Drummer Bobby Sanabria's big-band concept comes out of the Afro-Cuban bebop tradition pioneered by figures such as Dizzy Gillespie, Chano Pozo, Mario Bauzá, and Arsenio Rodriguez. This record, recorded live at New York's Birdland, boils over with energy and bop-infused creativity. After an opening incantation based on both Yoruba and Cuban prayer chants, the band tears into trumpeter Michael Philip Mossman's "Mosscode." The tune is pure Latin groove, but the harmonies come from "I Got Rhythm" and the horns quote signature bebop lines at every turn. Sanabria's solo toward the end is a killer.
Other bop-oriented highlights include Charlie Parker's "Donna Lee" and the Pozo/Gillespie classic "Manteca," the ultimate staple of Latin jazz repertoire. Taking the tempo down a few notches, the band delivers a smoky, funky version of the standard ballad "Angel Eyes," featuring the fire and finesse of tenor saxophonist Jay Collins.
Sanabria's compositions are "Olokún/Yemayá," a feverish workout in 5/4 time, and "Adios Mario," an up-tempo modal swing tune dedicated to Mario Bauzá. Trombonist Dr. Chris Washburne's "Nuyorican Son" is drenched in the sound and feel of New York salsa. But Sue Terry's "The Troubadours," a polyrhythmic feast for the ears, is the most ambitious and impressive tune of the set. The band's pianist, John di Martino, crafted the fabulous arrangement.
Other stellar soloists include trumpeter John Walsh, trombonist Dr. Chris Washburne, tenorist Peter Brainin, and altoist Karolina Strassmayer. There are also guest appearances by John Stubblefield and the legendary percussionist Candido. A fine example of the neo-traditionalist Afro-Cuban bebop form.