From the outset of Blueprints you feel as if you are on stage with the band, and believe me that’s a good thing. So much of Latin jazz has gone the way of slick over-production, and this outing by the Chicago Afro-Latin Jazz Ensemble brings back the bygone era of Latin big-band in a more intimate and unadulterated setting. Fronted by trumpeter/arranger Victor García and pianist/arranger Darwin Noguera, the group highlights both the power of the large-ensemble format as well as the crisp rhythm section. This recording on the Chicago Sessions label offers a wonderfully diverse repertoire of new and highly creative music, most of it penned by its co-leaders along with two selections by tenor saxophonist Juan Turros and another by Pablo Mayor, director of the Folklore Urbano group.
Special guests on the date include trombone and shell-man Steve Turre, who is featured on shells on the multi-dimensional title track as well as trombone on “Captain Spok” (a lively number inspired by Brazilian frevo band Spok Frevo), guitarist Neal Alger and vocalist Ricky Luis on the funky bi-lingual reggae-into-guaracha groove “Vuelvo a Vivir,” vocalist Nythia Martínez on “Timeless,” the theatrical milonga-inspired closing number, and conga virtuoso Paoli Mejías. The arrangements demonstrate a departure from the straight-down-the-pike Latin dance band vein, preferring a more suite-like approach in some cases, and always in full command of the rich, harmonic possibilities of the big-band format. Darwin and Noguera are clearly open to exploring new and unusual paths, and their collaborative efforts are sure to garner the respect of their peers as well as those young musicians whom they will undoubtedly inspire. There are moments of quiet to balance the power-packed grooves, and there is plenty on Blueprints to sink your teeth into. Be on the lookout for more from these imaginative young artists.