(4 / 5)
Stunning Latin jazz album, which raises the bar several feet, and is a welcome return for the acclaimed Cuban-Scandinavian band Blanco y Negro. “Timbero” showcases 10 sparkling tracks, penned by various members of the band.
Who are: Karl-Martin Almqvist on tenor sax, Abel Marcel on piano, Yasser Morejon on bass, Jonas Johansen on drums and percussion, and Eliel Lazo on percussion and vocals. This is a very formidable line-up indeed.
After being in hibernation for some years, Blanco y Negro were reborn in 2014, with two new members, replacing two departures. The admired Swedish sax player, Karl-Martin Almqvist, ‘The Bear’, joined the band – as did pianist Abel Marcel, a vibrant improviser & former member of David Murray’s group.
The rhythm section remained the same – the two Cubans: conga player Eliel Lazo, and bassist Yasser Morejon, plus Jonas Johansen, one of Denmark’s leading drummers. Together they deliver a gorgeously addictive album, full of invention, swing, colour, vitality and musicianship.
In 2006, Danish record label Stunt released an acclaimed album called “Blanco y Negro”, featuring Eliel Lazo (congas, etc), Jacob Dinesen (sax), Tony Rodriguez (piano), Yasser Morejon (bass) and Jonas Johansen (drums)…plus Miguelito Valdes (trumpet) on two tracks. The band’s recording and live performances, merging Cuban music and Scandinavian jazz, caused quite a stir. But after several years they went their separate ways.
However, in 2014, the appearance of the skillful pianist Abel Marcel Calderón Arias, an Amsterdam-based Cuban, sparked Blanco y Negro to life again. Marcel is equally at home with the American & European jazz traditions as he is with his own Cuban jazz roots.
With the addition of Swedish tenor sax player Karl- Martin Almqvist, Blanco y Negro was reborn. Early in his career, Almqvist studied with George Garzone, whilst living in New York. He has gone on to appear and record with a long list of jazz names, including: Pat Metheny, Tim Hagans, Rufus Reid, Joakim Milder, Dave Liebman, Django Bates, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Georg Riedel, Lina Nyberg, the Norrbotten Big band, and currently the Danish Radio Big Band. On this record, Almqvist nods to Ben Webster and Sony Rollins. Fabulous player.
Eliel Lazo is world-renowned for his conga playing, and has worked with a truly diverse list of artists, including: Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, Kylie Minogue, (yes, you read that right!!!), Gerard Presencer, Savage Rose, Michel Camilo, Chucho Valdes, Airto Moreira and the Danish Radio Big Band.
Yasser Morejon is a highly popular bassist in many varying contexts, especially Latin-based: Roberto Fonseca, Chucho Valdes Jr, Calixto Oviedo, the Afrocuban All Stars, and Cubanismo.
Drummer Jonas Johansen has appeared on more than 170 albums (wow!), and he has performed with a long list of international stars including Mike Stern, Steve Swallow and Eliane Elias.
On ‘Timbero’, the band delivers ten new compositions, with composer credits split between the five musicians: three each by Marcel and Johansen, two by Lazo and one each by Almqvist and Morejon. This powerful ensemble plays with an international sound, inspired by the heritage of its members – Denmark, Sweden and Cuba – as well as the many influences acquired on their travels and collaborations.
The musicians are all virtuoso players, but their versatility and technique are not the whole story. It is also the passion, artistry and unity with which they play. Not going to pick out “standout” cuts, because it is all really, really nice stuff. Strong material, killer players, oodles of chemistry and spot on production values from Jonas Johansen.
By Simon Redley
(2 / 5) ‘OK Zone’
(3 / 5) ‘Decent Zone’
(4 / 5) ‘Super Zone’
(5 / 5) ‘Awesome Zone’