With an upsurge in the number of Latin jazz albums recorded and sold in recent years, there is a huge number of Latin jazz albums now available to fans. New artists are popping up like crazy, and there has never been a better time to be a Latin jazz fan. The sheer volume of Latin, and in particular Afro-Cuban, jazz can be overwhelming for a new listener. With all of this music available I would like to offer a short list, or guide to some of the essential, and historically significant albums currently available. In short, a “desert island” list for the Afro-Cuban jazz fan…
1. Mario Bauza- “The Tanga Suite”
One of the fathers of Afro-Cuban jazz, Mario Bauza has left us with an incredible volume of great music. This album is one of the most important in the repertoire, and shows examples of Bauza’s skill as a composer in creating extended compositions for the Latin big band. This was recorded in 1991 but contains compositions of Bauza’s that date back decades earlier.
2. Eddie Palmieri- “The Sun of Latin Music”
Eddie Palmieri is a towering figure in the development of salsa and Latin jazz. This 1973 Album shows many influences that Palmieri combines in an utterly unique way, including danzon, guaguanco, cumbia and other styles his contemporaries never thought of incorporating. A true visionary, Palmieri shows his brilliance as an arranger, composer, and – oh yeah, let’s not forget the piano playing!
3. Cal Tjader – “Monterey Concerts”
Cal Tjader was a west-coast pioneer of Latin and Afro-Cuban jazz. This is a live album of the vibraphonist’s group playing at the 1959 Monterey Jazz festival, a group which includes percussionists Mongo Santamaria, and Willie Bobo. This is the original recording of Santamaria’s Latin jazz standard- “Afro-Blue”. No Latin jazz collection is complete without this monumental record.
4. Poncho Sanchez- “Sonando”
This 1982 date was recorded shortly after the passing of Cal Tjader, who was a tremendous influence for Sanchez. He recorded on several of Tjader’s albums, and has is known for his fiery conga playing, and for bringing a R&B influence to Afro-Cuban jazz. One of the best selling and most popular bandleaders in the business, Sanchez continues to delight and excite audiences worldwide.
5. Tito Puente- “Top Percussion”
The name of this 1957 album is quite appropriate, as Puente, one of the great pioneers of Afro-Cuban jazz, assembles a legendary line-up on percussion of Mongo Santamaria, Willie Bobo, Francisco Aguabella, and Julito Collaza. A seminally important album in the history of this music, this also features lead trumpet work from a young Doc Severinson.