Trombonist Wayne Wallace and his Latin Jazz Ensemble have a well-oiled record-making machine that seems incapable of turning out a subpar album.
Therein lies the mystery. The ingredients that Wallace and his bandmates pour into the machine are eminently predictable—a studiously well-sampled array of Latin rhythms, didactically specified in the liner notes; a mixture of strong original compositions and Latin settings of jazz standards; tight ensemble playing by the quintet with plenty of space to breathe; a smattering of tasteful contributions by guest artists. The wonder is that this recipe, trotted out more or less annually, loses none of its freshness or capacity to amaze.
This time the covers include pianist Duke Ellington's "Things Ain't What They Used To Be," set against Cuban rhythms, and pianist Thelonious Monk's "I Mean You" as a Puerto Rican bomba; both are great successes. Saxophonist John Coltrane's canonical "Giant Steps" recast as merengue is no less successful, perhaps, but pales next to the fiery version orchestrated by bandleader Tito Puente's Latin Jazz Ensemble (from El Rey, Concord Picante, 1984). (Wallace has been reluctant in the last few releases to cast as far afield for covers as he did on The Nature of the Beat, Patois, 2008, which took on Ray Charles and Earth, Wind and Fire to great effect. But it would be great if he would revive such experiments.) The originals are especially strong this time round, notably "La Habana," a beautiful vehicle for the horns, and "Puertas y Caminos," a propulsive rumba.
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