The First Unitarian Society’s Whisperdome started jumping as soon as the Jazz/Latino All Stars took the stage for the first of two generous sets last Friday night. The very special, one-night-only gathering of some of the finest Latin jazz musicians on the contemporary scene was the kick-off concert for the Ahora, Latin/Jazz! 2010 season. And what a way to get things started!
Headed by trumpet master Ray Vega (a veteran of the great Latin-jazz bands lead by Tito Puente, Ray Barretto, Mongo Santamaria and others), the ensemble included the explosive trombonist Chris Washburne and killer saxophonist Hilary Noble in the front line. The lovely Nikki Denner added magnificent piano accompaniment, as bassist Jennifer Vincent intertwined her rhythmic, bottom-end notes with explosive drummer Willie Martinez and conga maestro Wilson “Chembo” Corniel.
The outfit’s creative sparks ignited impassioned solos and tight ensemble playing in each tune they tackled. Washburne traded sweat-covered solos with Vega. Vega’s soaring trumpet passed the baton to Noble. And Noble turned up the heat before shifting the spotlight over to Denner, whose keyboard bite was as melodic as it was percussive.
However, it was the dynamic interplay between Corniel’s burning percussion and Martinez’s ever-shifting beats that nearly stole the show. If the front line had been manned by lesser musicians, instead of some of the best of the best, the beat masters would have simply run away with the melody, rhythm, spotlight and even the kitchen sink.
But when Vega opened up on his horn (or Noble or Washburn, for that matter), they reeled in the tune and reclaimed the limelight. Although jazz sax master Joshua Redman in tandem with piano phenomenon Brad Mehldau played a sold out Zankel Music Center’s stage at Skidmore College the same night, anyone who was at the Whisperdome was treated to a show of equal stature and magnificence.
Up next on the schedule for the Ahora, Latin/Jazz! series will be Andrea Brachfeld on “The Role of the Flute in Afro Cuban Music,” at UAlbany’s Humanities Building Room 354 at 7:30pm on Friday. Admission is $15; students $5.
Review and photographs by Andrzej Pilarczyk
Read David Malachowski’s review in The Times Union.