With listeners in other genres increasingly discovering music on digital platforms, we can be grateful that jazz artists still put out actual CDs, some with illuminating liner notes. In Bill Milkowski’s excellent essay on Noah Bless’ long awaited debut as a leader New York Strong – Latin Jazz!, we learn how the veteran NYC trombonist got on that wild polyrhythmic road.
When he got to Manhattan 30 years ago, he planned on pursuing a career in straight ahead jazz ensembles. Yet opportunities to make a living on the vibrant salsa scene soon took precedence and he went on to be a stalwart playing solo and in horn sections with the likes of Paquito D’Rivera, Mario Bauza, Don Braden and Celia Cruz, the Spanish Harlem Orchestra and Eddie Palmieri. His value as a sideman pre-empted his ability to record a solo album for years.
So, riffing on his last name, we should consider it a great blessing that he gathered a killer quintet – Boris Koslov (bass), Mike Eckroth (piano), and the tag team of brilliant Venezuelan musicians, Luisito Quintero (percussion) and Pablo Bencid (drums) to fire up the soulful sexy cool and playful scorching energy, fueled by inventive, often unusual rhythm patterns that spin well known classics on their salsified ears. Case in point, a bluesy, hipster exotica spin through James Taylor’s soft rock classic “Fire and Rain” which seduces with a blend of 4/4 melody (carried by the ‘bone) and a 6/8 Venezuelan joropo pattern.
Elsewhere, Bless and his crew bring fresh danceable joy to Afro-Cuban classics like Rudy Calzado’s “Ganga” and Ray Santos’ buoyant, freewheeling “Sunny Ray” (again, a successful experiment in 7/4). Complementing an equally explosive spin through Baden Powell’s “Canto de Ossanha,” a whimsical funked up stroll through Bill Mobley’s “49th Street” and a lovely, moody rendition of Jobim’s “Ligia” are the Bless originals, the lyrically but wildly polyrhythmic “Chasing Normal” and swinging, boppish jam “The Key.” It goes without saying that fans of Latin jazz with a touch of trad jazz will want the trombonist to bless us with more!