Calle Loiza Jazz Project
There Will Never Be Another You
This one has a rich story. Calle Loiza is the famous street in Santurce, Puerto Rico with a storied history of culture and artistic creativity. The Bomba rhythms are known to have origin near there. Some core members of this group met at a famous jazz club, Mini’s, on the street in the late ‘70s. Years later, just a few blocks away, Apple Jazz Club opened and it was there that pianist Mark Monts de Oca, drummer Jimmy Rivera, bassist Freddy Gumbs, and leader Hector Veneros formed a quartet that became well known in Puerto Rico. Often bassist Tony Batista and guitarist Andre Avelino would join in on the club sessions. These musicians became lifelong friends and now have reunited thirty years later, mostly to pay tribute to many of their fallen heroes.
The concept for the album was to record live at a friend’s home. The original recording was produced by pianist Monts de Oca and his wife, Ilean but evolved into a much bigger ensemble with the participation of Latin Grammy winning recording engineer Ivan Belvis, who later became a co-producer. Belvis then augmented the lineup by recruiting master conquero Javier Oquendo. With arrangements and rehearsals on eight standards the following players participated in a live recording – Monts de Oca, Batista, Avelino, Rivera, and Oquendo. Subsequently bebop Atlanta-based trumpeters Melvin Jones and Gordon Verdick were added as well as flutist Xavier Barreto. Belvis added some percussion and fleshed out the unit with master guiro player Candido Reyes and Brazilian percussionist Reinel Lopez.
The eight standards pay tribute to Puerto Rican trumpeter Juancito Torres, Dave Valentin, Mongo Santamaria, Carlos ‘Patato’ Valdes, and Jerry Gonzalez. They reinvent such notable tunes as two best with Miles –“Seven Steps to Heave” and “Someday My Prince Will Come,” Oliver Nelson’s “Stolen Moments,” Herbie Hancock’s “Dolphin Dance,” Monk’s “Well, You Needn’t,” the title track, the standard “Old Folks” and Brubeck’s “In Your Own Sweet Way.” The Miles tunes prove to be perfect vehicles for the trumpeters who take alternating solos but the strength of the album lies in the transformation of these tunes via Puerto Rican rhythms to make them refreshingly invigorating and remarkably different in some cases to the originals. “Seven Steps to Heaven” features prominent percussion and the bomba rhythms. ”Someday My Prince Will Come” is only vaguely recognizable with the use of cha rhythm and some group singing near the end with the piece punctuated with terrific solos from both trumpeters and guitarist Avelino. Throughout the album pianist Monts de Oca consistently shines.
“Stolen Moments” and especially “Dolphin Dance” which has animated interplay between Barreto’s flute and Jones’ muted trumpet, come off as highly transformative. The group renders “Old Folks” as a relaxed bolero with the ever tasteful Monts de Oca soloing while “in Your Sweet Way” is heavy on Brazilian percussion with another passionate soaring solo from Jones. The percussion comes to the forefront on Monk’s “Well You Needn’t” while Avelino’s dazzling melodic guitar runs and Monts de Oca’s facile piano lead the spirited interplay on the joyous closer, the title track, oft associated with Nat King Cole, as bassist Batista also adds his robust solo.
For that rare jazz lover that doesn’t offer venture into Latin jazz, this provides a nice bridge as all the tunes here are well-known standards. Either way, Puerto Rican jazz is alive and well and this appeal to just about anyone with a pulse and an ear for stimulating music.
- Jim Hynes