Latin Jazz was once again amazing this year with only a few new acts into the charts and a host of veterans that each could easily be a Grammy nominee.
Latin Jazz has become one of the fastest growing genres in the world with close to a dozen recordings coming out in the early months of 2022 that include Mario Ortiz, Luisito Quintero, Julio Jaregui, Aguanko, Eguie Castrillo, Carlos Jimenez Mambo Dulcet, Joe Gonzalez and Richie Viruet (Richie Vee). Expect some big releases from Doug Beavers label Circle 9: Jonathan Powell and Ivan Renta.
‘And let’s be very clear that my passion for Latin Jazz comes from the Afro-Cuban/Caribbean side I grew up with in NYC during the 60’s & 70’s and the discovering of the early pioneers from the 40’s through the 60’s. I became a fan of Mambo Jazz from the dance side of the genre that was being created in New York and grew to love it because of its strong essence of percussion’….this is an excerpt from my article “The Best Latin Jazz Hits of All Time” and the basis for my picks. What makes these 30 recordings amazing is the fact that they were done during the pandemic making it truly special.
1-Victor Rendon Bronx Conexion Latin Jazz Big Band- “Mambo Boulevard”- Voted # 1 for the sequence reminiscent of a live performance with excellent arrangements and improvisations by Ray Vega, Paul Carlon, Wilson ‘Chembo’ Corniel, Rick Faulkner, Jessica Valiente, Victor Rendon and Joe Stelluti amongst others.
2-“Willy Calderon & The LA Impromptu Orchestra”- The big surprise from Los Angeles from a ‘new kid on the block’ who is an extraordinaire percussionist that excels on Salsa as well as Latin Jazz with many new and old names to the genre including Luis Conte, Luis Eric Gonzalez, Alex Acuña, Eliel Lazo, Eddie Resto. Alberto Salas, Roberto Quintero on the Jazz side.
3-Songon- “Songon”- Band formed by pianist John Enrico Douglas and Malcolm Ian Peters along with Raul Rico Jr. and Cougar Estrada (ex-Estrada Brothers members) with plenty of solos that included flutist Norma Latuchie.
4-Carlos Henriquez- “The South Bronx Story”- CD from a bassist who excels in both Jazz and Latin Jazz telling a story of his growing up on the South Bronx that brings so many great memories. The band formed by Melissa Aldana, Michael Rodriguez, Jeremy Bosch, Roberto Rodriguez, Anthony Almonte as a conguero (compared to vocalist for Little Johnny Rivero), Marshall Gilkes, Oved Calvarie and Terrell Stafford are all highlighted.
5-Charlie Sepulveda & The Turnaround- “This Is Latin Jazz”- After many historical recordings Charlie returns with one of his best live recordings that has standout performances by Norberto Ortiz and pianist Edaurdo Zayas (not to be confused with the composer). Guests include Nestor Torres, Randy Brecker Steve Turre, Miguel Zenon and Charlie’s wife Natalia Mercado.
6-The Echo Park Project Octet- “It’s My Turn”- LA has become a haven for Latin Jazz in the past decade and The Echo Park Project led by percussionist Carlo Lopez is part of that growth with most of the compositions and arrangements by Joe Mannozzi. Add to this the great improvisations by Frank Fontaine, Ron Francis Blake and Jonathan Montes and you have one of 2021’s big winners.
7-Papo Vazquez Mighty Pirate Troubadours- “Chapter 10: Breaking Cover”- One of the early pioneers of the Latin Jazz resurgence in the 90’s on his 10th CD. This CD exemplifies Papo’s modern use of the traditional to perfection with excellent play by Ivan Renta.
8-Oscar Hernandez & Alma Libre- “Vision”- The 3rd installment by another LA that features the excellent chemistry between Oscar, Justo Almario, Christian Moraga, Jimmy Branly, the funky Oskar Cartaya and new trumpet Aaron Janik.
9-Michael Eckroth Group- “Plena”- Superb performances by a band led by pianist Michael Eckroth (Orquesta Akokan) and the core unit of Alex ‘Apolo’ Ayala, Joel Mateo, Mauricio Herrera, and Peter Brainin.
10-Nelson Riveros- “The Latin Side of Wes Montgomery”- Never has the guitar sounded better that on this tribute to a jazz giant who that delved into the Latin side himself in the 60’s. The quintet includes Mark Walker, Hector Martignon, Andy Mckee and Jonathan Gomez.
11-Nettai Tropical Jazz Big Band- “25th Anniversary”- Who would have known back in the mid-90’s that Carlos Kanno’s Nettai who go one to record a host of excellent big band Latin Jazz CD’s of original music as well as covers of pop music leading them to a 25th year anniversary.
12-Jorge Emilio Fadul- “Ahora Es Cuando”- veteran vibe player that returns with a genuine gem that includes the vocal talents of Sally Station. The recording also includes the hall of famers Justo Almario, Edy Martinez and Abraham Laboriel.
13-CSAN-II- “Combinacion Musical”- Another big surprise was the growth of Celestino Sanchez as a Jazz artist who allowed his sidemen to shine: Oliver Santana, Pablo ‘Chino’ Nuñez, Manuel ‘Maneco’ Ruiz, Juan C. Cardona, and Jean Carlos Mompie Acuña.
14-La Banda Ramirez- “Cuban Butterflies”- a YouTube discovery from a few years ago the band led by percussionist Chacho Ramirez and his wife flutist Carolyn Steinberg Ramirez.
15-Edilio Bermudez- “Walking”- My big YouTube find that blew me away as a bassist/violinist that swings from beginning to end with performances by Kiki Sanchez, Alexandra Alban, Cesar Orozco, Ed Calle, Diego Camacho, JC Torrealba, Luisito Quintero and others.
16-Rayko Leon & Carlos Aleman- “En Clave De rumBach”- From Las Isla Canarias this popular pianist I also discovered in YouTube and has several CD’s that I have loved since his debut and this one with flutist Carlos Aleman is excellent.
17-Pablo Perez Cuban Jazz Sextet- “Charangueando En Jazz”- Another veteran from Cuba that is no stranger to Latin Jazz that has little to do with charanga music. It does shine throughout the recording with some of Cuba’s finest in JJ Olivero, and the young percussion tandem of Augusto Lage & Luis “Betun’ Valiente.
18-Humberto Ramirez- “Focus”- The premiere Latin Jazz artist in Puerto Rico that has been doing his thing for over 20 years with a line-up of young artists and some seasoned veterans in William ‘Kachiro’ Thompson, Frankie Perez, Angel D. Mattos, Julito Alvarado, Fernando Marcano, Norberto Ortiz, Raul Rosario, Gamalier Gonzalez, Reynaldo Jorge, and Alex ‘Apolo’ Ayala.
19-Arturo O’Farrill and The Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra- “Virtual Birdland”- as the tile states, a virtually done recording that highlights the excellent brain-child of the prodigal son of one of Latin Jazz’ greatest pioneers…Chico O’Farrill.
20-Pete Escovedo- “Rhythm Of The Night”- While more on the vocal Soul side it is Latin Jazz the Escovedo way and a refreshing recording.
21-Alonso Gonzalez Jazz Latino- “Descarga Pa’ Mi”-Colombian percussionist in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia of all places does not miss a beat as a Latin Jazz influencer.
22-Carlos Miyares- “Tributo A Chucho Valdes”- one of the best new horn men in the business gets to shine on this tribute to today’s finest jazz pianist.
23-Marlow Rosado Ft. Chucho Valdes- “Orun”- Besides the encounter between Marlow & Chucho the tribute to Eddie Palmieri makes it a top CD in 2021.
24-Michael Olivera & The Cuban Jazz Syndicate- “Y Llego La Luz”- Renown young Cuban drummer who excels here with the fusion of Afrocuban music with Contemporary Jazz & Flamenco.
25-Luis Cuan & LC Project- “Short Tales”- Another release from Tenerife in the Canary Islands, Spain by a new Cuban saxophonist on the jazz scene.
26-Miguel De Armas Quartet- “Continuous”- one of Canada’s premier pianists who has come a long way since his days with NG La Banda.
27-Carlos Jimenez Mambo Dulcet- “Red Tailed Hawk: Vol.1,2,3,4”- a project that has been in the works for some years with a who’s who in the Latin world of Jazz.
28-Paquito D’ Rivera Septeto- “Cariberian”- the legendary alto saxophonist that is known worldwide as a pioneer that evolved from Cuba’s best Jazz musicians.
29-Truth Revolution Recording Collective- “Together Again”- a new label setting a new revolution in Jazz & Latin with a new generation of musicians that includes the Zaccai brothers Damian & Curtis, Carlos Molina (Eddie Palmieri Orchestra), Nelson & Nigel Bello, and Matt Dwonszyk.
30-Banda Manatiana- “Transtropico”- A Brazilian sextet that truly represents the Latin Jazz genre with its folkloric roots.
31-Yuvinsely Aguilar- “Guajiro-Warhero”- stories about heroes in real life through Latin Jazz.
32-Chiqui Rojas, Yuri Daniel, Glenn Tomassi- “1st Reunion”- Another YouTube find that showcases three different talents of percussion, bass and saxophone.
34-Rigo y su Obra Maestra- “Universe”- an artist known primarily for his Salsa CD’ s introduces us to his jazz side.
35-The Havana Cuban Boys- “Siempre Cuba”- Another Envidia production that features the piano/label owner Luis Dominguez, as leader, with JJ Oliveros, Jesus A. Chappottin ‘El Niño’, Nicolas Sirgado (primary arranger), Ulises Benavides and some of Cuba’s finest percussionists.
Top Latin Jazz Tracks of 2021
1-Papo Vazquez Mighty Pirate Trobadours- “New York Latin Jazz”
2-Victor Rendon Bronx Conexion Latin Jazz Big Band- “Mambo Boulevard”
3-Oscar Hernandez & Alma Libre- “Vision”
4-Willy Calderon & The LA Impromptu Orchestra- “Mr. Magic”
5-Marlow Rosado- “Justicia Maestra (Homenaje a Eddie Palemieri)”
6-The Echo Park Project- “En Camino”
7-Carlos Henriquez- “The South Bronx”
8-La Banda Ramirez- “Rumbero Siempre”
9-Ruben Blades & Roberto Delgado Orchestra- “Mambo Gil”
10-Charlie Sepulveda & The Turnaround Ft. Randy Brecker- “Liberty”
11-Victor Rendon Bronx Conexion Latin Jazz Big Band- “Aguacero”
12-Humberto Ramirez- “Pipo’s Special”
14-Nettai Tropical Jazz Big Band- “Yardbird Suite”
15-Edilio Bermudez- “Mambisimo”
16-Alonso Gonzalez & Jazz Latino- “Encuentro En Hong Kong”
17-Rey Monrouzeau- “Tokempami”
18-Angel Melendez X Big Band Maquina- “Naima”
19-CSAN-II- “Co-bop Alert”
20-Jorge Emilio Fadul- “Mambo Turquesa”
21-Chiqui Rojas, Yuri Daniel, Glenn Tomassi- “Night In Tunisia”
22-Juan Pablo Barrios Salsa Latin Jazz- “Ramon’s Sunday”
23-Rayko Leon Quartet & Carlos Aleman- “De Brandemburgo a Canarias”
24-Truth Revolution Recording Collective- “The Firebird V-Infernal Dance”
25-Miguel De Armas Quartet- “It Meant Something Else”
26-Tito Puente Jr.- “Hong Kong Mambo”
27-La Banda Ramirez- “Is”
28-Willy Calderon & The LA Impromptu Orchestra – “Moanin”
29-Michael Eckroth Group- “And So It Goes”
30-The Latin Heartbeat Orchestra- “Rivington Street”
31-Alfredo Naranjo- “Especial”
32-Charlie Sepulveda & The Turnaround- “Firm Roots”
33-Orquesta Akokan- “Orchidea”
34-Clare Foster- “I Only Have Eyes For You”
35-Denis Kaverneier- “Salsa Carlos”
36-Victor Rendon Bronx Conexion Latin Jazz Big Bang- “El Chocante”
37-Nelson Riveros- “Four On Six”
39-Carlos Henriquez- “Fort Apache”
40-Carlos Jimenez Mambo Dulcet- “Mambo Terrifico II”
41-Oscar Hernandez & Alma Libre- “Chick Forever”
42-Michael Olivera & Cuban Jazz Syndicate- “Saudade”
43-Mansforell- “Dizzy Rumba”
44-Orquesta De La Luz- “Azucar Mambo”
45-Pete Escovedo- “Africa”
46-Noel Quintana & The Latin Crew- “Annalinda’s Mambo”
47-Gerardo Rosales- “La Gaita De Paris”
48-Ray Obiedo- “Criss Cross”
49-Jorge Emilio Fadul Ft. Sally Station- “Embraceable You”
51-Pedro Pablo Cuban Jazz Sextet- “Tumbao No. 5”
52-Reinier Bonachea- “Primicia”
53-Carlos Miyares- “Estela Va A Estrallar”
54-Songon- “Tema De Maria Cervantes”
55-The Echo Park project- “Monktuneando”
56-Arturo O’Farrill & The Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra- “Carambola”
57-Pepito Montes Conjunto- “Superstition”
58-Yuvinsely Aguilar- “Guajea”
59-Sonora Ponceña- “Caminando Con Mi Papa”
60-Tito Puente Jr. Ft. Humberto Ramirez- “Picadillo”
61-VibraSon- “Xuyo” (Live)
62-Alfredo Naranjo Ft. Robert Vilera- “Imaginacion y Resguardo”
63-Truth Revolution Recording Collective- “Adagio In F Minor”
64-Humberto Ramirez- “Fiesta Mood”
65-Joel Uriola- “Testing”
66-Jose Luis Mateo- “Expresion”
67-The Havana Cuban Boys- “La Comparsa”
68-Luis Cuan & LC Project- “Moviendo Elemento”
69-Jose Aguirre Cali Big Band- “Caleño Style”
70-Proyecto Acustico- “Mambo Mania”
71-CSAN-II- “Descarga Guaracha”
72-Marlow Rosado Ft. Chucho Valdes- “Marlow Y Chucho”
73-Nelson Riveros- “Jingles”
74-Arturo O’Farrill & The Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra- “Asia Minor”
75-Alex Conde- “Tempus Fugit”
76-Sabrina Estepan Ft. Ernan Lopez Nussa- “Mi Piel Es Tuya”
78-Alonso Gonzalez & Jazz Latino- “Our Latin World”
79-The Echo Park Project- “It’s My Turn”
80-Charlie Sepulveda & The Turnaround- “Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White”
82-Nene Vazquez- “La Bodega De Victoria”
83-Victor Rendon Bronx Conexion Latin Jazz Big Band- “Chale”
84-Julio Cortes y su Corte- “La Corte”
85-The Latin Heartbeat Orchestra- “I’ll Get Back to You Tomorrow”
86-Alexandra Alban- “Frankie Doodle”
87-Ray Obiedo- “Beatnik”
88-Rigo y su Obra Maestra- “Brillante”
89-Nelson Riveros- “Tear It Down”
90-Gregori Hollis- “Pluja E’ Estiu”
91-Los Muñequitos De Matanzas & Alejandro Falcon- “Monk En Pueblo Nuevo”
92-Carlos Henriquez- “Boro of Fire”
93-Yuvisney Aguilar- “A Orilla Del Rio”
94-Rodney Barretto Ft. Ernan Lopez Nussa- “Cuban WiFi”
95-Eduardo Sandoval- “Fuego En El 23”
96-La Maxima 79- “Phyra”
97-Arturo O’Farrill & The Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra- “Samba For Carmen”
98-Marlow Rosado- “Moments That Matter”
99-Ralph Peterson- “Blue Hughes”
100-Pedro Pablo Cuban Jazz Sextet- “Cheek To Cheek”