Nobody ever complained about Cal Tjader's credentials to play Latin jazz. The same obviously holds true for trumpeter Bobby Shew, along with his pianist Mark Levine for Salsa Caliente. With a percussion section assembled by the fabled Latin percussionist Jos "Papo" Rodriguez, this recording is the result of a life-long dream of the veteran bop trumpeter, who wanted to put together an album of the Latin music remembered from his youth in New Mexico. With this in mind, he asked for support for the project from the MAMA Foundation of California, whose mission is to support culturally significant music that may not be financially viable.
To be sure, the musicianship on Salsa Caliente is excellent. Justo Almaro's tenor work on "Santo Domingo," a merengue-flavored piece in particular, is a stand-out. What makes "Salsa Caliente" stand apart, however, is the strength of the material. It includes familiar works, such as Ray Bryant's "Cubano Chant," along with three compositions by Mark Levine that could easily become Latin standards.