The aesthetic posture of Latin Jazz Underground, the latest album from flautist Mark Weinstein, can be best described by the title of its seventh track, a Sam Rivers composition called “Mellifluous Cacophony.” Working with Cuban pianist/composer/arranger Aruán Ortiz, he has produced an album than blends Latin jazz elements with free jazz concepts in a genre bending musical exploration. Of course, if the choice of a Sam Rivers composition doesn’t indicate something about where the album is going, the addition of Ornette Coleman’s “Open or Close” and Andrew Hill’s “For Emilio” leaves no doubt.
In a sense what you get on Latin Jazz Underground is free jazz-lite, enough free play to foster invention, but not so much that you turn off the less adventurous listener.
Weinstein and Ortiz are complemented on the Latin end by Rashaan Carter on bass and Román Diaz on percussion, while drummer Gerald Cleaver adds most of the free jazz cred. It is a combination that works well. From the opening track, Ortiz’s “Gregorio’s Mood” to the last piece, Weinstein’s “Mark’s Last Tune,” the ensemble works to establish an original musical conversation.
They take a classic like “Nature Boy” and set its haunting melody against a free roaming piano backed by inventive percussion. In a sense their version manages to blend the familiar with enough of the unfamiliar to wind up with an exciting new way to look at the tune. When you see names like Coleman, Rivers, and Hill, you expect to hear something adventurous, “Nature Boy,” not so much. “Nature Boy” is a surprise—a good one as it turns out.
As Weinstein says in the liner notes: “What I wanted to do with this album is to show that you could really stretch the boundaries while holding onto the Afro-Cuban core.” Free jazz purists and Afro-Cuban purists may object to what they see as an attempt to mix oil and water. Those of us less doctrinaire about genre correctness, especially those who don’t quite get the whole free jazz vibe, will find the fusion much more to their taste.[amazon template=iframe image&chan=default&asin=B00ITT1CRO]