'...the uninitiated or sceptical should start here.'
Chris Moss 2004
It's a beguiling genre is Latin Jazz. Not as raw as ethnic Latino rhythmslike salsa, son, samba and merengue but bearing some of their signatures. It often lingers in a slickly decadent musical lounge space somewhere between artful background music and showy fusioneering. Nothing wrong with that, of course, but it doesn't generally transport listeners through dance or big drums.
When it is given the right injection of energy and skill, however, it is both sexy and moving. Add a serious, daring percussionist like Mark 'Snowboy' Cotgrove's (this is his 12th disc to date, and his first for Chillifunk), some horny horn arrangements and constant deep, driving bass lines,you get a rich and hotly tropical rhythm with a layer of lush arrangements. Snowboy's lead on congas and assorted Afro-Cuban beatboxes is shared with shimmering vocals by Davide Giovanni and backed by the formidable talents of the Latin Section.The whole party moves freely together through magnificent traditional mambos of the Eddie Palmieri school, R 'n' B, rumbas and more testing heavily jazzed numbers.
He might come from Leigh-on-Sea in Essex, but Snowboy has all the swagger and strutting machismo of a Havana bandman, and happily the studio production has not led to too tidy a or smoothed-out surface - overly sophisticated Latin Jazz can easily segues into a boring blandness. The teasing solo lines on the tracks "Carga Tu Bateria" (the Spanish for 'drum' and 'battery') and "Ochun" come out of the mix like Caribbean waves. Plus saxman Gary Plumley and keyboard player Neil Angilley can match Snowboy for expressiveness, wit and improv skills.
These musicians might be nurtured and knownA-list session performers, but the rigour of playing down to the likes of Lisa Stansfield or the James Taylor Quartet (or Parkinson!) has given them a lot of control and vast amounts of confidence for breaking the mould and changing direction.
Past successes like 1993's "Something Coming" and his 2000 club hit "Casa forte" have shown Snowboy can be craftily commercial without sacrificing style. Perhaps the liveliest track of the nine included here is a cover of "I've Got To Learn To Do The Mambo" (featured twice, with a radio version at the end of the album) which was a hit in 1955 for Ivory Joe Hunter. It has that pro-active, vibrant, all-out fun approach of the best, least pretentious Latin Jazz, and is surely destined to be a hit as a single.
Latin Jazzers will no doubt have this album before this review appears; the uninitiated or sceptical should start here.