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The Puppeteers-- Jaime Affoumado, Alex Blake, Arturo O'Farrill, Bill Ware

For six years until its closing in May of 2011, Puppet's Jazz Bar in Brooklyn, NY, served as an incubator of sorts for new projects and ideas from a number of musicians including drummer Jaime Affoumado, bassist Alex Blake, pianist Arturo O'Farrill, and vibraphonist Bill Ware. Since then Affoumado, the co-founder and operator of the venue, and lawyer / manager Dana Hall have formed Puppet's Records, and this CD is the new label's first release. The Puppeteers is a quartet comprised of the aforementioned musicians, and given their credentials it comes as no surprise that their original music is a stimulating blend of styles ranging from hard bop and Latin to Afro-Caribbean and funk. Affoumado has played with Jaco Pastorius, Arthur Blythe and The Jazz Passengers, while Blake has had long tenures with both Randy Weston and Manhattan Transfer. O'Farrill is best known as the leader of the dynamic Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra, and Ware was an original member of The Jazz Passengers as well as The Groove Collective, and also toured with Steely Dan.

The first five notes of Blake's sparse "On the Spot" invoke John Coltrane's "Giant Steps" and launch Ware's head-turning flight, displaying his ample technique and fearless drive. O'Farrill keeps the flame of this modal escapade burning bright in his cascading solo, followed by a fiery Blake, singing along with his bass phrases. Affoumado, a force throughout the track, gets a short exclamatory workout prior to the reprise. Blake's "Jumping," on the other hand, is initially remindful of Dave Brubeck's "In Your Own Sweet Way" before going its own appealing way. Ware explores the changes with substantial lyrical acuity, and O'Farrill's improv romps mellifluously. Blake again vocalizes his upright's musings in ingratiating fashion, and Affoumado kicks the group heartily with an aggressive Art Blakey-like determination. O'Farrill's "In Whom," written for his drummer son Zachary, possesses an inviting Latin air that propels infectious, sprightly solos from Ware, the composer, and an electrified Blake. Affoumado's support is again an essential component, both nuanced and powerful.

The title of Blake's "Peaceful Moment" captures the lilting, easygoing melody perfectly, and Ware's opening solo veers from enraptured joy to a more subtle lyricism. O'Farrill emphasizes trickling, graceful runs in his turn, with Blake then profoundly emotional, heightened once more by his wordless harmonizing. Ware's "Bio Diesel" has an appropriately pumping, mechanical quality, but is a grabber nonetheless. The relatively unsung vibraphonist breaks it down and swings it engagingly, as does O'Farrill with his densely packed lines. Affoumado's steadfast rhythms greatly bolster the proceedings. "Dreams of Dad" is Affoumado's dedication to his father Ralph, a versatile composer and the Choir Master at New York University's Tisch School of the Arts. This piece comes the closest on the CD to summoning up memories of the similarly equipped Modern Jazz Quartet, with its fluctuating tempos and intricate harmonies, not to mention a breathtaking Ware solo that would have pleased Milt Jackson, a scampering, tumbling exploration by O'Farrill, and an assertive, uninhibited statement from Blake.

The Latin-flavored "Not Now Right Now" comes from the pen of trombonist Papo Vasquez, and the theme's transfixing urgency inspires equally insistent and energetic improvs by all four participants, with Affoumado's concluding effort spurred on in part by a unison vamp from the others. Ware based his "Lonely Days Are Gone" on the chords of "The Letter," the Box Tops 1967 hit record, and the complex interaction between vibes and piano on the weaving theme is particularly affecting. O'Farrill's two-fisted orchestral solo is answered by Ware's gripping take-no-prisoners venture. Blake's simultaneous bass-vocal pronouncement is perhaps his most concentrated and lucid of the album, which is saying a lot. On Ware's "The Right Time," O'Farrill's rumbling ostinato alternates with more ethereal thematic elements, but the forceful tendencies win out in the end. Ware and Blake produce quick-thinking, vibrant solos, and O'Farrill's description of this final track is right on: "demanding, tricky--very clavé aware in a strange and sophisticated manner."

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Scott Albin