The Afro Bop Alliance, based in Annapolis MD, is an energetic big band specializing in contemporary approaches to the rhythms of Latin American music with a strong jazz emphasis. Led by drummer Joe McCarthy, the group won a Latin Grammy Award in 2008 for their release with Vibraphonist Dave Samuels and the Caribbean Jazz Project. The alliance is poised to garner further acclaim with its latest project, UNA MÁS
, a well-conceived session full of first-rate playing and unconventional material.
Saxophonist Vince Norman handles the arranging duties for the orchestra and manages to find a satisfying balance between showcasing the entire band and leaving enough breathing room for small group interplay. The arrangements are both clever and accessible, featuring interesting twists, such as the odd-metered rendition of Benny Golson's "Along Came Betty" that somehow manages to come across as danceable. Norman's own composition "El Otoño," has a Brazilian-type feel with a syncopated catchiness to the melody. Here, Luis Hernandez contributes one of many exceptional tenor saxophone solos heard throughout the disc.
Bassist Mike Pope's "The Avid Listener" and "Luis Perdomo's "Golpe de Cumaco" stand out as extraordinary. Both feature the unrelenting drive of the rhythm section, featuring McCarthy, Pope, percussionist Roberto Quintero, pianist Harry Appleman and guitarist Jim Roberts. Samuels comes aboard for a handful of tracks with outstanding solo work and contributes one of his own tunes, "Cherry Blossom," a lush 7/4 bossa nova featuring the melodic prowess of Pope's electric bass and a well-balanced string ensemble.