Everytime I think I've heard it all in terms of Latin Jazz in Big Band configurations along comes something new and different to dazzle and surprise me. Such was the case with the latest from Grammy-award winning drummer Joe McCarthy and saxophonist Vince Norman who co-lead the Afro Bop Alliance. Their forthcoming CD is entitled Revelation and it was just that as it moved my ears in new directions concerning Latin Big Band Jazz. One of the "kickers" this time is the inclusion of a Steel Pan section made up of four players which is voiced into the band's arrangements.
I am familiar with Jamaican-born pianist Monty Alexander's Ivory and Steel Band that included Othello Molineaux and Len "Boogsie" Sharpe on steel drums or "pans," if you will, but they were featured as virtuoso individual soloists. The Afro Bop Alliance also has a virtuoso steel pan soloist in Victor Provost but he also joins a steel pan section with three other steel drum players.
Besides the steel pan choir, the band's orchestrations are also given a different sonority thanks to the inclusion of alto flutes, bass clarinet and vibraphone, not to mention some tunes with five trumpet and five trombone brass section. Powerful is an understatement when it comes to the sound of this big band; overpowering may be more like it.
What is also remarkable about the Afro Bop Alliance Big Band is that it presents Latin Jazz in rarely heard odd time signatures [e.g. 12/8] and it does so in such a way as to make these unusual meters sound natural and effortless: like nobody's counting and everybody's just feeling the accents and grooving on them. It takes considerable skill to make all of this sound so easy and the high degree of musicianship on display in the Afro Bop Alliance makes these complexities sound natural and enforced.
If you like exciting, enthralling and swinging Big Band Latin Jazz, then you need look no farther than Revelation by the Afro Bop Alliance.