(Emlyn Music, CD)
Plattsburgh trombonist Rick Davies knows from salsa. I, on the other hand, do not. Is that a hindrance to my enjoyment of his latest disc, Siempre Salsa? Hardly.
Davies is a music professor at SUNY Plattsburgh. He previously lived in the Big Apple, where he worked with a plethora of Latin jazz heavyweights, including the late Tito Puente. Since relocating, Davies has led Jazzismo, whose members comprise most of the players on this CD.
Amazingly, all of the cuts on Siempre Salsa are Davies originals. Judging from the quality of each composition, they might as well be standards.
Opener "Cena Para Seis" features sinewy horn lines bolstered by percussionist Steve Ferraris' exotic rhythms. Special guest Dave Grippo takes a spicy alto sax solo before Davies takes over for a blow of his own. The spotlight subsequently shifts to pianist Tom Cleary, who offers a typically elegant keyboard run.
"Rosa Primavera" finds salsa hero Wayne Gorbea on the ivories. Vocalist Frank Otero sings a bunch of stuff I can't understand, but it sounds fantastic. Gorbea's piano solo is gorgeously minimal, Luis Cruz's bongo work riveting.
On "Insomnia," the sax section is expanded to include Brian McNamara, Aaron Garovoy, Alex Stewart and Rick Tutunjian. Their formation horn flights give the tune some serious punch. Trumpeter Tomer Levy delivers a tasty solo, as the band swells and recedes behind him.
"Rumba Nortena"'s melody is the musical equivalent of a tongue twister. Davies' daring trombone leaps made me question my assumptions about the instrument. Stewart's no slouch, either, with sultry sax tones and impeccable phrasing.
Levy's trumpet hits the stratosphere on "Santos," a song that's the very definition of picante. Here, Davies is joined by a second trombonist, Rafi Malkiel. The extra brass makes for even more spice.
"Calle Loca" flickers with the intensity of a blue flame. Grippo again pops by for a twisting sax solo that had me wondering when he finds time to breathe.
The album closes with "Caliente Time," a track built on staggered piano vamps and congas. Drummer Jeff Salisbury serves up smart cymbal work, as Stewart's sax conjures images of open-air markets and flickering neon.
Davies' passion for Latin jazz is absolutely contagious. Catch the bug on Thursday, July 27, when he appears at the FlynnSpace with Jazzismo and Ray Vega.