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Sammy Figueroa: Imaginary World

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After three albums co-billed with his band the Latin Jazz Explosion, percussionist Sammy Figueroa stands on his own for Imaginary World. But not entirely-although his name graces the top of the album cover, a bit farther down it notes “featuring Silvano Monasterios & Gabriel Vivas,” and that’s important stuff. The Venezuelan pianist and bassist, respectively, each contribute four songs to the nine-track set, their compositions furnishing its direction, setting and overall tone.

Monasterios goes first, his four running consecutively. “Bittersweet” bursts to life with a cymbal crash, resounding bass and muscular tandem trumpet and saxophone, all of it anchored by Figueroa and drummer David Chiverton’s rock-steady foundations. Each of Monasterios’ other three tracks displays a different disposition: “Waiting for You,” a funk-driven danceability; “He Didn’t Know,” a wide-open breathiness; “Flow of the Universe,” a highlight, a loosely structured juxtaposition of pianistic excellence, plucky saxophone from Troy Roberts and dizzying polyrhythms courtesy of Figueroa and Chiverton.

Vivas’ first offering, “The Jumping Blue Jay,” introduces for the first of two tracks guitarist Chico Pinheiro, whose swiftly rendered, adroitly framed lines provide a neat marker nuzzled between Alex Pope Norris’ gutty trumpet and thunderous drums and percussion. The title track flirts with dynamic shifts, its most intriguing segment arriving midway as Monasterios pulls entirely unanticipated and exceedingly delicious sounds from his keys, and both “Alegria” and “Mysterious Energy” accord their author generous solo bass space.

That leaves the album-closing “Cuidado,” composed by Marty Sheller and recorded by Mongo Santamaria, Poncho Sanchez and others. Figueroa and crew could have easily presented the tune via a traditional Afro-Latin arrangement. They don’t, choosing instead to keep it of a piece with the rest of the program, a wise decision as it contains some of the brightest and brawniest playing on the record.

Originally Published