How did I miss Papo Vazquez?

4 01 2013

My poor wordpress site has been woefully neglected in recent months, leaving a slew of Down Beat reviews isolated in lonely print magazine land. I’ll be correcting that situation in the next few days, adding my thoughts on new releases by a pile of great artists, including Papo Vazquez.

Not familiar? Neither was I — until I was assigned his latest with the Mighty Troubadours. If you haven’t checked this guy out, he’s a Latino Jazz Master who’s been writing for years for the Bronx Arts Ensemble. Most of his new work is based in Afro-Puerto Rican folk music but don’t fear the folk. The material on “Oasis” is moving — and I mean booty-moving, not just compelling — stuff. Not a big fan of doling out stars but that’s my job and I gave this release four in DownBeat’s February issue.

Assuming you don’t want to click over to a blurry PDF, here’s the rehash straight from the source:

Oasis CD cover“Oasis”
Papo Vazquez and the Mighty Pirates Troubadours

Latino Jazz Master and Grammy nominee Papo Vazquez frequently turns up on lists featuring underrated jazz artists. By all rights, “Oasis” should help him get the credit he has long been due. The centerpiece of his latest effort is the title track, which Vazquez initially wrote for a performance with the Bronx Arts Ensemble. Intense and vaguely macabre, the tune’s scene is set with waves of percussion that evoke a jungle – a spooky calm that’s later spiked with a prickly string section (featuring Regina Carter), upping the ante of palpable, dramatic tension.

The contemplative “Redemption” has a similarly theatrical quality, while the more laid-back “Sol Tropical” and “San Juan de la Maguana” (featuring Wynton Marsalis) bask in lush orchestration, buoyant horn lines and Vazquez’s earthy, energetic solos. “Plena Drumline” (which also includes Marsalis) bookends “Oasis” with an extended onslaught of hard-edged drumming and hypersonic horn lines, broken by a cymbal crash that sets free the birdlike percussion that swirled over the title track.

Throughout the disc, there’s a feeling of constant motion; instrumental lines are drawn so vibrantly they seem to elicit animated impressions of themselves. That’s partly an effect of Vazquez’s liberal use of Afro-Puerto Rican folk forms, plena and bomba, historically used to convey messages about popular life. It’s also simply how Vazquez writes and plays: with an unbridled lust for life matched, happily, by an unmatched ear for moving music.

Oasis: Manga Larga; Sol Tropical; Danzaon don Va’zquez; Que Sabas Tu; Psalm 59; City of Brotherly Love; Oasis; Redemption; San Juan de la Maguana; Igors Mail; Verdura de Apio; Plena Drumline (1:16:55).

Personnel: Papo Vazquez, trombone; Willie Williams, tenor sax; Rick Germanson, piano; Dezron Douglas, bass; Alvester Garnett, drums; Anthony Carrillo, percussion; Carlos Maldonado, percussion; Regina Carter, violin (7); Wynton Marsalis, trumpet (9,11,12).

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