Review by Brad Walseth
One interesting thing about Mark Weinstein's new release Con Alma is that I had it in my car stereo for several days and neither me, or any other family members ever thought to remove it. Additionally, several people riding in the car, none of who were jazz fans, commented on how they liked this music. Considering this is a recording of challenging originals and lesser-known jazz standards done in Latin style, I found this effect to be somewhat surprising. This is not to say these are dumbed-down or safe versions, but rather it is a compliment to the arrangements and playing of Weinstein and the musicians he chose for this project that has resulted in am extremely captivating sound.
Weinstein was one of the Latin Jazz pioneers in NYC back in the '60s & '70s on trombone, but dropped out of the music scene for a number of years, becoming a professor at Montclair State, and switching to the flute while releasing more recordings in recent years. His 2005 release "O Nosso Amor" was a fine recording of Brazilian jazz (see our review here), but Weinstein, who is often categorized as a Latin avant garde player who works in Afro Cuban and Brazilian styles, expressed the desire to record an album of "mainstream" Latin music that would have a broader appeal. Con Alma succeeds in this goal and should get Weinstein the airplay and attention he deserves.
Mark Levine co-produced the album with Weinstein, along with playing the keyboards in an engaging and highly effective manner. Bassist Santi Debriano is joined by Mauricio Herrera on drums and Pedrito Martinez on congas in providing the authenticity that comes from deep immersion in the rhythms and intricacies of Latin music. Meanwhile, Weinstein plays several different types of flute, including the alto and bass flutes.
"Santi's Africaleidescope" (written by the bassist of course) opens up and lives up to its name with its 6/8 feel and great solos from all. Weinstein's "Broadway Local" takes Coltrane's "Giant Steps" changes and turns them into a delightful jaunt that is so smooth the listener will never notice the key changing three times. Weinstein and Levine both shine here, with Weinstein sometimes evoking the underrated Herbie Mann in his playing.
The group's take on such songs as Dizzy Gillespie's "Con Alma," Coltrane's "Crescent," Wayne Shorter's "Fe Fi Fo Fum" and even Thelonious Monk's "Evidence" is wonderful and should please fans of traditional Jazz as much as Latin Jazz lovers. Weinstein and band have found a space between the genre where adding Latin rhythms to classic Jazz harmonies has created a fusion of styles that utilizes the best both have to offer.
The rest of the album showcases an original cha cha by Levine ("La Coneja Loca"), a funky Bobby Hutcherson cover ("Gotcha"), a tune from Cuban flautist Maraca ("Monte Adento") and ends with "Stella by Starlight." Needless to say, the playing is all first-rate, with the rhythm section churning, bassist Debriano throwing in some tasty solos, and Levine and Weinstein showing command and creativity on the keys and flute.
With the world getting smaller with every passing day, yet with people isolated and specialized into even more segregated compartments, it is refreshing and commendable to hear an artist working to bridge cultural chasms and promote community through music. With Con Alma I am hopeful Weinstein will garner the wider recognition he deserves and continue his explorations into celebrating diversity and common themes.