Dizzy Gillespie’s keen interest in melding 1940s bebop with Afro-Cuban music was spurred by his…
Dizzy Gillespie’s keen interest in melding 1940s bebop with Afro-Cuban music was spurred by his knowledge that swing (and jazz in general) would not have been possible without the ancient rhythms of Africa and its diaspora. Drummer Joe McCarthy’s Afro Bop Alliance Big Band represents a direct lineage. Now in its 20th year, McCarthy has relocated his big band from D.C. to New York City, where a larger pool of players is poised to aggressively fuse international music with jazz, utilizing unlimited musical possibilities.
Afro Bop Alliance’s powerhouse brass and sinewy saxophones make for an excellent session. At the heart of it all is the rhythm section, driven by McCarthy on drum set and further propelled by percussionist Samuel Torres, guitarist Vinny Valentino, pianist Manuel Valera and bassist Boris Kazlov. Duple- and triple-beat interplay is the essence of clave, the rhythmic pattern driving many types of Latin music. Afro Bop Alliance takes clave to the next level by having entire sections of songs seamlessly weave duple and triple meter. The results are exciting and highly complex.
Two stylized standards (“Afternoon in Paris,” “Caravan”) show that this big band can refresh old war horses. However, original compositions by band members display the depth of creativity available in the vast realm of contemporary Latin jazz. Valera’s title track is a veritable tour de force, featuring Matt Hong’s alto and an open section for drum set and percussion. Kozlov’s “Nostalgia in Time” typifies the set with its atypical extended song form and Valentino’s retro, 1970s-era, wah-wah guitar solo. The guitarist’s “J Ben Jazz” fluctuates between 6/8 (triple) and 4/4 (duple) meters, creating ample intensity while setting up Kozlov’s fluid electric bass feature. “Isabelita” and “Positano,” penned by Valera and Valentino respectively, are lyrical ballads that defy formulaic compositional devices in favor of total surprise.
Hats off to McCarthy and his Afro Bop Alliance Big Band for further proving that jazz will never be stymied as it encompasses numerous cultures in democratic fashion. — James Rozzi