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Album of the Week: Many Moods, Yolanda Duke with the Tito Puente Orchestra

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Many Moods
Yolanda Duke With The Tito Puente Orchestra
Amigos Music & Marketing

Latin Jazz is a music that simultaneously touches upon the past, present, and future, a triangle that is often hard to manage. The past set the foundation for the style, and as a result, young musicians need to do a comprehensive study of the music's history. The influence and knowledge that comes from this study allows them to move forward, but totally accurate recreations of past musical statements often escape the younger generation. They simply didn't experience the music at it's prime and they rarely capture the true soul and essence of the era. As a result, the present becomes a bit of a contradiction with young musicians trying to push the music into a future based upon their knowledge of a past that they can't quite capture. More experienced musicians hold the key to this classic performance sound, and when our greater society values their work, they have sufficient opportunity to pass on their knowledge. All too often, popular culture looks towards the latest fad though, leaving these musicians with rare performance opportunities. This unfortunate fact robs a younger generation of a chance to learn and keeps the world blind to the music of the masters. In the end, this convoluted situation stunts the music's growth, leaving the genre with a questionable future. Vocalist Yolanda Duke supports the past, present, and future of the music with the able help of the former Tito Puente Orchestra on Many Moods, showing the inherent power of big band Latin Jazz in the hands of masters.

Placing Jazz Roots Over Latin Rhythms

Duke reaches into the Tito Puente Orchestra's jazz roots with several interpretations of jazz standards, placed over Latin rhythms. The Puente Orchestra screams into a hard hitting up-tempo arrangement of Cole Porter's “What Is This Thing Called Love," framing Duke's powerful vocal with lush harmonies and tight rhythmic hits. As thick string patches float over a ferocious rhythm section groove, trumpet player John Walsh deftly twists jazz inflected melodies around the clave. Duke returns with a strong second reading of the melody, sending the band into a wild mambo that sends the band flying towards a climax. Sharp rhythmic hits give way into interlocking melodies over a steady cha cha cha on “They Can't Take That Away From Me," leading into a cleverly interpreted version of the Gershwin lyrics from Duke. A quick interlude leads into a lyrical flute solo from Bobby Porcelli, who spins memorable lines around the unstoppable rhythmic groove. The band shines in a smartly arranged shout section that inspires a clever performance from Duke, who revisits the melody with class and energy. Brash attacks from the full band launch the groove into a strutting cha cha cha on “Blue Moon," leaving Duke to skillfully present a personalized version of the melody. The band falls into a laid back swing behind tenor saxophonist Mitch Frohman, whose smoky tone and relaxed phrasing recalls classic big band performance. Upon her return, Duke grabs the band and leads it through switches between cha cha cha and swing with a confident vocal performance. A bombastic bass foundation powers beneath an up-tempo vamp from the horns over a son montuno on “That Old Black Magic," until Duke puts a fun twist on the Harold Arlen classic, singing the lyrics in Spanish. Alto saxophonist Bobby Porcelli explodes into a furious stream of bop flavored lines and Afro-Cuban phrasing, delivering an unforgettable solo. Duke opens into an enthusiastic pregon over a quick coro, pushing the arrangement into an unstoppable momentum as she returns to the melody. These pieces provide Duke and the Orchestra with some serious jazz credential, as they show their intimate familiarity with standards alongside their ability to navigate the clave with ease.

Digging Deeply Into The Greater World Of Latin Music

Duke also leans into the traditional world of Latin music with several numbers that reflect the mambo era roots of salsa. Images of Palladium era performances comes to the forefront as the band tears into “La Peleona," setting up enthusiastic performances from Duke and guest vocalist Jose “El Canario" Alberto. Repeated coros provide the opportunity for both Duke and Alberto to jump into inspired pregones, demonstrating their ability to spontaneously create clave shaped phrases. The band sends this track to amazing heights, supporting Duke and Alberto with an addictive rhythmic drive and leaping into exciting mambos that push the groove to awe-inspiring limits. The winds blanket a relaxed bolero with lush harmonies, established a broad setting for a collection of legendary songs on “Marta Silva's Medley." Duke obviously holds a close connection to these pieces, interpreting the Puerto Rican composer's pieces with a personal touch that resonates brightly within the recording. Arranger Ray Santos works magic on this collection, alternating the band between a broad supporting role and shifting them into the spotlight with gently phrased melodies and sweeping dynamics. A dramatic string introduction sets a somber mood on “Oh God! I Love You," transitioning into a intimately exposed duet between Duke and pianist Sonny Bravo. As Bravo brings the introduction to a close, the band explodes into a driving son montuno that establishes a dance vibe behind Duke's English lyric. Flying string passages dart between heavy horn hits as Duke performs the melody with stylistic flair, ending the piece with a powerful series of pregones. Duke and the group confidently display their roots on these tracks, showing the full spectrum of Latin music, from lush boleros to driving dance tracks.

Bridging The Gap Between Jazz And Latin Dance Music

Duke bridges the gap between the two worlds with several pieces that combine elements of both jazz and Latin dance music. The band struts into a screaming blues introduction on “Misty" as Duke comfortably place the familiar Errol Garner melody over a relaxed swing melody. Trombonist Sam Burtis displays some serious swing chops on his improvisation, hitting every edge of his register as he flies through the changes. The band provides carefully placed hits as Duke revisits the melody with a keen sense of swing and creative phrasing. Duke and the orchestra place a jazz spin on the classic Puerto Rican composer Rafael Hernandez's piece “Muchos Besos," filling out the song with colorful harmonies. The smart arrangement from José Madera stretches the limits of the song and in turn pushes Duke into an impassioned melodic reading. This piece serves as a deserved feature for Duke, but the band simply shines underneath her performance, skillfully outlining rich harmonies. The woodwinds slide between long brass chords as the rhythm section walks through a medium tempo swing on Cole Porter's “I've Got You Under My Skin," leading into Duke's coyly relaxed interpretation of the familiar tune. A hard swinging shout section sends the band charging into a double time rumba, where conguero George Delgado explodes into a virtuosic solo. As Duke revisits the melody, the band playfully rides between swing and double time rumba, encouraging subtle twists in Duke's performance. Duke and the Orchestra emerge from these pieces as a group that easily walks between musical contexts with professionalism, soul, and skill.

Carrying A Classic Sound Into The Future

Duke and the former Tito Puente Orchestra storm through Many Moodswith an overwhelmingly appealing flair, showing the power sitting in these musical masters. Duke performs with a commanding presence throughout the album, maintaining her distinct identity through many different settings. She stands apart as one of the few vocalists with the power and clave insight to truly fuel an authentic Afro-Cuban context while maintaining the subtleties and flavor of jazz. Duke's strong talent shines consistently throughout the album, but a massive star burns behind her. The untouchable arrangements and incredible band not only supports Duke, but steals the show with their classic sense of drive, taste, and momentum. The great contributions of arrangers Madera, Hernandez, Santos, and more really feed the band a sense of classic mambo era Latin Jazz. In addition, the string arrangements beautifully complement the overall big band charts, acting as another section of the mambo big band orchestra. The band plays these charts with an authentic flavor that simply can't be matched. These musicians had significant contact with Puente for years, and many of them played with Machito and Tito Rodriguez. The collaboration between Duke and the Puente Orchestra on Many Moodsholds massive potential, working in the present to carry a classic sound into the future.


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This story appears courtesy of The Latin Jazz Corner by Chip Boaz.
Copyright © 2014. All rights reserved.
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