Friday, Aug 15 2003 | 13:06

Trombone virtuoso and innovative composer, Papo combines the best of jazz and Latin music to create a genre that is unique and wild. He’s redefined Latin jazz!” – Michael Brecker

This album includes appearances from: Bill Lee, Tito Cepeda, Arturo O’ Farrill, Milton Cardona, Willie Williams, John Benitez, Horacio Hernandez, Roberto Cepeda, Joe Gonzalez, Fred McFarlane, Victor Jones, Roberto Cepeda, Mario Rivera, Ivan Renta, Carlos Henriquez, Dafnis Prieto, and others.

The celebratory mosaic of “Carnival In San Juan” has been over 25 years in the making. From 1976 to 1978, Angel “Papo” Vazquez was one of the strongest instrumental voices (along with Jerry and Andy Gonzalez, Steve Berrios, and many others) to be heard at the historic Nuyorican Village cultural art center on 7th Street and Avenue A in Manhattan. This multicultural musical magic continued to be conjured up until the early 1980s at the Soundscape sessions produced by Verna Gillis.

Papo moved in 1980 from New York to Puerto Rico, where he lived until 1985 and helped to establish and develop the BATACUMBELE (“KNEEL TO THE DRUM”) group. The four original core members of this trail-blazing ensemble — Vazquez, Cachete, Eddie Guagua, and Eric Figueroa were all salsa refugees from the Luis “Perico” Ortiz Band. By 1984, Papo was ready to lead his first “Bomba Jazz” group in San Juan. This band of pirates included Giovanni Hidalgo, Anthony Carillo, Luis Cepeda, Jimmy Rivera, Eric Figueroa, Jose Gasmei, Hector Veneros, Juancito Torres and and Luis Quevedo.

As producer and musicologist Rene Lopez has insightfully observed, “At the age of 45, Papo Vazquez today already represents a most important link to the music of three decades — the 1960s, the 1970s, the 1980s — especially per force of his collaborations with musicians such as Tito Puente, Eddie Palmieri, Andy Gonzalez, Manny Oquendo, Steve Berrios, Chico O’Farrill, Milton Cardona, Mario Rivera, and others who were in the forefront of maintaining the tradition of the music. Born and raised in the “Badlands” of Philadelphia, Papo is a first-generation Puerto Rican with very strong ties to the traditional music of Puerto Rico. He is definitely one of the best contempor ary arrangers of Afro-Caribbean jazz, the first to fully and naturally integrate the bomba and plena into American jazz.”

Bassist Andy Gonzalez (founding member of both the Fort Apache and Conjunto Libre bands) adds that “it’s important to realize that Papo has been a great player for quite a long time. This little Latin genius from North Philly joined Manny Oquendo and Libre at the age of 16 and actually held his own with the two other trombonists in the band, Jose Rodriquez and Barry Rogers, two of the most powerful spontaneous groove masters in all of Latin music. And that’s saying something.”

Some of the most joyous grooves and compelling language on this cd are created by drummer/singer/dancer Roberto Cepeda, son of the legendary patriarch of the guardian family in Puerto Rico of traditional bomba and plena. “The bomba is the oldest and most African musical style idigenous to Puerto Rico, dating back to the early 1700s. Quiet as it was kept, San Juan was quite often the very first stop for slave ships coming to the ‘New World.’ The plena did not come along until after slavery ended in the the mid-1860s. It was liberation music that couples could dance to, and has remained a central local element in a whole lot of Puerto Rican popular music.”

Bomba rhythms are most traditionally played on large barrel drums (barrilles). Plena rhythms are usually generated by three smaller hand drums (panderos or panderetas) known as the requinto (soloist), the punta de clavo (middle or second drum), and the el seguidor (bass drum). Papo feels that his four-part suite, “En La Cueva de Tan/Tan’s Cave,” truly embodies the basic artistic conception of this album. Some zany dialogue sets up a ceremonious danza, which segues into a roiling 6/8 “bomba yuba” section which dissolves into a swinging 4/4 “bomba sica” that concludes with a frantic rumba finale. The high energy opening title track features a fiery rhythm section that ignites especially impassioned solos from Captain Vazquez, tenor saxophonist Willie Williams, and bassist John Benitez.

The more contemplative and lyrical aspects of Papo’s composing and playing are well reflected in his jazz waltz, “Like A Little Child,” and ballad, “Snow Angels,” which the trombonist wrote to capture a tender moment he enjoyed with his wife, Lina, standing in the middle of a park during a very quiet snowfall. The only selection on this record not arranged by Papo is the stately and serene song, “Worlds,” by Bill Lee, who several years ago hired Vazquez to perform on Lee’s film score for the film “Mo’ Better Blues.”

The haunting theme of “Las Torres/The Towers” (a slow 6/8 “bomba yuba”) is effectively underlined by both the vocal chorus and the evocative lyrics by Roberto Cepeda. Pianist Arturo O’Farrill plays on a very inspired level sensitively in tune with all the members of the ensemble on this track and throughout the recording. Arturo recently commented about his longtime collaboration with Papo: “If Papo Vazquez just played trombone as well as he does, he’d be an important musician. But he is that rarity of rarities, a naturally gifted composer. In this day and age, when the term ‘Latin jazz’ is used to signify anything with a conga slapped on top of it of or anything that is based on a fifty-year-old style, it is refreshing to find a truly original voice that’s clave aware, not clave enslaved, that is jazz enabled, not jazz disabled, and, most importantly, has the skill to realize his musical vision and the integrity to not pander to the ‘safe sex’ jazz mentality. Playing for Mr. Vazquez is not a “gig,” but an adventure, pushing the boundaries of Afro-Caribbean folk-jazz! Thank god for Papo Vazquez.

Sometimes truly creative artists are at the same time somehow both more primitive and more cultivated, both gladder and sadder, equally saner and madder, than many folks around them. It is one of the bewildering ironies of the eternal continuum of mankind’s cultural evolution and devolution, that quite often we make the most upward progress in our lives when we reach down and get a better hold of our most basic cultural roots. As one of Papo’s co-founders of Batacumbele, pianist/composer Eric Figueroa, recently summed it up so eloquently: “The Latin music genre is no longer a ‘tinge’ in American culture. In the next 10 to 20 years, musicians like Papo Vazquez will be performing a new form of Latin music. Papo is a pivot point in this new music for America and for the rest of the world.” – Todd Barkan, Jazz at Lincoln Center, New York City / May 20, 2003

“Papo is one of the premiere trombonists on the scene today … What you get for the buck is pure unmitigated jazz on the Latin side, or what I like to call jazz con clave …” – SALSAWEB.COM

Listen to Carnival In San Juan

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