Red-hot off the presses and out on the street from 9th February is Mark Weinstein's hottest offering yet, Timbasa. So hot, it completely incinerated my stereo and set my ears, soul, mind, feet and heart on fire. The title derives from timba - party. And what a party!
Jazz flute and Afro-Cuban jazz giant Weinstein assembled some of the finest and brightest young Cuban talent in the US for this album. The percussion ensemble is the finest Afro-Cuban percussion ensemble yet, led again by Pedrito Martinez, first heard on Mark Weinstein's Algo Más (and on Con Alma) and whose star shines brighter than ever. An absolute sensation also is pianist Axel Tosca Laugart - unquestionably the finest Latin jazz pianist I have heard yet, bar none. Laugart is so hot it wouldn't surprise me if his ivories caught fire. Mark his name well, for I should be most surprised indeed if we didn't hear an awful lot more from and about this truly prodigiously gifted young pianist. Anchoring the rhythm section is outstanding bassist Panagiotis Andreou with an amazing ease and instinct of rhythm and time.
The exemplary virtuosity of all the players on Timbasa is perfectly matched by the absolute joyousness of their fiery performances. Mark Weinstein's flute and improvs attain yet greater heights than ever. All around, the soloing is out of this world. And Weinstein's unquestionable prowess as an arranger shines as ever, and as ever is tempered by a healthy respect for history.
The material on Timbasa is an unbeatable combination of some of the best-loved classics and blistering originals - one by Weinstein himself, another by Weinstein with Andreou, and two by Martinez. A perfect blend that will set any party on fire, and blow away any blues no matter how bad.
The opener, Miles Davis' classic Milestones, sets the pace and tone as well as the standard for the rest of Mark Weinstein's Timbasa. A more joyous and joyful version of this, perhaps Davis' best-remembered composition, would be hard to imagine. Weinstein's almost frenetic improvs are sheer magic, as indeed they are throughout the album. His sidemen likewise prove they mean business straight from the off. The title track, Timbasa, a contribution by Pedrito Martinez, is also a joy, especially also its complex breaks or cierres that are sheer perfection and its closing percussion fireworks exchanges between Martinez, Herrera and Diaz. At 9 minutes 16 seconds, this is the longest track, but as with all of them you wish it didn't have to end.
Wayne Shorter's immortal classic Footprints receives one of the most unusual and imaginative treatments yet, the 7/4 time helping emphasise its Middle Eastern connections and the somewhat mysterious, even eerie aspects of the melody. Yet another great classic, Herbie Hancock's Watermelon Man, helps eliminate a block here - whenever thinking of it, until now I haven't been able to get a certain (superb in its own right) comedy version of a few years ago of this fabulous tune out of my head. Weinstein's version on Timbasa has not only restored this tune for me, it is undoubtedly one of the most exciting interpretations yet. A particular standout also is a superb bass solo from Panagiotis Andreou.
Yet another classic, Chucho Valdez's A Ernesto, provides another superlative showcase for Mark Weinstein's flute, here to the beat of Cuban guaracha-son. At nearly half-way through, Laugart opens his piano solo with a fun quote from that old 1930s "turkey" Yes Sir, That's My Baby and then lets fly, dominating the rest of this fabulous piece. At just over nine minutes the second longest track on Timbasa, the unforgettable Ellington/Mills/Tizol classic Caravan here receives its most distinctive treatment yet. Over the years, I must have collected somewhere between a hundred and two hundred different versions of this entrancing masterpiece of the Duke and heard hundreds more. Yet none quite as memorable as this! Caravan opens with a bass and vocalese intro of over two minutes, highlighting the Middle Eastern roots of this tune as well as the Arabic/Hebraic influences in Afro-Cuban music. This intro in itself is stunning and almost worthy of a separate track. As the percussion and piano come in the scene is set for Weinstein's flute to eloquently state the theme and then sore off into flights of fancy, answered by Laugart's equally eloquent ivories. Funk, Yoruba-based Afro-Cuban yesa rhythms and Middle East melt and meld together as a single cohesive whole.
The second of Martinez's originals, Encuentro, has Weinstein's soaring flute solo followed by an extensive fine solo from Laugart, in turn followed by one from Andreou, before letting the percussion reign supreme for a while. Kavaklari Cubano, an Andreou and Weinstein original, is based on a Turkish folk song. This provides the perfect showcase for Weinstein's wonderful rich bass flute as well as Andreou's vocals. The percussion is also out of this world. Featuring the Afro-Cuban religious drums of the Santeria tradition, the batá, here the drumming often reminds of the darbuka, sometimes even of the Iranian tombek or Indian tabla in its intricacies and subtlety of tone.
All too soon the closer of Timbasa is reached in the form of an old, familiar Weinstein original, the classic Just another Guajira. First heard on Weinstein's revolutionary sensational 1960s cult album Cuban Roots, this particular version is the finest yet. Blues-inflected and elegant, Just another Guajira rounds this album off perfectly with some soaring flute improvs from Weinstein.
As has been remarked already, the soloing on Timbasa is simply sensational all round. And Weinstein's in particular sounds on finer form than ever, somehow more confident and assertive, authoritative. The voice of his flutes, whether concert, alto or bass, is also attaining ever greater heights of perfection. Mark Weinstein at last seems to be finding some of the confidence to believe that he really does belong up there with the other true jazz greats of the past, which he unquestionably does.
The length of the tracks tends to be nice and meaty, with three of them being of a reasonable length for surely getting lots of airplay. Surely as sensational, compelling, and consistent an album as Timbasa cannot fail to bring the success and acclaim it so richly deserves.
Mark Weinstein's Timbasa is one hell of a party that you just don't want to stop. Latin jazz, or Afro-Cuban jazz, at its very finest. An album that's just pure magic. No collection of Latin music, Latin jazz, Afro-Cuban jazz or for that matter World music could ever be complete without Timbasa. Or really, any good music collection. Or even if you just like to groove. Best listened to in fire-proof clothing and surrounds though! Hot hot HOT!
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