Various Artists

Ritmo de la Noche/Rhythm of the Night: The Very Best of Latin Jazz

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"The Very Best of Latin Jazz" is a concept that could fill a box set, even if you limited it to just the Columbia vaults, as this single-disc anthology does. This survey -- maybe it's not meant to be all-encompassing, but they bring that onus upon themselves by using the title "The Very Best of Latin Jazz" -- has shortcomings for those looking for something even basically along those lines. First, although several major names are represented in this 16-song collection, not all of them are captured at their peaks. Mongo Santamaria's "Watermelon Man" was seminal, but this is a 1965 version, not his 1963 Top Ten hit single recording. Astrud Gilberto is heard in a cut from a 1971 album with Stanley Turrentine, instead of via a sample of her 1960s prime. Stan Getz's "Eu Vim da Bahia" is likewise of a too-late vintage, 1974. Also, however, there are a number of songs by artists that are more crossovers into Latin jazz than they are performances by thoroughbred Latin jazz artists, including selections by Hank Crawford, Stanley Turrentine, Al DiMeola, and Santana (whose "Samba de Sausalito" is admittedly one of the better songs). That's something that should be welcomed as part of such an anthology, but not when earlier Latin jazz pioneers like Xavier Cugat and Machito -- both, curiously enough, honored with fine Columbia/Legacy compilations at the same time of this release -- don't appear on this disc at all. But most importantly, too much of this is poppy, fusiony Latin jazz crossover. It might sound like the carping of an old fuddy-dud, but generally the later the year, the less interesting the performance, and there are several post-early-'70s outings here. There are just too few cuts here that are a gas to hear, as the best of Latin jazz should be, like Herbie Mann's "Senor Blues" and Cachao's "A Gozar Con Mi Combo."

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