Johnny Blas King Conga

The real young lion action these days is in Afro Cuban jazz, and Johnny Blas and Snowboy are roaring as loud as any of them. King Conga is already Blas's fourth album and has him settling in nicely as an old school bandleader, focusing on composition and arrangement on a full range of mambos, Cuban son and Afro Cuban jazz hybrids. The accent is on making his nine-piece band, which he's led since 1992, sound like a full-fledged orchestra with elegant arrangements and interplay among the horn section. Accordingly, there's little of the frenzy of earlier albums like Skin and Bones and Mambo 2000, and he broadens his repertoire from Tito Puente covers to re-workings of the old Lee Morgan nugget "The Sidewinder" and Freddy Hubbard's "Little Sunflower." Very tasteful and nearly stately, but rarely ho-hum, especially when the trombone section lets loose on a mambo, such as the all-out brass attack on "Debbie's Mambo." (Ubiquity)