What do you want from your Latin jazz album? Great musicianship? Authentic music? Danceable? Must it have great rhythm, catchy tunes and present the best in Latin percussion? Mark Weinstein is a name not immediately associated with the best of Latin jazz, but he has done it again with Timbasa, a fantastic recording and his fifth as leader. There isn’t a dull moment on this classic Latin jazz party album. Cuban-inspired-and with Cubans gracing the percussion chairs, piano included-Weinstein leads this group of young virtuosos, transforming jazz classics including “Milestones,” “Footprints,” “Watermelon Man” and “Caravan” into Latin dance grooves.
Weinstein is a band leader, a writer, an arranger and a producer. More importantly, he is a very good flautist with a passion for Latin music. When Weinstein is involved, be it Brazilian or Cuban music, it is always played with authority, intensity and honesty. On Timbasa, Spanish for party, the flute leads the percussion-heavy band through songs that give all members a chance to showcase their skills. Miles Davis’ opener, “Milestones,” is the launching pad for a fiery display of Cubano percussion magic, with pianist Axel Tosca Laugart’s first solo, following Weinstein’s, shining brightly and fitting in amongst the many greatest pianists with which Weinstein has played, including Chick Corea, Kenny Barron, Omar Sosa and Mark Levine.
The arrangement of Herbie Hancock’s “Watermelon Man” is superb, while Wayne Shorter’s “Footprints” is a beautiful journey through some jungle paradise. Laugart and Weinstein play off each other with passion, trading runs and communicating on a high level. Bassist Panagiotis Andreou feeds off the percussionists and lays down verse after verse of dynamic playing, bringing a Middle Eastern feel to the opening of “Caravan” with fusion style solo bass and chanting vocals. The entire band then jumps on the groove, with Weinstein playing the traditional “Caravan” phrasing; a mix of classical, layered upon Flamenco, as the percussion assembly lets loose with wild rhythms, spurring Laugart into action, as he creates a sand storm of notes that swirl and roar across the plains.
Timbasa’s four original songs-two by percussionist Pedrito Martinez, one by Weinstein, and one co-written by Andreou and Weinstein-are all entertaining. Timbasa has all of the ingredients of a first rate Latin jazz recording, as Weinstein-accompanied by this stellar group-is at the top of his game.