Alex Wiilson's Top Ten Latin Jazz Albums

From the early 19th century, the mutual fascination and connection between American Jazz musicians and the plethora of Latin American talent gave birth to a whole new world of music we now know as ‘Latin Jazz.’ With the London Latin Jazz Festival descending on London this month, we asked Alex Wilson shared with us his passion for the genre.
by: 
Alex Wilson

1. Peruchín – ‘Cuban Rhythms’

The original Latin Jazz pianist, Peruchin recorded this pioneering album in 1958 which includes interpretations of American jazz standards with a Cuban rhythm section. A kind of Cuban Nat King Cole on the piano. Vital listening for anyone interested in the history of latin jazz.

2. Belmonte & His Afro Latin 7 ‎– ‘Olé!’

Cut in the 70’s and led pianist by Larry Harlow, this album takes up Peruchin’s baton. Back in 1994, I was given the Latin night at the (now closed) Jazz Bistro on Farringdon Rd. – a tiny club where we would start with polite “dinner latin” and by about 1am, all the musicians would descend from their gigs for jam session until sunrise. I used Belmonte tracks to drive my piano-led Afro-Cuban quartet.  

 

3. Charlie Palmieri – ‘A Giant Step’

Brother of renowned pianist Eddie, Charlie Palmieri was THE virtuoso. This was the last album he recorded in 1984 before his death - an amazing display of virtuosity combined with tasteful playing and steeped in history and tradition.  I always recommend this album to piano students who want to delve deeply into the playing tradition.

4. Arturo Sandoval – ‘Hothouse’

You want a big band latin jazz album?  This is the one! Ridiculously expressive and dazzling arrangements and performances …as one would expect from this trumpet maestro.

5. Gonazalo Rubalcaba – ‘Mi Gran Pasión’

An early-career album recorded in the late 80’s from the Cuban who was to become a household name and the main reference for modern jazz. I love this album because it places traditional danzón and uses largely western classical instrumentation which later gave birth to cha cha cha and mambo and puts this elegant tradition in a modern post-bop jazz context with Gonzalo tearing up the piano.

6. Ralph Irrizary – ‘Best Kept Secret’

Recorded by New York/Puerto Ricans in 2000 and featuring percussion royalty such as Giovanni Hidalgo and Roberto Quintero, you can hear salsa moderna with elements of Cuban timba but yet still very Puerto Rican and definitely rooted in New York jazz.

7. Klimax – ‘Klimax & Friends’

Recorded in 2002, when timba was still fairly new, this album is a great example of how far Cuban musicians can push the boat out. From the opening track which features traditional bata drums, lush orchestration, Kenny Garratt-inspired saxophone solos to the middle of the expression train of the Torre de Cali, track you can hear these guys are on a mission!

8. Tony Martinez – ‘Marferefun’

Led by this Cuban multi-instrumentalist based in Switzerland, the album features some of the best musicians from both sides of the Atlantic and from the outset you can hear how hard hitting this band is, not least with a piano solo on the first track by Gonzalo Rubalcaba.  Other musicians include the “Cuban Jimi Hendrix” Dany Labana (aka Martinez), Brazilian bassist Dudu Penz and Cuban drum kit virtuoso Julio Barretto.

9. Ivan “Melon” Lewis - Ayer y Hoy

This pianist performed at the London Latin Jazz Fest 2016 and I love this album. It is steeped in the Cuban tradition but yet very modern at the same time. A virtuoso performer, Ivan is not afraid to leave space where space is required which gives his music all that more impact.

10. Antonio Arnedo - Travesía

Led by the Colombian saxophonist, this intriguing album delves into the rich Colombian music traditions of cumbia, porro and currulao but with an amazing sense of space - so much is implied rather than played. No piano on this album - rather a Pat Metheny-esque Ben Monder on guitar, which enhances the beautiful airy sound.

And one more for good measure...

11. Milton Salcedo - Espiritu Colombiano

Released in 2012, this album definitely has a 21st century sound with contemporary gospel sonics, jaw-dropping piano by Milton rooted strongly in Colombian and modern jazz traditions. Check El Pescador and compare it with Antonio Arnedo’s version of the same track in the album above … dramatically different interpretations of this Colombian classic from two compatriots … and that’s why music is so endless and beautiful!

Alex Wilson will be playing a double show on Saturday October 21st as part of the London Latin Jazz Festival at Pizza Express Jazz Club, alongside vocalist Nolita Golding. For full programme visit www.londonlatinjazzfest.com