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For the past 25 years, trombonist Conrad Herwig’s “The Latin Side of” series has been a particularly durable and artistically rewarding concept. John Coltrane’s compositions were the first to be treated to the alchemy of Herwig’s Latinizations, followed by explorations of the repertoire of Miles Davis, Joe Henderson, Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter. Given Horace Silver’s Cape Verdean ancestry and affinity for writing tunes saturated with Latin sensibilities, this survey of eight of the late pianist’s works is the definition of simpatico.With the exception of Silver’s exquisite ballad “Peace,” most of the performances are rhythmic cookers, seething with robust, long-form solos and harmonically tight background horn lines. The trombonist is joined in the frontline by alto saxophonist Craig Handy, trumpeter Alex Sipiagin and tenor saxophonist Igor Butman.
Rhythm section conguero Richie Flores is one of the heroes of the session, his dazzling, rapid-fire conga strokes frequently stealing the show. The date’s most potent secret weapon, however, is special guest Michel Camilo, who alternates piano duties with longtime Herwig collaborator Bill O’Connell. The Dominican keyboard ace’s blustery montunos (repeated motifs), percussive, two-fisted comping and laser-focused tremolos result in a stunningly potent solo on “Song for My Father.” O’Connell, a gifted soloist as well, showcases his blues-tinged, fanciful and luxuriant ballad style on “Silver’s Serenade.” “Nica’s Dream,” “The Cape Verdean Blues” and “Nutville” are among the Silver standards showcased here. The only off-the-beaten-path inclusion is the composer’s mystic “The Gods of the Yoruba.” The leader’s svelte trombone solo at the top, underpinned by Camilo’s wistful pianistics, sets an exotic mood before the ensemble invades the quiet space, igniting a surging rhythmic pulse and syncopated horn voicings. A parade of solos is kicked off by Sipiagin’s frenzied, upper register foray.Herwig’s affection for Silver and his body of time-tested works is validated by the joyous vibe and consummate artistry on constant display throughout this memorable recorded-live session. — Mark Holston