Ninety Miles, the Afro-Cuban recording by vibraphonist Stefon Harris, saxophonist David Sánchez and trumpeter Christian Scott, was among 2011’s best releases; Cubadisco, its new live follow-up, includes six of the nine compositions performed on the studio album. Head-to-head comparison is inevitable, and Cubadisco wins. It’s among 2012’s best.
The performance alternates two rhythm sections that only get inner-booklet billing-a crime, as they do much of the heavy lifting. Pianist Rember Duharte and electric bassist Osmar Salazar’s unison, syncopated groove energizes “Congo,” and the conga work of Edgar Martinez Ochoa (“The Forgotten Ones”) and Jean Roberto San Miguel (“Brown Belle Blues”) forms the album’s edgy, sometimes jittery backbone. Conversely, headliner Scott’s trumpet is mainly supporting; he has a fine, warm solo on “And This Too Shall Pass” and a spicy one on “Brown Belle Blues,” but is elsewhere relegated to ensemble statements and responses to Sánchez. The saxophonist is the real star: He’s exquisite on “The Forgotten Ones,” a ballad duet with Harris, and provides romance on “This Too” and dark intrigue on the album’s one new tune, “Paradise Found.”
The record’s best moment, though, belongs to Harris. After call-and-response between Sánchez and Scott on “City Sunrise” has exploded into minor-key counterpoint, ratcheting up the tension unbearably, the vibraphonist follows with a slow, sweet major-key release, an emotional moment heightened by Harris’ high, wordless singing along with his solo. It’s a moment of spontaneous beauty that the studio album can’t touch. All of that record’s pathos, tension and craft are present on Cubadisco, with an added boost of energy.