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By Raul da Gama

From Latin Jazz Network
Afro-Bop Alliance Big Band,Revelation (OA2)
The relatively small, yet deeply rewarding output of the Afro Bop Alliance Big Band is skillfully wrought, thoroughly idiomatic, inventive and communicative on every level and it is not surprising that each album finds favour with audiences and students of big band music. Moreover the music’s variety of mood, conception and sheer exuberance is a moving feast for the inner ear. Revelation, like all its predecessors, is ravishing kaleidoscope of music with crashing contrasts of volume and dynamics (the percussion-heavy scoring is enhanced here by the glorious beauty of a quartet of steel pans). Revelation is worth every penny one would pay for it.

The recording begins with ‘CuBop’, an apocalyptic shout and show-opener that calls for setting the musical bar very high indeed. Fortunately all of the musicians involved are seasoned, technically commanding and musically insightful virtuosos who go well beyond merely playing the notes. From here onwards it’s all a series of dramatic musical peaks and no troughs of course. Musicians capture both the music’s extemporaneous sensibility and sudden theatrical crests. Each performer is clearly heard giving it his and her all – thanks, in no small way, to gorgeously spacious and clean engineering by Bob Dawson. Of course, here is leadership of the very highest order by drummer Joe McCarthy as well as conductor (on three tracks) Roland Vazquez. All of their efforts would come to naught were it not for individual performances – both solo and ensemble – of tremendous style and authority.

It is surely a well-known fact that Victor Provost has added a wonderful dimension to this big band. His two strategically-placed compositions, namely ‘Magharibi’ and ‘Soufriere’, display his mature writing style and how this is energetically intertwined into the repertoire of the ensemble. Provost’s extraordinary colouristic palette particularly comes alive in ‘Magharibi’ where the quartet of pans create tones and textures that are meticulously gauged and balanced not just for the individual players but also for the entire band.

 

The album comprises of five other compositions. Each is arranged to fit the warm, closely detailed sound of the Afro Bop Alliance Big Band and each features articulate performances by the musicians on this intense recording made all the more enduring thanks to the brilliantly aggressive, evanescent musical onslaught and refined flexibility from start to finish.

BY BRIAN ZIMMERMAN

From DownBeat Magazine
Afro-Bop Alliance Big Band,Revelation (OA2)
There’s a grand precedent for Afro-Cuban big band jazz. If the genre had a Hall of Fame, it would be stocked with vivacious, exuberant figures: Machito’s Afro-Cubans, Dizzy Gillespie’s Big Band, Tito Puente. As Afro-Cuban big bands of today aim to extend this genre’s great legacy, their success depends largely on how these ensembles define themselves against existing tropes. The Afro-Bop Alliance Big Band, captained by drummer Joe McCarthy, occupies a singular spot in the timeline of Afro-Cuban ensembles, at once a torchbearer of the genre’s storied history and also one of its fiercest innovators. McCarthy—a Washington, D.C.-based percussionist and vault of Afro-Cuban musical scholarship—conceived his Alliance ensemble as a septet, and over the course of five recordings has gradually expanded the group into a big band. The larger profile hasn’t affected the band’s agility, given how easily McCarthy maneuvered the ensemble into the critical spotlight, winning a Latin Grammy in 2008. For Revelation, the Alliance’s sixth release, McCarthy enlarges the ensemble’s sonic footprint once more, adding four steel-pan drummers. The broad swath of textures only enhances the album’s already vibrant sound collage, which was assembled from compositions by the bandleader and longtime associates Vince Norman (who also contributes lively alto and soprano saxophone) and Luis Hernandez (who supplies a sturdy yet sinuous tenor). In the writing and execution, one hears a refreshing equilibrium between the Latin rhythms of Chano Pozo and Irakere and the harmonic density of modern jazz. This is music that would be equally at home on the beaches of Havana as in the nightclubs of Manhattan. Rattling Cuban rhythms and colorful jazz harmonies are the twin engines that keep this album in motion, and McCarthy and company demonstrate expert control. The meticulously executed “CuBop” and undulating “Magharibi” wear their Afro-Cuban heritage on their sleeve, while others derive vigor from their proximity to other big band traditions. “No Rest For The Bones Of The Dead” courts the anthemic large ensemble sound of the 1970s, and “Dialed In,” with its rumbling percussion and spiky horn arrangements, skirts thrillingly close to Mingus territory. Danceable Afro-Cuban rhythms and cerebral jazz arrangements—that’s a strong alliance, indeed.



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