Hip Bop Essence Allstars Afrocubano Chant 2

Being at the height of one of North America's cyclical love affairs with all sounds Latin, records become available that would not have been possible a few years ago. The Hip Bop Essence Allstars are one such example. Recalling the Fania All-Stars records of the '60s and '70s, this project employs shifting personnel from track to track. The big names here are Gato Barbieri, Bob James (composer of proto-hip-hop jams "Nautilus" and "Take Me To The Mardi Gras"), pianist Michel Camilo and former P-Funk percussionist Larry Frantangelo. Obviously, the prospect of getting paid has put everyone in a great mood, and there is a breeziness to these sessions that is frequently engaging. Afrocubano Chant 2 starts off with a blazing afro-calypso run at Sonny Rollins' "St. Thomas." The energy level is sustained for about 20 minutes, with Barbieri's composition, "Habotan," being a highlight. From then on, the schmaltz tendencies of many of the participants rear their ugly heads. But the heads are never too ugly, nor the playing, particularly Dave McMurray's flute and Dave Samuels' funky marimba. Still, the unrelenting sunny mood tends to detract from the jazz content. The intent seems to be to craft a highly melodic, accessible instrumental album, and with that the All Stars succeed. It would have been nice if Gato had let loose on a few more tracks to make the mood a little more urgent, but if this creates more interest in large Latin jazz ensembles, so much the better. (Silva Screen)