Wednesday, July 14, 2021

Great Performances: Roots of Latin Jazz

Clearly, things are looking up, because Arturo O’Farrill’s Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra is back at Birdland and Bobby Sanabria is touring again, including with his Multiverse big band. If you do not understand why that is such a good thing, Sheila E. (the daughter of legendary Latin Jazz percussionist Pete Escovedo), will explain it to you, with the help of Tony Succar and Dr. Pablo Gil, who launched the Raices Jazz Orchestra to celebrate Latin Jazz’s global sources. Their survey of Latin Jazz national hotspots doubles as a companion film to Raices’ debut release when Roots of Latin Jazz airs this Friday, as part of the current season of Great Performances on PBS.

Go ahead, turn up the volume and don’t worry about your neighbors, because they are sure to enjoy the percussion and brass that feature so prominently in the Raices’ arrangements. Their kick-off performance of Herbie Hancock’s “Eye of the Hurricane,” in tribute of the Havana-New York axis of Dizzy Gillespie’s Cubop band is a perfect example.

Brazil exported some of the biggest Latin Jazz crossover hits, but instead of bossa nova, Succar and Gil explore samba rhythms and berimbau instrumentation on Jorge Ben Jor’s “Mas Que Nada” (widely popularized by Sergio Mendes), with vocalist Anaadi. Call it loungey or an ear worm, but the song still gets in your head—and Gil’s tenor solo is legit.

Next, they are off to Peru, spotlighting the cajon percussion box on “Feste Fuego” and the Andean Quena flute on “Peru Lando,” which also features some swinging trumpet and trombone solos. These are richly textured and energetic performances, but the tempos of the program mostly rage from fast to furious. That is why the more relaxed West African-flavored “Invocation” is a nice change of pace. It also boasts Richard Bona’s ultra-cool vocals and bass.

Perhaps the high point comes from Spain, where Succar, Gil, and company collaborate with flamenco musicians on “Midnight in Spain.” It is soulful and also fun to watch the stomping choreography-percussion.

The program concludes with “Raices Jam,” which lives up to its name. Sheila E. sort of joins the band on the finale, but not from the same studio. (That might slightly put off old school jazz purists, but Sheila E. is a recognizable name outside of genre, so the more she participated, the easier it probably was to get
Roots produced, so just let it go.)

The musicianship is top-notch throughout
Roots and the enthusiasm of Succar, Gil, and Sheila E. is appealing. Including a few ballads might have been a shrewder programming decision, but the consistency of the set is impressive. Frankly, whenever PBS gives jazz airtime, we have a duty to support it, and in this case, it is not the least bit a chore. Highly recommended for causal and ardent listeners, Roots of Latin Jazz premieres Friday (7/16) on PBS.