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John Hollenbeck’s Claudia Quintet at the Earshot Jazz Festival

Spyro Gyra, 2006; Ludwig Afonso, Tom Schuman, Jay Beckenstein, Scott Ambush and Julio Fernandez

This year’s Puerto Rico Heineken JazzFest was filled with surprises, both on and off the stage. First, while walking through the hotel lobby on the eve of the festival I heard a familiar guitar sound. It was an unbilled guest appearance by Steve Khan playing with an excellent combo of local musicians including bassist Ramon Vasquez, drummer Efrain Martinez, and percussionist Carlos Maldonado. The group sounded so good playing originals and tunes by Monk, Shorter, and Jarrett, it’s hard to believe this was their first time performing together.

The festival proper began under a full moon in the Tito Puente Amphitheater with trombonist Jimmy Bosch igniting a set of high octane salsa dura (hard salsa). Bosch, who cut his teeth with Cachao, Ruben Blades, Willie Colon Celia Cruz and others, led a sextet in spirited versions of “Otra Oportunidad,” “Speak No Evil,” “Descargarana” and a killer encore of “Un Poquito Mas,” which had the crowd up on its feet. Special moments from rubber-faced timbalero Nicky Marrero, tenor man Jeff Lederer and baby-faced baritone sax and flutist Mauricio Smith Jr.

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