Chicago Afro Latin Jazz Ensemble

Andy's, Chicago, IL


Story & photos by James Walker, Jr., Copyright 2010

Several years ago, the Chicago Afro Latin Jazz Ensemble (CALJE), under the direction of pianist Darwin Noguera and trumpeter Victor Garcia engaged in one of the most memorable performances at Millennium Park in Chicago - a performance which also featured renowned trombonist Steve Turre. Ever since that "big stage" debut, this group continues to grow and expand their repertoire and is now recognized as one of Chicago's finest jazz ensembles.

This listener caught them during their weekly Tuesday night engagement at Andy's in the north loop where they were performing before a" standing room only" crowd of Chicago visitors and Chicago regulars. In addition to some of their regular members of drummer Juan Pastor, timbalero Juan Picorelli, conguero Victor Gonzalez, bassist Josh Ramos, vocalist Nythia Martinez, and trombonist Craig Sunken, they were joined by frequent visitor alto saxophonist Greg Ward.

On this evening they played numbers from their recent critically acclaimed Blueprints CD in addition to working on new pieces that surely will appear on future recordings. They often use this setting to experiment and explore with new material while keeping older numbers fresh. This is a highly spirited and lively group that has no problem engaging the audience and keeping it in a festive mood. In during so, all ensemble members had an opportunity to showcase their skills.

Selections played included "Timeless," "Milesmiles" and "Vuelvo a Vivir" from the CD plus "Izzy's Lullaby," 'Que Pague," "Ya No Vengas Con Lagrimas" and "Gata Bajo la Lluvia."

Vocalist Martinez was featured on "Timeless" a beautiful tango number and "Que Pague." Her vocals are a perfect addition to the band whether she's singing ballads or "hot" salsa numbers. Watching her and Garcia engage in call and response with Garcia responding with the trumpet was a beautiful sight and sound.

Throughout the evening, the entire horn section stood out. It was particularly special to listen to altoist Ward who always brings high energy to any performance. Although he now lives in New York, he often returns to Chicago to "gig" with some of his friends.

Although co-leader Noguera was somewhat "under the weather" he accorded himself favorably on his own composition of "Milesmiles"and "Don't Come To Me Crying." On this number, he stretched across the entire length of the 88s.

Garcia was engaging all night long. When he wasn't soloing with the trumpet ("Vieques Si") and the flugelhorn ("Timeless"), he put his vocals to good use on reggae/discharge "Vuelvo a Vivir." It was quite obvious that he was having a great time regardless of which instrument he was putting to work.

CALJE will be featured each Tuesday at Andy's throughout November and December. This listener would highly recommend checking out the infectious sounds of Chicago's premier Afro/Latin group at Chicago's busiest Jazz/Blues Club.

Victor Garcia

Darwin Noguera

Greg Ward

Juan Picorelli

Josh Ramos

Craig Sunken

Victor Gonzales

Nythia Martinez

Juan Pastor

Joaquin Garcia II

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