Latin jazz is a popular and easily defined genre, as is contemporary jazz, but you seldom see the two as skillfully combined as they are on a new release from Peak Records (Concord), Tequila Moon. It showcases the talented saxophonist Jessy J, who not only basks in the spotlight as lead instrumentalist, but also adds some nice vocalizations.
Jessy J (Jessica Spinella) began as a piano prodigy, spending years studying, performing, and winning musical competitions, but later switched to sax, a move that led to her career as a jazz professional. Although still just in her twenties, she's put together an impressive resume that includes playing behind everyone from Michael Bublé to Michael Bolton, and even an appearance in an off-Broadway musical.
Jessy eventually gained major notice as a part of contemporary jazz icon Paul Brown's group, and the veteran guitarist is himself deeply involved in this album, not only co-writing several of the pieces with Jessy but also acting as producer. He also provides some nice guitar play, but mostly just offers backup and support, letting Jessy take center stage.
She doesn't disappoint. Backed by Brown and a few other pros, including keyboardists Ricky Peterson and Gregg Karukas, Roberto Vally on bass, and Sergio Gonzalez on percussion, Jessy shows a real affinity for Latin jazz. It's not surprising since she grew up in a house filled with Latin music, and considers it a vital part of her Mexican-American heritage.
The title tune was released for radio play in January and has been climbing the request charts since then. (Free download from Concord.) It's a good choice to open the album because it sets a lush and dreamy mood, and quickly establishes Jessy's smooth, low-toned tenor sax style, as she effortlessly carries the melody while still finding room to improvise.