Papo Vazquez Mighty Pirates Troubadours
Veteran Latin jazz trombonist and bandleader Papo Vazquez delivered the best album of his long career last year with Oasis, a powerful and wide-ranging session that serves as model for the malleability of Puerto Rican music. Beginning in the mid-70s the Philadelphia native has been enmeshed in New York’s explosive salsa scene, and over the years he’s worked with a veritable who’s who of greats: Willie Colon, Ray Barretto, Eddie Palmieri, Fania All-Stars, Hector LaVoe, and Larry Harlow, among others. Yet there was always more to his game than salsa, and he was forging new Latin jazz hybrids working with folks like Hilton Ruiz, Jerry Gonzalez, and Dizzy Gillespie (in his United Nations Orchestra). Finally, at the turn of the century, Vazquez stepped out on his own to form Pirates Troubadours and he’s never looked back.
His 2008 album Marooned scored a Grammy nomination for Best Latin Jazz album, but it’s on Oasis that his art has reached a powerful crescendo. Working with Puerto Rican forms like bomba and plena, the music exerts gut-punching propulsion, with polyrhythms providing grist for the improvisational mill of first-call players like pianist Rick Germanson and saxophonist Willie Williams. Kit drummer Alvester Garnett and percussionists Anthony Carrillo and Carlitos Maldonado along with bassist Alexander “Apolo” Ayala comprise a formidable, flexible rhythm team, but as driving as the music can get, Vazquez also experiments (after all, the second album he ever bought was Coltrane’s Live at the Village Vanguard); on a piece like “Igor’s Mail,” for example, Vazquez places his slinking, round tone against a somber string quartet with surprising elegance, finding a simpatico blend between earthy and ethereal. But more often than not his band delivers a hyperkinetic party that just happens to contain some of the most spirited and soulful improvising you’re likely to hear this year.