Saturday, July 20, 2013

Ray Mantilla The Connection Savant 2013 5 Stars!

Ray Mantilla continues to raise the bar for Latin jazz while he welcomes you to the land of rhythm and groove with The Connection!
Brent Black / @CriticalJazz

Ray Mantilla is the "connection" as referenced in this aptly titled release from Savant. At 79, Mantilla is that all important standard bearer for the connection between the jazz he cut his teeth on and the Afro-Caribbean rhythms that make up his musical DNA. The Latin flip side to the great Art Blakey, Mantilla has a keen eye for young talent and this dynamic septet includes some of the finest up and coming players not just on the Latin scene but in jazz today. Walking the sonic tightrope between his Puerto Rican roots and the Afro-Caribbean vibe made famous during his stint with Gato Barbieri, Mantilla is making music his way and with stellar results.

The young guns included here include Cuban trumpeter Guido Gonzalez, tenor man Willie Williams, drummer Bill Elder, bassist Chucho Martinez and saxophone flutist Enrique Fernandez. With each given ample opportunity to contribute their own unique voice the resulting flavor of the Connection is a slow burn of rhythmic flair coupled with attitude and the mad chops to bring it all together. Most ensembles of this nature could easily venture off into the more self indulgent pseudo-intellectual riff encompassing lengthy stays in odd meter and that speed is king mentality but this is another fine example of what a jazz collective is all about. A harmonious union of lyrical flow and a rich harmonic base to make this music with muscle without pushing the listener over the edge of that proverbial sonic cliff.

"Psalm 107" highlights the Sonny Rollins like approach taken by the young Williams while "Pieces" runs the table on the classic Latin jam that is infectious as it is proficient in showcasing technical prowess. The party is dialed down with the melancholy ballad "Sonando Puerto Rico" where flutist Enrique Fernandez delivers an evocative and organic approach to a tune from popular Puerto Rican singer/songwriter Bobby Cabo.

To pick and choose highlights and single out musicians is like asking a parent to pick out their favorite child. Latin jazz hits my musical sweet spot. Ray Mantilla takes it to another level.

An exemplary release.

Tracks: Andean Fantasy; Los Apolypticanos; The Simple Life; Psalm 107; El Carnivalito USA; Homanaje a San Rafael; Pieces; New Moon; Sonando Puerto Rico; Blues for Ray.

Personnel: Ray Mantilla: percussion / leader; Willie Williams: soprano & tenor saxophone; Enrique Fernandez: baritone saxophone & flute (1,2,5,9,10); Guido Gonzalez: trumpet (1,2,7); Edy Martinez: piano; Cucho Martinez: bass; Bill Elder: drums.