The hot chick on the album cover with the blond hair holding a cigar really has nothing to do with the feisty, multifaceted jazz whirlwind created by veteran percussionist Gumbi Ortiz, but along with the neon flamingo, it beautifully represents the ultra-hipness of this shimmering, joyfully eclectic collection. Have congas, will travel -- that pretty much defines funky and frenetic world of Ortiz, who brings his rich Puerto Rican/Cuban heritage and a lifetime of eclectic musical influences and experiences -- from jazz fusion, pop and funk to retro-soul, samba and even a hint of Irish jig -- to Miami. Renowned throughout the world for his nonstop tours over the past 19 years with fusion guitar legend Al DiMeola, the charismatic conguero gathered a powerful ensemble of jazz greats in fashioning a multicultural tribute to the New York native's adopted home state of Florida, where he has lived since 1980. The first two tracks perfectly capture Ortiz's multiple music sensibilities. The sizzling "South Beach" begins with a lighthearted Brandon Fields flute solo and a laid-back Latin groove before evolving into a wacky, way out jazz free for all (highlighted by Walt Fowler's brash flugelhorn solo). The Jeff Lorber-produced, smooth jazz friendly "T-Back" captures Ortiz's spirited pop side. That smooth side comes out again on "In the Groove" (featuring Jay Beckenstein) but in the middle are some serious fusion excursions that will please everyone who loves "real jazz" and can't stand the pop stuff. There are also a few irresistibly seductive nods to what Ortiz calls "the Herbie Hancock funk thing," some tasty samba excursions, a touch of retro-soul and even a taste of gospel. Whether he's going wild and banging his congas on free-form jazz jams, showing his mastery of more subtle rhythmic nuances, or simply supporting the rhythm section behind more straightforward melodies, Ortiz proves to be an incredible lead performer in his own right.
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AllMusic Review by Jonathan Widran