Iíve had a soft spot for Latin-American music ever since Percy Faith made a ten-inch LP called Carnival Rhythms in about 1952, which must have employed the best percussionists in Spanish Harlem. But I am often disappointed in "Latin jazz"; itís sometimes merely busy and noisy, the piano flashy and percussive, the rhythm instruments ticking and tocking away. And Iím not crazy about the electric guitar, or the flute.
This album washes away all my prejudices. Towns has written all the tunes except one (the first track comes from the Average White Band); they are all fun and charming, varying the album nicely tempo-wise. His guitar sound is varied as well, but usually sounds like an amplified acoustic instrment. The contributions of Hubert Laws are apposite and lovely, not getting in the way. In fact, nobody gets in the way on the whole album: the little group plays this music with an ensemble quality that has to be heard to be believed.
Pianist Rainel Pino obtained music degrees in Havana in 1989; he is superbly reticent, his contributions always exactly right, his emphasis on the melodic. And as for Jorge Orta, who has recorded with Grupo Niche, the Colombian band thatís been a leader in salsa for 25 years . . . well, if you can listen to this album without patting your foot, you may as well lay down, because youíre probably dead.
There is some overdubbing, and itís extremely well done; here and there Towns plays both acoustic and electric. "Star Light" and "Espacio" are duets, with Towns on guitar and bass, Nestor Vidal on conventional drum kit and the Latin instruments. "Star Light" is a good example of the cleverness of the arrangements: it seems to be in 3/4 time, with Vidal playing subtle drums, then picks up steam as he overdubs the congas and bongo. None of the arranging is hackneyed, or just for filling space; I cannot praise the production highly enough.
Amy FelŠn contributes a single vocal phrase at the end of the first track, evocative and lovely, as though someone at the recording session just could not resist getting up to dance. This is the kind of album which, if I play it when Iíve got company, everybody wants to know: "What is that?" Nobody who buys this CD will regret it.----------
Mark Towns, guitar; Rainel Pino, piano; Anibal Ambert, bass; Jorge "Cro Cro" Orta, congas, timbales, bongo, cowbell, gŁiro; *Hubert Laws, flute; additional personnel as below
1. Pick Up The Pieces
2. Desert Flower*
3. Ever After*
4. Star Light
5. Orange & Blue
6. Spanish Funk
9. Rainy Night*