Latin jazz fans who like wild and colorful melodic, harmonic and rhythmic surprises in their ensembles might not need to know the history behind the freewheeling, constantly punch-packing gathering Calle Loiza Jazz Project to fully engage and enjoy. Yet a little insight sheds light on why their album There Will Never Be Another You succeeds so well as a musical and culturally significant work. Its roots lay in two influential jazz clubs on Calle Loiza in Santurce, Puerto Rico.
The first is Mini’s, which in the 70s was a place where well known musicians could sit in with drummer Jimmy Rivera (who powerfully anchors the multi-faceted grooves on this album), pianist Paul Neves and saxophonist Hector Veneros. Then there’s a time jump to 1990. Same street, different haunt. At the Apple Jazz Club, Rivera and pianist Mark Monts de Oca formed a hot quartet featuring bassist Tony Batista and guitarist Andre Avelino.
Now, three decades later, these four giants reunite (with the explosive addition of trumpets, flute, guiro and two percussionists to pay homage to some of their influential departed Latin jazz heroes - including Dave Valentin, Mongo Santamaria and Carlos “Patato” Valdez. Using merely as suggestions and launching pads the essential melodies of classics by the likes Miles Davis (“Seven Steps to Heaven”), Oliver Nelson (“Stolen Moments”), Herbie Hancock (“Dolphin Dance”), Dave Brubeck (“In Your Own Sweet Way”) and Thelonious Monk (“Well You Needn’t”), the ensemble does exactly what we might expect (Jam!) from old friends eager to recapture their chemistry and push them magic forward with inventive and often surprising arrangements.
Every moment is pretty much an ear-popping, toe tappin’ highlight, but the deepest ongoing kudos go to Monts de Oca, whose whose percussive piano chordings and snazzy improvisations melodically drive the eight track set; and Avelino’s buoyant guitar sizzle. Proving that sometimes you have to wait for the last 30 seconds of an expansive tune to hear its best moment, that feisty “coro” section at the tail end of “Someday My Prince Will Come” is alone worth the price of admission.