Tuesday, November 23, 2021

Latin jazz at its finest, drawing at times from bebop and Broadway

Conguero Sammy Figueroa brought a quintet version of His Latin Jazz Explosion band to Sarasota on Monday, November 22. As befits its name, the band and its leader were on musical fire all night for this Jazz Club of Sarasota concert.

Sammy Figueroa
Figueroa spent many years as a leading Latin percussionist in New York City, working with a wide variety of major musicians, including Miles Davis, Sonny Rollins, David Bowie and Chaka Khan. This Bronx native who was raised in Puerto Rico has been based in Miami for the past 20 years.
Martin Bejerano
His group for this concert included pianist Martin Bejerano (a longtime member of drummer Roy Haynes' Fountain of Youth Band), bassist Carlo De Rosa, tenor saxophonist Troy Roberts (a frequent collaborator with B-3 player Joey DeFrancesco), and trumpeter Cisco Dimas.

Cisco Dimas
Figueroa's program stretched nearly two hours, not counting a brief intermission, and included extended explorations of nine tunes that showcased the cohesiveness of the band's groove and the improvisational skills of each player.

Pianist-composer Michel Camilo's fiery “And Sammy Walked In” quickly set the tone for the evening. Bejerano's “Origin Story” was wide-ranging in its moods, particularly during his piano solos. The first set highlight was the band's take on the ballad “If Ever I Would Leave You, from the Lerner & Lowe Broadway musical Camelot. They dug into a Horace Silver arrangement, adding a strong Latin jazz tinge that Figueroa aptly described as “rice and beans.”

Troy Roberts
The first set wound down with bassist Gabriel Vivas' composition “Alegria” (Happiness) from Figueroa's 2015 recording Imaginary World and pianist Mike Orta's uptempo “Latin What?” from the conguero's 2011 recording Urban Nature.

Carlo De Rosa
The second set was quite something, as the band romped through both the bebop canon and Latin jazz material. It included Cedar Walton's instrumental chestnut “Firm Roots;” the Latin ballad “El Último Suspiro” (The Last Sigh), which was a 1950s hit for Sammy's father, bolero singer Charlie Figueroa; and pianist Eugene Uman's “Niko's Dream.” 

Uman's cha-cha-cha tune was a burner that featured Figueroa's mastery on his three congas, set center stage, and the two horns.

Roberts' and Dimas' unison horn work and solo skills were on full display again on the closer, the band's vibrant take on Silver's jazz classic “Cape Verdean Blues.”

The sold-out concert was part of the Jazz Club of Sarasota's Monday Night Jazz Cabaret series at Florida Studio Theatre’s cozy John C. Court Cabaret in downtown Sarasota.

Sammy Figueroa & His Latin Jazz Explosion

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