I, I’m sure you’ll like it better.

—© 2020 Lynn René Bayley

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