JERRY GONZALEZ & THE FORT APACHE BAND

Rumba Buhaina
Random Chance RCD-25

Recorded tributes to dead jazz heroes are often used by musicians and their record companies as cheap ways to attract fans of the better-known player to the lesser-known one by offering the equivalent of cover versions of some well-known tunes. RUMBA BUHAINA has a more elevated pedigree.

For a start Art Blakey (1919-1990) – Abdullah Ibn Buhaina to give him his Muslim name – was not only the focal point of Hard Bop during the 40-odd years he lead the Jazz Messengers, but also someone vibrantly involved with Latin and African rhythms. LPs such as ORGY IN RHYTHM and DRUM SUITE showed him unflappably trading licks with congas, bongos, timbales and cow bell wielding associates.

Blakey rarely if ever added additional percussion to the Messengers, but The Fort Apache Band redresses the situation here. Culmination of various Latin Jazz bands percussionist and brassman Jerry Gonzalez has lead over the years, the five featured musicians know their swing and bop as well as well as their son and bomba.

That’s no surprise either, since all the Fort Apache Band (FAB) members have put in time in the bands of such major jazzers – and former Jazz Messengers – as trumpeters Kenny Dorham and Lee Morgan and saxophonist Jackie McLean and Gary Bartz. Not only that, but pianist Larry Willis was a member of both saxophonist Cannonball Adderley’s combo and Blood, Sweat & Tears, while saxophonist Joe Ford has been associated with pianist McCoy Tyner’s ensembles since the 1970s. Percussionist Steve Barrios played with conguero Mongo Santamaria for two decades and bassist Andy Gonzalez, Jerry’s brother, is also music director of timbalaro Manny Oquendo’s Libre, as well as having shared bandstands with nearly every name in East Coast Latin music.

Altering and freshening the beat, but not messing around the basic melodies, FAB turns out distinctive versions of a clutch of Messenger classics by band alumni and friends such as saxophonist Benny Golson and Wayne Shorter, pianist Thelonious Monk and trumpeter Freddie Hubbard. Balancing on A. Gonzalez’ more-felt-than-heard bass line and stacked with flashing cadenzas from Willis, fluid arpeggios from both of Ford’s saxes and J. Gonzalez’ characteristic muted trumpet do an especially memorable job on the Shorter classics.

Not content with using percussion to reorient the Messengers’ book, the players add their own compositions, two of which, “Madi’s Smile” and the title tune, do both the Latin and the Messengers tradition proud. Floating on an ever-shifting bottom made up of the sounds of anything that can be hit, scraped, rubbed and rattled, “Rumba Buhaina” also shows compact call-and-response and a melodic improvisation from Ford on soprano. The first tune, a Ford-penned bouncy cha cha, adds grotty flugelhorn timbres and oblique saxophone vibrations to relentless cross rhythms.

No more than a well-played, heartfelt salute to a jazz master by a clutch of thoroughgoing professionals, RUMBA BUHAINA is no improvisational breakthrough. But it is a damn good record date for those satisfied with the mainstream. Even more impressively, never once on the disc does Berrios try to replicate a characteristic Blakey press roll.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Along Came Betty 2. Crisis 3. This is for Albert 4. Up Jumped Spring 5. Madi’s Smile 6. Wildflower 7. United 8. The Day You Said Goodbye 9, One By One 10, Rumba Buhaina 11. Ask Me Now

Personnel:

Jerry Gonzalez (trumpet, flugelhorn, percussion and congas); Joe Ford (alto and soprano saxophones); Larry Willis (piano); Andy Gonzalez (bass); Steve Barrios (drums and percussion)