When most people think of Latin Jazz, a salsa dance party comes to mind, with hot dance rhythms charging behind jazz harmonies and improvised solos. This is certainly one aspect of this style - musicians like Tito Puente, Mongo Santamaria, Cal Tjader, and Ray Barretto have gotten people on the dance floor for years with jazz and Cuban rhythms.
Dance rhythms certainly hold a place in modern Latin Jazz, but a growing number of artists have abandoned the dance floor for different cultural and artistic influences. These days, many Latin Jazz musicians integrate rhythmic traditions from a broader spectrum of the Caribbean and South America, often blending cultural elements with modern jazz influences.
Traditional Afro-Peruvian rhythms have played a large part in the expansion of Latin Jazz, bringing rhythmic styles like the festejo and landó into the style as well a more guitar heavy approach. Guitarist Richie Zellon has combined these traditions with jazz harmonies extensively while trumpet player Gabriel Alegria has developed a distinctive approach with his Afro-Peruvian Sextet.
While stateside Latin Jazz always carried a Puerto Rican influence, it has only been recently that artists have put a distinct emphasis upon the idea of traditional rhythms like bomba and plena supporting jazz contexts. Trombonist Papo Vazquez has utilized his ferocious command of bebop over Puerto Rican rhythms while saxophonist Miguel Zenón has dived deep into plena and classic Puerto Rican songs as a foundation for jazz.
Argentina has always been known for it’s passionate tango, and many musicians have discovered that this music is a natural fit for jazz. Bassist Pablo Aslan has built a distinct language for improvising around tango structures while pianist Pablo Ziegler has continued the work of influential composer Astor Piazzolla with a distinct jazz twist.
Listeners often think about the lush bossa novas of Antonio Carlos Jobim when they consider the blend of Brazilian rhythms and jazz, but the style has grown into something much more dynamic. Pianist Jovino Santos Neto has built upon his long tenure with composer Hermeto Pascoal and developed a highly creative repertoire of original Brazilian jazz while drummer Duduka Da Fonseca has blended the freedom behind a New York jazz sensibility with dynamic samba rhythms.
The dance floor is certainly still a part of Latin Jazz - just listen to the music of Poncho Sanchez or Pete Escovedo for a healthy dose of danceable jazz. The style has certainly expanded artistically, reflecting a more encompassing spectrum of Latin traditions and giving listeners a more diverse experience.
If you’re looking for more about Latin Jazz, check out the bomba y plena artists, where you’ll find interviews, album reviews, listening suggestions, history, and much more!