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Since forming his group the Turnaround three decades ago, Puerto Rican trumpeter, bandleader, and composer Charlie Sepúlveda has been an unwavering disciple of Latin jazz in its most elemental form — the bracing mixture of Afro-Cuban rhythms and bebop-rooted melodies and improvisations that evolved in the late 1940s. Over many years, stylistic variants spawned throughout Latin America have co-opted the Latin jazz label, somewhat to Sepúlveda’s chagrin. On This is Latin Jazz, his third release on HighNote, he defiantly lays down a marker with an eight-track program that he contends expresses the true spirit of vintage Latin jazz.
Recorded live at Dizzy’s Club in Jazz at Lincoln Center, the key to the session’s winning personality is the presence of guest soloists whose disparate stylistic trademarks profoundly shape the character of each arrangement. “Liberty,” one of five Sepúlveda originals, features long-form solos by the leader and trumpeter Randy Brecker, whose stratospheric excursions, slurs and rapid-fire articulations recall the signature style of Dizzy Gillespie, one of the founding fathers of the idiom. Another arrangement with strong ties to the bop tradition, “Tales From the Wall,” spotlights trombonist Steve Turre, whose gritty solo is in stark contrast to Sepúlveda’s rich tones and svelte reading. Miguel Zenón’s alto sax solo on “Frenesi” (Frenzy) lives up to the promise of the tune’s title, while Nestor Torres’ dancing flute work on a nostalgic read of “Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White,” a Cuban standard from the 1950s, is as “dulce” (sweet) as warm coconut milk.
Not every track lies within the realm of classic Latin jazz. “Alfonsina y el Mar” is a revered Latin American folktune from Argentina, perceptively interpreted by the husky-voiced Natalia Mercado, Sepúlveda’s wife. “Estampas” is set to a danza rhythm, a courtly Puerto Rican form that allows the trumpeter’s lyrical side to shine. Whatever the style, Sepúlveda and his cohorts have crafted a session that celebrates the Latin jazz legacy via vibrant and uncommonly virtuosic performances.— Mark Holston