Sammy Figueroa / Sammy Figueroa & His Latin Jazz Explosion

Urban Nature

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If you're not very familiar with Sammy Figueroa's work, you may wish to try an experiment with this album, listening carefully to see if you can guess what his instrument is. Given a medium-sized combo, which instrument seems to take center stage? The answer: it's impossible to guess, which says something about Figueroa's maturity as a leader. It's also startling to see how small his forces really are: this sextet sounds like a big band. (Spoiler alert: as it turns out, he's a percussionist.) It also says something about him that the term "Explosion" applies poorly to his band. There are no pyrotechnics here, no crazy tempos or wildly layered "where's the downbeat" rhythms. But there are some very impressive horn charts (check out "Cha Cha Pa' Ti" and the lovely "Cuco y Olga"), alongside some of the sweetest and tenderest ballads to show up on a jazz album of any genre in recent years -- "Queen from the South" and "Zuliana" being top examples; for a percussionist acting as bandleader to give this kind of affectionate, sustained attention to compositions that make only subdued use of his talents is yet more evidence of Figueroa's taste and maturity. Here's hoping Figueroa keeps stepping out in this vein.

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