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A release as daring and fulfilling as Alegria, the latest from Bogotá, Colombia, native Samuel Torres, is a rarity. The formula the percussionist, composer and arranger utilizes on this bracing collection of eight eclectic tracks results in a truly evolved variant of Latin jazz. Keys to the date’s success are the leader’s ingenious blending of disparate rhythms, and the presence of six first-call horn players who provide the orchestral heft and harmonic textures needed to approximate a big band. Savvy Latin jazz connoisseurs will have to reach back to a pair of largely forgotten 1970s recordings by the late Bobby Paunetto, vintage Irakere and Fort Apache sessions, or a small handful of other instances, to find examples of performances so audacious and compelling.
“Salsa, Jazz y Choke,” the opening track, sets the tone via a rumbling cross-pollination of salsa and folkloric (choke) rhythms from Afro-Colombian enclaves on the country’s Pacific coast, brazen horn ensembles, jaunty solos by trombonist Marshall Gilkes and pianist Luis Perdomo, and a gale-force barrage of Torres’ congas. “The Strength to Love” sashays to quick-paced, African-root rhythms, jagged horn lines, and spirited solos by Perdomo on Fender Rhodes, tenor saxophonist Joel Frahm and the leader on talking drum. “Barretto Power,” inspired by the late salsa and Latin jazz icon Ray Barretto, is rendered in boogaloo (Latin soul) fashion with hand clapping, an electric bass solo by Ruben Rodriguez and a furious baritone sax outing by Ivan Renta. The track pays homage to Edy Martinez, Torres’ uncle and the noted pianist who worked with Barretto in the ’70s. “Bolero Para Raquel,” the date’s most straightforward arrangement — albeit with a Dominican bachata approach to the rhythm — is a lovely ballad written for Torres’ wife.
The only fault to be found with this invigorating session is that it ends all too soon. With luck, Torres is already at work on its successor. — Mark Holston