Friday, September 23, 2011

The Rythmic Joy of Sammy Figueroa and his Latin Jazz Explosion on Urban Nature

Sammy Figueroa’s Latin Jazz Explosion

Urban Nature Sen-1001

Senator Entertainment SEN-1001
Recorded at After Hours Music, North Miami , Florida 2011

Sammy Figueroa is one of the music’s foremost percussionists. He is presently on tour with the great Sonny Rollins and has lent his infectious smile and stirring rhythmic sounds to the works of Miles Davis, Herbie Mann, the Brecker Brothers and pop stars from Blondie to Chaka Kahn.  

Originally from the Bronx, New York he relocated to Miami 2001 where he continued to be a first call sideman, explored leading his own groups and started producing various other artists. In 2002 Sammy debuted his Latin Jazz Explosion and has been cultivating and refining the infectious sounds of this driving band ever since. 

Sammy Figueroa photo by Jaime Rivera
On his latest effort Urban Nature, Figueroa bolts out of the gate with the opening number “Gufillo”. where his front line of John Michalak on saxophone and Alex Pope Norris on trumpet belt out the head in powerful unison. Pianist Silvano Monasterios takes flight on his driving piano solo and Figueroa is in constant motion as he and Negroni keep the pace filled with rhythmic drive. Trumpeter Norris takes a nice muted solo while Figueroa’s sure hands push the underlying pulse relentlessly forward.

On the title rack “Urban Nature” the clave driven beat is the perfect back drop for a floating soprano solo by Michalak. Montasterios is a creative improviser on the ivories as he does not let the clave beat confine his explorations to Latin inspired riffs. North and Michalak punctuate their lines in perfect sync like two front line horns who can intuit each other’s minds.

On “Latin What” we are treated to the piano of Mike Orta and the seriously hot tenor of Ed Calle.  After a soaring trumpet solo by North, Calle enters the fray. He lets loose with a fiery burst of biting energy. His sound is edgy and aggressive and his playing is joyously raspy and uncensored as he employs a fluttering, double-tongued technique that would be almost comical if he didn’t pull it off so well in context. His solo roars and is the highlight of the album. Orta offers a flowing and lyrical solo of his own making, as Jose Gregorio Hernandez joins Figueroa on percussion.

Monasterios’s beautiful piano work on his self-composed “Zuliana” is perhaps the most poignant cut on the album. Gabriel Vivas’s bass and Figueroa’s percussive sounds subtly add to the dreamy sound as Montasterio weaves his poetic spell. This fine pianist can also be heard in greater detail on his recent release Unconditional, which received well deserved recognition.

 “7th Door to the Left” is another Monasterios composition. Michalak is again on soprano with he and North weaving through the complex line over Figueroa’s percussive drive.

 To do it justice, “Cuco y Olga” needs to be danced to. The promotional notes that came with my copy of the album indicate this song  is a tribute to the late great conguero Mongo Santamaria. “Cha Cha Pa Ti” has a cinematic quality that seems to capture the various pulses that represent the neighborhoods of Sammy’s Miami.
“Queen from the South” is a slow, sensuous tribute by Montaserios to a beautiful woman.  Michalak’s alto solo is appropriately sinewy and sultry and his best work on the album. The pianist’s touch is gentle and evocative of a lingering longing for a special lady.

The final cut on the album is titled “Funny Talk”, a composition by bassist Vivas that is purportedly a reference to Sammy’s jovial disposition.The album is strongest through the first four songs, but with
Urban Nature Sammy Figuero and his Latin Explosion continue to make their mark in the canon of Latin jazz. Figueroa's infectious rhythms and his obvious joyful countenance drive the music to emotional heights. 

Musicians: Sammy Figueroa, percussion; Silvano Montasterios, piano; Gabriel Vivas, acoustic bass; John Michalak, saxophones; Alexander Pope Norris, trumpet; Nomar Negroni, drums; Ed Calle; tenor sax on track 3; Mike Orta, piano on track 3 ; Jose Gregorio Hernandez,  percussion on track 3.

1 comment:

  1. Ram,
    Good piece on an obvious first seat in the Latin contribution to jazz and my favorite percussion.