Alexis Baro Havana Banana

Cuban jazz musicians have come on strong in Canada in recent years. One of the best and brightest is trumpet player Alexis Baro, who relocated to Toronto from Havana in 2001. This debut recording is a very solid funky set of Latin jazz, which in order to appreciate you’d already have to be predisposed to Latin jazz in the first place, as it is deep within the genre but doesn’t offer anything radically new. Baro is a fine, speedy player who isn’t all fireworks, all the time like so many Cuban jazz players. His greatest strength is pushing and pulling at the already interesting changes in each tune to tease out more tension from their frameworks. Havana Banana works best when its conga and Fender Rhodes-driven grooves power the tunes, which accounts for more than of two-thirds of the disc. Nevertheless, this album could have been made anytime from 1975 onwards, and bears a strong resemblance to the stage band funky jazz of Hilton Ruiz and Ray Barretto’s CTI work. "Almost There” is Baro’s finest moment on this disc, with a muted trumpet solo skittering over a very quick tempo, then hitting those high notes judiciously without overdoing it, ending up with a swinging coda. The most distinct tunes on the album are those with multiple parts, like the Bata drum-fuelled opener "Footprints.” Hopefully his compositional abilities will continue to develop beyond the tight grooves on display here. (Central Station)