Groove is the universal language. Whether it’s a Texas or Chicago blues shuffle, James Brown’s goodfoot funk, a driving guaguanco, percolating rumba, surging samba, infectious second line or insinuating cha-cha-cha, everyone knows what to do when they feel the rhythm in their bones. Indeed, groove is at the heart of this potent Afro Bop Alliance release, the group’s debut on the ZOHO label. While providing exciting Latin-tinged grooves that are tailor-made for dancers, the members of this Washington, DC-based, Art Blakey & the Jazz Messengers-inspired octet keep one foot solidly in the straight ahead jazz camp with their scintillating improvisations and tight three-horn frontline on Angel Eyes.
The secret weapon on this exhilarating outing is newest Afro Bop Alliance member Victor Provost, who brings a new sparkle to the proceedings with his virtuosic steel pans playing on the Latin Grammy-winning group’s fifth release overall. “He’s like the Michael Brecker of the pans,” says drummer and Afro Bop Alliance founder Joe McCarthy. “He’s from St. John’s, Virgin Islands, and he came to study at George Mason University just outside of Washington D.C., where I also teach. Having Victor in the band really changes what we do.”
Aside from offering brilliant solos throughout Angel Eyes, Provost’s steel pans also blend nicely on the frontline with alto saxophonist Vince Norman, tenor saxophonist Luis Hernandez and trumpeter Tim Stanley on these eleven tracks.
They state their rhythmically-charged case very persuasively from the outset on the buoyantly churning, clave-fueled opener, The Jinx, written by the band’s bassist Tom Baldwin and arranged by Vince Norman. Following exhilarating solos by pianist Harry Appelman and saxophonist Hernandez, drummer McCarthy engages in some fiery exchanges with conga player Roberto Quintero over a mesmerizing son montuno groove on this energized number before McCarthy unleashes at the tag. Three for Juju, composed by Hernandez and arranged by Norman, opens with a drum flurry by McCarthy. Note how he keeps a tambourine groove going with his foot as he traverses the kit throughout this intricate piece, which morphs from 3/4 to 6/8 and features some lush harmonies between the horns. “That’s based on a joropo groove from Venezuela,” explains McCarthy,” who studied Latin jazz rhythms with Frankie Malabe and Victor Rendon at the Boys Harbor School in the Bronx and also studied jazz drumming with Ed Soph at the University of North Texas. “I was trying to play a little wider beat, so it seems to float underneath that beautiful melody that Luis wrote. And the way that Roberto is playing maracas on that is a total characteristic of that type of groove.” Appelman and Hernandez both offer inspired solos on this engaging, polyrhythmic number.
Baldwin’s Ziggy the Crooner is a straight-up cha-cha-cha that showcases Provost’s steel pans in unison with Stanley’s muted trumpet. Norman, who also co-arranged the contrapuntal horn lines on this easy-grooving number, turns in a robust alto solo here.
TRACK LISTING: 1. The Jinx 5:23 2. Three for Juju 6:34 3. Ziggy the Crooner 6:49 4. Barbara 7:37 5. Homenaje 7:54 6. Nature Boy 6:36 7. Inner Urge 6:11 8. Fete Antilles 7:15 9. Angel Eyes 6:39 10. This is for Albert 5:16 11. Minor Details 5:07