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Bobby Matos Afro Latin Jazz Ensemble: Beautiful as the Moon

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Percussionist Bobby Matos is the leader, but this is a full ensemble outing featuring equivalent contributions from Pablo Calogero (tenor sax and flute), Danny Weinstein (trombone and violin) and Theo Saunders (piano), along with Matos (timbales) and conguero Robertito Melendez. Bassist John B. Williams is a deft soloist as well, and throughout the set his rhythmic sureness keeps everything on an even keel.

The uptempo offerings are graced with a lightness of texture that challenges “Latin fire” stereotypes. On “Maramoor Mambo,” for instance, Calogero’s opening legato tenor line evokes a feeling of ease, although in his solo he’s a little more acerbic and spiked; in the big-band tradition, he combines danceability with high-art improvisational imagination. Saunders’ piano work is both rhythmically and melodically insistent, and his symphonic whole-keyboard facility never detracts from the clarity or logic of his lines. Trombonist Weinstein sometimes articulates a little less crisply than the others, but his imagination soars.

The title song, dating back to the late ’30s, derives from New York Yiddish theater (“Shein Vi Di L’Vone”). Weinstein’s violin dances with bittersweet gaiety over Matos’ and Melendez’ interwoven percussion lines; his solo soars, cavorts, spins and retraces itself. “Pop Moish,” which Matos wrote for his grandfather, features an unorthodox melodic structure that Matos’ notes say invokes the older man’s “quirky personality”-maybe, but there’s little frivolousness in the playing, and everyone tackles the challenges with focus and dedication. Saunders’ piano, especially, summons up the meld of whimsy and seriousness that the composer no doubt intended.

The two standards, “Monk’s Mood” and Herbie Hancock’s “Maiden Voyage,” are appropriately Latin-ized, and offerings such as “Just Another Guajira” (by Weinstein’s uncle, Mark Weinstein) and Weinstein’s own “Fiddlunky” further highlight this group’s gift for mining diverse cultural, historical and ethnic influences.

Originally Published