Bobby Matos' Footprints is one of the finest Latin jazz releases of the '90s, a period where many players either delved so deeply into traditional Afro-Cuban and Latin dance forms that they forgot the jazz side of the equation or (more often) took "jazz" to mean "inoffensive elevator music." A straight-ahead Latin jazz album in the tradition of Tito Puente or Machito, 1996's Footprints does an outstanding job of bringing the Latin jazz tradition back to prominence, but it's no mere Wynton Marsalis-style hidebound traditionalism. This is sublimely loose and frisky, richly alive music. On Latin reinterpretations of jazz standards like Wayne Shorter's title track or John Coltrane's immortal "Naima," Matos and crew do more than simply add a conga rhythm to a familiar melody line; the group's push-pull rhythm section, led by Matos' remarkably fluid conga and timbale playing, gooses the soloists, particularly tenor saxophonists Louis Taylor and Mike Turre, into exciting new melodic explorations. Originals like the mesmerizing "Oferere" are even stronger, melding hypnotic polyrhythms with loose, searching horn and reed solos. Magnificent stuff.
by Stewart Mason