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Afro-Cuban (1955)

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Art Blakey

Considered Kenny Dorham's finest recording of his all-too-short career, this re-reissue has been newly remastered and presumably now includes all of the takes from these nonet and sextet sessions of 1955. Considering the time period, this date remains way ahead of the Latin-tinged and hard bop music that would follow. It would be difficult to assess the sextet being a step below the larger group effort, but only because it is much less Afro-Cuban. Nonetheless the unmistakable drumming of Art Blakey powers the combo through the blisteringly swinging "La Villa" with unison horns (Hank Mobley, tenor sax; Cecil Payne, baritone sax). The other easy swinging pieces "K.D.'s Motion," "Venita's Dance," and "Echo of Spring/K.D.'s Car Ride" display great group empathy and seem effortless, though they're not. It's the Latin-based music that really differentiates this band from all others of this era, save Dizzy Gillespie's. Payne's robust bari ignites the hip call-and-response motif of "Afrodisia," while his horn in tandem with pianist Horace Silver backs the up-front horns, supplemented by trombonist J.J. Johnson, for the heated mambo-ish hard bopper "Basheer's Dream." Two takes of "Minor's Holiday" are, curiously enough, exactly the same time at 4:24, both super cooking with Dorham's clear-as-a-bell trumpet leading the other horns, which practically act as backup singers. Percussionist Carlos "Patato" Valdes is the perfect spice added to this dish. The lone ballad, "Lotus Flower," is remarkable in that its marked tender restraint feels on the brink of wanting to cut loose, but never does. A first-rate recording for the under-appreciated Dorham, this one should be in every collection of all true music lovers. ~ Michael G. Nastos