Monday, December 16, 2019

Samuel Torres accentuates the positive with 'Alegria'

The Colombian percussionist Samuel Torres brings to the delightful genre of the "little big band" (10 players, in
Samuel Torres displays imagination from congas to ensemble.
this case) a sensibility rooted in Latin rhythms and song forms and fully conversant with his desire to present jazz with a sunny face in "Alegria" (Blue Conga Music).

The title means "joy," and Torres has the imagination and skill as both composer and bandleader not to allow the positive vibe to mean thin comfort food. There's plenty of sustenance on hand over the course of eight tunes.

Torres resists the piling-on that's sometimes part of the Latin jazz genre. The pieces are assertive, with pungent soloing, but the gestures of invitation are consistent. Having sidemen of the expressive range of Marshall Gilkes, trombone; Joel Frahm, saxophones, and Luis Perdono, piano, certainly helps.

The importance of dance in the popular culture of Latin America comes to the fore in the compositions and the catchy pace each tune establishes.

When there are shifts in the presentation, the effect is smoothly managed. "The Strength to Love" puts a churning rhythmic background behind an introspective melody championed by Perdono's statement on Fender Rhodes. The band comes in with an exciting long crescendo to back up Frahm's tenor solo.

"Barretto Power," honoring the congas master and Latin-jazz hero Ray Barretto, has such pleasant surprises as the muted trumpets placed after a series of solos. Ivan Renta's baritone gives special oomph to the performance, which embraces crunchy harmonies and a disjunctive melodic line topping an infectious beat.

"Little Grasshopper," a salute to the children Torres teaches, gives an essential role to the kalimba (African thumb piano). Renta lofts an amiable flute solo over the texture.

The title tune is predictably a lift to the spirit, chugging along without a care in the world. This is a well-integrated disc, modestly touched by novelty, that seems to accomplish everything it aims at.

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