El Mas Alla (Beyond)
Talented and versatile percussionist Steven Kroon has been on scores of records as far back as the early ’70s, but despite his roots and training, surprisingly little of that work was in Latin jazz and only two previous titles had come out under his own name. Even then, his first solo release, 2000’s In My Path, leaned more toward the smoother stylings of past employers like Luther Vandross (with whom he worked for two decades) or Jon Lucien than any of the jazz heavyweights in his credits. By his second, Señor Kroon, he found his Latin-jazz sea legs, and now, as they say, third time’s a charm.
As the title suggests, Kroon here honors Latin-jazz giants who have gone on, a numbingly sad list that includes Mongo Santamaria, Tito Puente, Patato, Don Alias, Ray Barretto and Kroon’s own early teachers. The album opens with the soaring “Bo Bo’s Blues” and never lets up from there, with a sparkling cha-cha, “Precious One”; two Brazilian numbers, George Duke’s “Brazilian Sugar” and bossa pioneer João Donato’s early classic, “Minha Saudade”; Jaco Pastorius’ edgy “Used to Be a Cha Cha”; a salute to the “mambo kings” in “Steppin” and the fiery “Don Ramon.”
The one vocal (and only standard) turns out to be a charming change of pace, as guest Freddy Cole shines in an elegant bolero-tinged “I Wish You Love.” Joined by an experienced band—keyboardist, producer, composer, arranger Oscar Hernandez (Tito Puente, Celia Cruz, Spanish Harlem Orchestra), vibes player Bryan Carrott (Jazz Passengers, Charlie Hunter), bassist Ruben Rodriguez (Willie Colon, Dave Valentin, Eddie Palmieri) and flutist Craig Rivers (Mongo Santamaria, Norman Hedman)—Kroon goes well beyond a simple or rote recreation of the past, bringing this music to life and proving its future is in good hands.