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Celebrating Latin jazz with some clever twists

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Pianist Joe Delaney spent most of his twenties living and working in the the U.S. Virgin Islands. During those eight years on St. Thomas back in the 1980s, he was also able to gig throughout the Caribbean and in South America, particularly Brazil. He soaked up the varied rhythms and flavors of Latin jazz.

While best known for playing straight-ahead swing and the twists and turns of bebop, we can credit those formative years in the Caribbean for the Massachusetts native's mastery of Latin jazz. That side of his musical palette was on vibrant display on Monday, January 8, in Port Charlotte, Florida, when Delaney performed with his Latin Caribbean All-Stars for the Charlotte County Jazz Society.

The band included Ricky Howard on guitar, Kevin Mauldin on bass, Chicky Diaz on congas, Tito Fabrelle on bongos, cowbell and other assorted percussion, and last-minute sub Juan Robles on timbales. The three-man percussion section blended intoxicating rhythms and accents without stepping on each other.

Delaney drew from the Latin jazz canon and updated two Great American Songbook standards with clever Latin treatments. He also has a knack for sneaking in snippets of other tunes into his solos, which happened several times during the night.

The opening set included explorations of two tunes by late West Coast composer/arranger Clare Fischer, the ballad-like bolero “Gaviota" and his cha cha “Morning," as well as the bolero “Besame Mucho." The latter, the most famous and most frequently recorded Mexican song, was a strong acoustic guitar feature for Howard. Paying tribute to other Latin jazz masters, Delaney & Co. played conguero Mongo Santamaria's classic “Afro Blue" then segued into Tito Puente's anthemic “Oye Como Va." The pianist's “Afro Blue" solo included a few bars of “These are a Few of My Favorite Things" from The Sound of Music.

The evening's tour de force was their performance of Jerome Kern's “All The Things You Are." Delaney opened with a pensive, straight-ahead run through the familiar standard melody, shifted into a bebop attack for the chorus, then turned on the clave as it shifted into a Latin burner. Instead of playing the so-called “rhythm changes" on which so much of jazz is built, Delaney changed rhythms on this one. The Latin portion began as a cha cha, then shifted into a fast jazz mambo.

In the second set, Delaney tipped his musical hat to trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie, who first popularized the intersection of jazz and Latin music. Gillespie's “A Night in Tunisia"(with Robles and Fabrelle trading instruments), became a solo spotlight for Mauldin, who is principal bassist of the Naples Philharmonic. His bass lines were solid as a rock all night long. Later in the set, the band explored Dizzy and Chano Pozo's “Soul Sauce (Guachi Guaro)" which was a1965 hit for Latin jazz vibes player Cal Tjader.

The closing set also dug into Herbie Hancock's “Watermelon Man," a Latin jazz staple popularized by Santamaria, a jazz mambo version of “I'll Remember April," and “Blue Bossa" (Kenny Dorham's blend of hard bop and bossa nova). In true Delaney fashion, the leader wound down “Watermelon Man" with a snippet of Dave Brubeck's “Blue Rondo a la Turk" and sneaked a little of Bobbie Gentry's “Ode to Billie Joe" melody into the band's take on “Soul Sauce."

It was fitting that the night ended with Sonny Rollins' “St. Thomas." The New York-born tenor saxophonist composed the calypso in homage to his family's island roots. And Delaney was honoring is own Latin jazz roots.

The concert at the Cultural Center of Charlotte Counties William H. Wakeman III Theater drew a crowd estimated around 260.

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This story appears courtesy of Ken Franckling's Jazz Notes.
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