Jazz and Afro-Caribbean rhythms are a natural connection, one attractively celebrated in the work of Latin percussionist Ray Mantilla, who was born in the South Bronx in 1934. Here, we have a variety of performances by members of his septet, ranging from a jam between Mantilla and drummer Bill Elder (“Pieces”) to a folkloric flute-and-soprano saxophone one-chord riff (“El Carnivalito USA”) to a funky ensemble closer (“Blues for Ray”). In addition, the flute-and-soprano combination proves perfect for the lyricism and more sophisticated setting of Mantilla’s “Andean Fantasy.”
Besides Mantilla and Elder, the personnel includes bassist Cucho Martinez, pianist Edy Martinez, tenor and soprano saxophonist Willie Williams, baritone saxophonist and flutist Enrique Fernandez and trumpeter Guido Gonzalez. Jack Walrath’s initially foreboding “Los Apolypticanos” employs the trumpet-tenor-bari frontline to good ensemble effect and includes strong horn solos as well as a harmonically expansive piano solo. Pianist Martinez also shines on Williams’ “Psalm 107,” matching his lyricism to the composer’s embracing tenor lead, and on Puerto Rican singer Bobby Cabo’s longing “Sonando Puerto Rico.” The session’s only standard, “(Give Me) The Simple Life,” is transformed into a supple mambo, with Williams scoring again on tenor. The overall feeling you get from this album is musical warmth; hands-on warmth you might call it, instead of a crackling blaze. Mantilla’s percussive touch, the tuning of his drums and the flow of rhythm he provides are a turn-on.