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Jeff Benedict Group: Rhubumba

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Saxophonist Jeff Benedict is a music professor at Cal State University, and he has the kind of tight musical relationship with his friend pianist Paul De Castro that you should build a band around. By adding a tipico rhythm section of conguero Bob Fernandez and timbalero Jimmy Branly and a front line of trombonist Jacques Voyemant, special guest trumpeter Bobby Shew, guitarist Dave Askren and bassist Rigoberto Lopez, the Jeff Benedict Group can count itself as one of the better Southern California Latin-jazz outfits.

Rhubumba is split between highly original material from pianist De Castro and well-thought-out covers arranged by Benedict. The rave-up version of George Gershwin’s “Summertime” is a highlight, with plenty of room to push the mambo into the kind of overdrive that fuels the best street-corner rumbas. Years ago Poncho Sanchez covered Frank Foster’s “Shiny Stockings” with the same powerful majesty as the Basie band. On Rhubumba, Benedict’s group plays the tune with a slower groove, and I can easily hear longtime Basie guitarist Freddie Green locking into. But the real treat is Shew, whose trumpet perfectly straddles the line between Afro-Cuban and bebop. Felix Contreras