Afro Bop Alliance Big Band – Revelation
OA2 Records 22134 – CD review by Mark McKergow
Smartly arranged and sharply played, this CD features classy big band original compositions which smoothly combine jazz and latin styles in a tradition going back to Machito and Dizzy Gillespie in the 1940s. Founded and led by drummer Joe McCarthy, the big band is an extension of McCarthy’s seven-piece Afro Bop Alliance which brings together top latin and jazz performers from Washington DC area and New York.
Saxophonist Vince Norman takes care of the arranging, while the band is notable for featuring steel pan players (including Victor Provost, who also composes) along with more conventional jazz instruments. The result is not simply ‘latin jazz’ – it’s more rooted in a latin tradition than that would suggest.
Right from the start, it’s clear that this band knows its stuff. The bass riff for Norman and McCarthy’s Cubop quickly morphs into a guitar line backed by brass stabs, a drum break and the catchy tune laid out by woodwind and steel pans. There is a lot of classic big band voicing on show as the number develops, with Vince Norman himself taking a lively alto sax solo, again over building brass, before a sudden tempo and rhythm shift heralds Victor Provost’s steel pan solo. There is a lot of careful arranging craft going on here, but it never gets in the way of the music’s flow and development.
Conductor Roland Vasquez’ No Rest for the Bones of the Dead starts off in lush chord territory before dropping into a lilting Cuban piano groove with plenty of percussion plus Cuban styling. Again there’s lots to like with a breezy tenor solo from Matt Stuver leading into lots of criss-crossing lines from brass and saxes. By contrast, Victor Provost’s composition Soufriere is led by the steel pans, who step back to allow Vince Norman to show off his very impressive soprano sax chops.
The seven-track album gives around an hour of beautifully arranged and performed music within the group’s chosen latin and jazz genre. If you’re a fan of big bands and/or latin-inflected music, it’s well worth trying – even though the names are not (yet?) familiar in the UK, the sounds are right on the money. And if you want to get further into how it’s done, leader Joe McCarthy also offers drum tuition online which could be worth checking out if you want to extend your latin beats.