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Conrad Herwig: The Latin Side of Joe Henderson

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At its best, Conrad Herwig’s ongoing “Latin Side” project (which has already covered Trane, Miles Davis, Wayne Shorter and Herbie Hancock) reveals much about the omnipresence of the “Spanish tinge” in jazz repertoire. On The Latin Side of Joe Henderson, though, the trombonist makes fewer such discoveries. It doesn’t take much digging to unearth Afro-Cuban accents in “Recorda Me” or “Mamacita,” no matter what the bass (Ruben Rodriguez), drums (Robby Ameen) and percussion (Richie Flores) play. And Herwig’s deconstruction of “Blue Bossa” only pads one of jazz’s iconic melodies with extended tangents.

But Henderson succeeds more than it fails, less for Herwig’s arrangements than for the remarkable consistency of the improvisers. The leader, one of the finest trombonists currently working, stupefies with his seven interrelated blues choruses on “Mamacita.” Tenor saxophonist Joe Lovano, the album’s featured guest, is excellent as always on “Afro-Centric,” and he doesn’t let velocity and brawn obstruct him from building details into “Recorda Me.” The latter also includes a finely developed solo from pianist Bill O’Connell, who contributes a harmonic marvel, without overt Latin-isms, to “Black Narcissus.” Baritone saxophonist Ronnie Cuber also excels throughout, particularly with his bifurcated chorus on “Blue Bossa.”

Two of Herwig’s charts actually are revelatory. He hardens the subtle power of Henderson’s “Black Narcissus” into a funky mambo, and layers “Inner Urge” with intricate ostinati and cross-rhythms. Overall, however, there’s little new to explore on the “Latin side” of a musician whose Latin side was on the surface to begin with. Thankfully, the soloists’ work keeps this flaw from being a debilitating one.

Originally Published