This music suggests that the robust health for one of the longest and most enduring musical influences in Jazz is in good hands. The good 'doctor' in charge of the check-up is none other than the celebrated composer, arranger and producer Oscar Hernández whose other full time job is as pianist of the equally celebrated Spanish Harlem Orchestra. As always, Oscar Hernández brings an elegant swing to the ten pieces of music on The Art of Latin Jazz
with its expansive title track making for an assertive an impressively varied work in tonal colour and drama.
Warmth and an emphasis on smoothly flowing lines never seem to deprive this music of its polyrhythmic attack. "The Art of Latin Jazz", the song, that is, provides an exceptionally eloquent leap-off point for the majestic lyricism of the melodies and the soaring improvisations that follow. It's an immensely exciting start to a recording that has you on the edge of your seat. Primary colours abound in the seemingly orchestral texture provided by Justo Almario together with Gilbert Castellanos (when he is called in) and, of course, always by the fierce 'tumbao' of Oscar Hernández.
It is always heartening to hear Oscar Hernández play piano outside of The Spanish Harlem Orchestra where he often defers to the many (orchestral) elements of the music written for that larger ensemble. But here, on The Art of Latin Jazz there is ample opportunity for him to shine. In sheer colour and variety, in the depth of characterization and the exceptional range and refinement of his playing, Oscar Hernández here imparts a powerful stature to pieces such as "Danzón Para las Seis", "ESPN Blues", "Fort Apache" and, of course "Como Te Amo" and "Alma Libre".
Justo Almario, a musician of immense character brings grand artistic gestures to the solos - especially in "Alma Libre" - always imbuing the music with poetic beauty, requisite lightness and transparent texture whether he is playing tenor or alto saxophone, or flute. When Castellanos joins in the festivities, Almario always keeps his fire in control, with a carving flame of his own. Often made to lead the charge into the uncharted territory of this new music is Jimmy Branly, a drummer of immense capability not only for music, but also blessed with an ear for the total impact of 'sound'.
Jimmy Branly steadies the forward momentum of the music with Christian Moraga and conguero and percussionist Jorge "Sawa" Perez. Listen to "Alma Libre" for a complete survey of this rhythm section with its masterful performance, which ends this recording with a profoundly moving rhythmic document. The high level of 'listening' by these rhythmists to the music of Oscar Hernández informs the very high level of performance that gives new meaning to The Art of Latin Jazz.