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William Cepeda and Afrorican Jazz: Branching Out (Expandiendo Raices)

On the second outing with his group Afrorican Jazz, trombonist/conch-shell player/bandleader William Cepeda once again seeks to marry jazz with the traditional beats and textures of Puerto Rico. Building on ideas molded on his previous release, My Roots and Beyond, Cepeda sheds light on the much ignored bomba y plena rhythms from Loiza Aldea, where he is from, by grafting hard-bop melodies and harmonies with folkloric sounds that are all over Branching Out (Expandiendo Raices).

The scope is richer and deeper this time around with provocative cross-pollinations like “Bomba Flamenca,” “Cumba Blues” and “Toshiko” fusing a variety of traditional world instruments, including a Japanese koto, into spectacular sonic frameworks. “Cosa Nuestra” draws from the jibaro music of the mountains and its aguinaldos, here sung by troubadour Andres Jimenes with Yomo Toro, a virtuoso of the folkloric cuatro guitar. The pieces unfold like snapshots along a rural island road where scenes jump out at you. “Let’s Have Fun,” “The Next Plena” and “Bomba Pa’ Loiza” are pure joy!

Cepeda is a prodigious talent who emerged in the mid-1980s with the pivotal group Batacumbele, a Latin-jazz ensemble that spawned Giovanni Hidalgo, David Sanchez and many others. From there stints with Dizzy Gillespie’s United Nations Orchestra and others have made him a first-call player who marries the melodicism and technical clarity of Juan Tizol with his own fire.

Cepeda is part of a generation reclaiming its island heritage that, along with Plena Libre and his own folkloric group Afroboricua, are searching out these bomba y plena roots. Yet the creative tapestries that result on Branching Out (Expandiendo Raices) are well-orchestrated ensemble works that thread jazz ideas into traditional spaces for a profound authenticity. This album is a perfect pedestal for Cepeda to let roots rise and showcase his marvelous trombone playing.

Originally Published