Rock fans know him for his work with David Bowie and the Average White Band, jazz fans from moments alongside Miles Davis and Sonny Rollins (they're on tour now), soul and pop fans from turns with Chaka Khan and Mariah Carey. But Sammy Figueroa's real passion, this record makes clear is Latin jazz.
A move from New York City, where he was long a first-call percussionist, to South Florida sparked this career turn. The stark contrast of those two environs is writ large on the album cover, which features a photo shot in motion on the causeway between Miami Beach and the mainland. Clouds skitter above a shotgun row of palm trees, with the neon city vibrating along either side.
There's a similar sense of quickly glimpsed beauty across Urban Nature, from the onomatopoeic cha-chas found on the title track and Cha Cha Pa' Ti"; to the love-struck balladry of Queen from the South"; to bouyant, funny asides like Latin What?"; through to the curling journey that is 7th Door on Your Left," performed in an intriguing 7/8 meter. The band even takes a moment for a rumbling reprise of Cuco y Olga," originally made into a classic by Mongo Santamaria.
Yet for all of his album's rapid-fire bursts of information, for all of these dense harmonics that neatly mimic the busy clutter of a city street, Figueroa maintains a personable, inviting rhythmic flow. He's got the wheel, and he knows just where to go.
The Latin Jazz Explosion features the pianist Silvano Monasterios and fellow Venezuela product Gabriel Vivas on bass, as well as Alex Pope Norris on trumpet, saxophonist John Michalak and the young Puerto Rican drummer Nomar Negroni. Composer/arrangers Silvano Monasterios and Gabriel Vivas wrote seven of the nine piece specifically for this project. Urban Nature is Figueroa's third recording with this Grammy-nominated band, and his debut on Senator Records, an imprint created for Figueroa by Berlin's Senator Entertainment and Ashé Records. Special guests include Ed Calle on sax (who adds an impish joy to Latin What?"), Mike Orta on piano and Venezuelan percussionist José Gregorio Hernandez.