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  • Jonathan Widran


As we engage in, groove along and tap our collective toes to veteran baritone saxophonist Dave Schumacher & Cubeye’s debut album Smoke In the Sky, a fanciful and fiery deep dive into many forms of Latin music, we should be grateful for the impactful, highly detailed liner notes of Russ Musto (The New York City Jazz Record) for illuminating our pathway into Schumacher and company’s musical heart.

We learn that Schumacher, a 40-year mainstay on the NYC jazz scene, initially immersed in the history of Afro-Cuban music while rooming with conguero Sam “Seguito” Turner during his years of touring with Lionel Hampton’s Orchestra. While Schumacher’s showcased his affinity for Latin Jazz on earlier albums, this fresh collection with his newly formed octet Cubeye – his first in 18 years – takes his explorations to new heights and with dynamic contemporary sensibilities, spurred on by his cadre of equally “bilingual” veteran musicians.

While the saxophonist has been inspired over the years by countless Afro Cuban legends, the stellar arrangements of Cubeye’s freewheeling eight tracks are primarily influenced by two legendary groundbreaking ensembles that began in different eras – Jerry Gonzalez & The Fort Apache Band and Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers. Highlighted by a series of fiery solos by trumpeter Josh Evans, Schumacher and pianist Manuel Valera, the quick moving, vibrant opening title cut incorporates a fusion of both – the snazzy horns flowing like a spicy Messenger from heaven and the sizzling percussion smoking straight out of Fort Apache.

On the flip side of those energetic bursts, Schumacher offers the cleverly titled, smoky, meditative ballad “(No More) Smoke in the Sky,” a haunting reflection of the fires from riots from two different eras of American racial history. Cubeye’s wild and colorful journey includes snappy arrangements of pieces by the diverse likes of Eddie Harris (“You Know It’s Wrong,” perhaps the best showcase for Schumacher’s inventive soloing style), AfroCuba de Matanzas (the hypnotically percussive, brass-fired “Caridad”), McCoy Tyner (the bustling and expansive, adventurous solo filled “Walk Spirit Talk Spirit”) and Ahmad Jamal (the Nat Simon penned “Poinciana,” with a feisty, smoke filled arrangement inspired by Israel Cachao Lopez, Frank Emilio and Sonny Rollins. If you’re looking for the best of the present and promising future of Latin jazz, Schumacher’s new group marks a great launching off point.


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