Few jazz musicians did more to introduce American audiences to the Latin-jazz fusion than flutist Herbie Mann, whose pop crossovers -- a generous soul would describe them as "easy to digest" -- were heard by many more listeners than the work of artistic innovators like Machito or Antonio Carlos Jobim. Though he wasn't exactly a trailblazer, Mann recorded a lot of exemplary music, and two of his earliest and most vital dates are heard on Afro-Jazziac Bop, a 2003 compilation released by Fuel 2000. (The same items also appear on a 1999 Entertainers collection titled Brazilian Soft Shoe.) Comprising a pair of co-billed LPs recorded just before he formed his Afro-Jazz Sextet in 1959, the disc includes music originally heard on the 1959 Roulette LP Machito With Flute to Boot and the 1958 Mode LP Flute Fraternity (with Buddy Collette). For the first, Mann is featured in front of Machito's Orchestra, with the addition of Johnny Griffin on tenor and Curtis Fuller on trombone. His jaunty solos fit in well with Machito's stately swing, while the titles alternate boppish experiments ("To Birdland and Hurry") with evocative overseas postcards ("African Flute," "Calypso John"). The other session is a slim and limber West Coast date, featuring Mann and fellow reed player Collette playfully trading solos -- in fact, "Herbie's Buddy" has them interacting first on flute, then tenor, then clarinet. Taken together, the two sets heard on Afro-Jazziac Bop don't equal his Savoy work of the same time, but both of them equal or go beyond his more popular Atlantic records.
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AllMusic Review by John Bush