Mambo Blue’s Festive Interplay

Mambo Blue cover

ROMAN: Why Not? Collective Cha. Dreaming in Bomba. Festive Interplay. Never Far. Not Sure So Sure. 3 Sisters. The Quest. Indi-go-go [Alegria]. Who Knows Maybe Tomorrow / Mambo Blue: Pete Rodriguez, tpt; Andre Hayward, tb; John Mills, fl; Justin Vasquez, a-sax; Russell Haight, t-sax; Damian A. Garcia, pno/Fender Rhodes; Joel Guzman, pno/synth; Nicholas Litterski, pno; Angel Roman, bs-gtr; Jose Aponte, Brannen Temple, Andy Smith, dm; Samuel Lopez, Smith, Carmelo Torres, perc / self-produced album

I tend to shy away from reviewing modern Latin jazz for the simple reason that I heard so much of it when growing up, and what I heard back then was so creative and interesting—Dizzy Gillespie’s groundbreaking 1940s band, his later band with Lalo Schifrin, the Getz-Jobim bossa nova albums, Sergio Mendes and Clare Fischer—that most of today’s Latin-jazz groups just don’t sound all that interesting to me.

But Angel Roman’s Mambo Blue is clearly an exception to this rule. Not only are they lively, creative musicians, but they can and do play in unusual rhythms and do so with apparent ease. Even the opening number on this disc, Why Not?, plays with meter in a way that would baffle or stymie the average Latin-jazz band, but these crack musicians negotiate it with both fluidity and great energy.

Moreover, their solos fit into both the harmonic and rhythmic scheme of things beautifully. First up is trombonist Andre Hayward, and his playing is scalar in a way that the late Bobby Hackett was but in a more modern vein, and the same is true of Russell Haight’s tenor sax. Their solos are not just blistering, multi-note statements meant to dazzle the listener but, rather, intelligent solos that fit into the overall scheme and harmonic setting of the pieces they appear in. This pleased me greatly, and immediately told me that the individual musicians of this fine band really listen to the surrounding music. That is exceedingly rare in this day and age of the Jazz Prima Donnas.

Because these are Latin-based pieces, the one relatively orthodox feature is the harmony, but that’s pretty much par for the course. Only Clare Fischer played around a bit with chords; most Latin-jazz bands remain relatively stable in this respect, and Mambo Blue is no different, but as I say, their soloists are consistently creative and the rhythm is often complex—note, particularly, Dreaming in Bomba, or Festive Interplay which opens with a nice piano intro by Damian Garcia before moving into a sort of 6/8 (rare for a Latin band) with a few asymmetrical bars near the end.

Although Pete Rodriguez plays excellent lead trumpet, I was rather surprised that he wasn’t one of the more prominent featured soloists, but Hayward more than makes up for this. Rodriguez does play on Festive Interplay, however, and reveals both great chops and also a good sense of structure in his solo. His joyous high range reminded me of Perez Prado’s featured trumpeter, though that player wasn’t really a jazz improviser. Roman breaks the spell of uptempo numbers on this CD with Never Far, a lovely ballad in the tradition (but not the rhythm) of some of Jobim’s pieces, and tenor saxist Haight is again outstanding.

Yes, a few of the pieces on here sound alike; I didn’t really think that 3 Sisters was all that different from much of what came before; but at least Angel Roman tries his best to vary the sound of his group, and the musicians themselves are all first-rate technicians and improvisers. This is an excellent CD showing the state of Latin jazz in the 21st century.

—© 2021 Lynn René Bayley

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