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Chris Washburne

Hilary Noble

Nicki Denner

Chris Washburne
Ray Vega
Hilary Noble

Jennifer Vincent

Jennifer Vincent
Willie Martinez

photos by Rudy Lu

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The Whisperdome

Schenectady, NY
April 16, 2010

by Tom Pierce

The All-Star band that Latin/Jazz impresario Dr Jose Cruz presented Friday April 16 at the First Unitarian Society of Schenectady more than lived up to its billing, in a variety of very positive ways.

Actually, any true fans of Latin Jazz, especially those who’ve been frequent attendees the past 3 years to the marvelously authentic and exciting events in this series, were not surprised by this. All seven members of this special band have been heavily-applauded participants at one or more previous presentations of Jazz/Latino Inc. which Dr Cruz is Founder and Director. This included: Ray Vega (trumpet), Nicki Denner (piano), Jennifer Vincent (bass), Wilson “Chembo” Corniel (percussion), Willie Martinez (drums), Chris Washburne (trombone), and Hilary Noble (sax).

Their individual brilliance was expected, given their decades of experience for decades playing and recording with the most renowned Latin Jazz and Post-Bop musicians. But they all consistently displayed a number of even more significant attributes in the concert:

  • Real warmth & team interplay – musically & emotionally
  • A joyously spirited feeling conveyed to the audience
  • Enormous respect & love for the history & tradition of the music

Although these All-Stars are currently bandleaders themselves, most of them have played together many times in various Latin Jazz bands over the past two decades. So the concert clearly had the air of a happy reunion. Although Hilary Noble was the sole member who had rarely played previously with the others, it was obvious how quickly he blended in so effectively, while playing outstanding tenor, soprano and flute. He also contributed an extraordinary composition in the second set, Ile Olorun, which means the house of Olorun, the highest God of the Yoruba pantheon, As this signifies “The House of God” it was a very appropriate, selection, given the venue’s primary function.

On virtually every song, the individual horn players also provided additional colors with cowbells, gourds and other percussion instruments. These accents, plus the dynamic tones of Wilson Corniel on his 3 congas gave an added layer of richness, behind the soloists.

For the bulk of the two-set concert, Chris Washburne served as spokesperson introducing the songs and band members. But Ray Vega, Willie Martinez and Wilson Corniel were also at times very fervent and articulate in communicating with & exhorting the audience.

The references to the rich legacy of Latin Jazz began with the very first selection, “Café Mario” that was arranged by Wilson “Chembo” Corniel.  It was a fluid number with several interesting tempo changes, dedicated to the extraordinary saxophonist, Mario Rivera, who passed in 2007. In addition to playing with Latino giants such as Tito Rodriquez, Machito, Eddie Palmieri & Mongo Santamaria, Rivera also performed and recorded with Jazz legends Dizzy Gillespie and Stanley Turrentine.

Another historical number in the first set was the standard “Caravan”, written in 1936 by trombonist Juan Tizol, while with the Duke Ellington Orchestra. In addition to the marvelous solos of Chris Washburne and Nicki Denner that captured the song’s exotic flavor, the audience was treated to a delightful vocal by Willie Martinez and spirited interplay
between his drums and the congas of Wilson Corniel.

Martinez’ own delightful composition, “A Stroll in the Park”, was aptly titled, as it projected a relaxed, loping movement, highlighted by Hilary Noble’s moving flute solo, Jennifer Vincent’s pulsating bass solo and a spirited ensemble ending.

Perhaps the most rhythmically intoxicating tune in the first set was the closer, written by Chris Washburne - “Nuyorican Son”. This is the blending of the terms "New York" and "Puerto Rican"; and refers to the members or culture of the Puerto Rican Diaspora located in or around New York State. The insistently rhythmic vibe prompted Ray Vega (in several ways an engaging reminder of Dizzy Gillespie) to lead an impromptu synchronized dance line with Washburne & Noble, during Nicki Denner’s swinging piano solo.  This provided wonderful comic relief, enjoyed by the audience and the band.

The second set continued the exciting pattern of soaring horn solos, invigorating and dynamic rhythm section support (the heart of Latin Jazz), and Nicki Denner’s exuberant, elegant piano. This was all made even yet more effective & interesting by the use of varying tempos as well as the way the band skillfully fused the most exciting characteristics of Be-Bop with Latin forms.

There were two numbers in this set that were especially memorable to this observer. These were Willie Martinez’ incredibly soulful vocal on the romantic ballad, “Inolvidable” (Unforgettable), written by pianist/composer Julio Gutierrez, that became a huge hit for the great bandleader/vocalist, Tito Rodriquez; and the climatic closing jam session, which was very appropriately dedicated to the one person most responsible for the wonderful evening – Dr Jose Cruz.

Tom Pierce has had a burning passion for Jazz for over 45 years, initiated and fueled by seeing live in New York City, starting in the early 1960's, virtually every major artist still performing. He's been very happily living in Guilderland the last 8 years, as an active retiree sharing his love of music by writing online reviews for a number of web sites, preparing DVD presentations to various groups, co-Hosting Radio programs showcasing his favorite artists and busily supporting A Place for Jazz and the SwingTime Society in a variety of ways.