Caliente! A Flurry of New Releases from Latin Jazz Artists

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There’s so much going out in the world of Latin jazz! Here, DownBeat presents some great selections.

Dafnis Prieto featuring Luciana Souza

Cantar (Dafnison)

Dafnis Prieto is a Grammy Award-winning, Cuban-born drummer, composer, bandleader, educator and 2011 MacArthur Genius Fellow who, at 48 years old, is just getting started. His discography as a leader goes eight titles deep, and as a sideman he’s been playing for two decades with names as far ranging as Eddie Palmieri and John Zorn. Here, he features Brazilian singer Luciana Souza, also a Grammy-award winner.

The album, Cantar, out Sept. 16, also showcases Peter Apfelbaum on soprano saxophone and keyboards, Martin Bejerano on piano and Matt Brewer on electric bass in a mix of the traditions of the genre and its current influences.


Gustavo Cortiñas

Kind Regards–Saludos Afectuosos (Desafío Candente)

Chicago bandleader and composer Gustavo Cortiñas has a talent for conceiving and executing projects that are ambitious in scope. His 2021 release Desafío Candente was a sprawling meditation on Latin American life and struggles. Now, Cortiñas builds upon that foundation with his fourth release as a leader, Kind Regards–Saludos Afectuosos, which came out Sept. 2 on his own label, Desafío Candente Records. The subject matter on Kind Regards focuses on the immigrant experience in the U.S. — its cover depicts an image of two children on each side of the border wall between the U.S. and Mexico.

Kind Regards gives life, through music, to words that attempt to build bridges and understanding in times of borders and ignorance; words that focus on our feet and the dust on which they walk, instead of the stars under which they dream,” the bandleader explained. And words are indeed the fundamental focus of this music, as the album is a collection of songs in which the bandleader served as composer and lyricist, representing a significant departure and evolution from his previous work.


Lauren Henderson

La Bruja (Brontosaurus)

Versatile vocalist Lauren Henderson expands her sound on La Bruja. Merging mystical themes with familiar melodies, La Bruja is an embrace of African American music highlighting the Afro-Latinx experience and the resilience of women through a spellbinding, 11-track collection of deftly composed originals and carefully curated Latin jazz standards.

Out in July via Henderson’s label Brontosaurus Records, La Bruja takes its name from the Spanish word for witch. On her ninth release as a leader, Henderson sets out to reclaim an obsolete term that historically has had a negative connotation. As the U.S. is in conflict regarding women’s rights, Henderson’s venture is a reprisal against the governing of women’s bodies, while remaining a display of Henderson’s signature nuance and silken vocal palette.


Manel Fortià Trio

Despertar (Microscopi)

Barcelona-born bassist Manel Fortià bridges his Mediterranean and Spanish roots with the sounds of modern New York jazz on his trio album Despertar, out in July.

Composed and produced by Fortià, Despertar presents a musical self-portrait based on a selection of originals, all inspired by his experiences while living in New York between 2016 and 2020. The composer creates mellow and personal music that touches on influences as varied as Charlie Haden, Keith Jarrett, Maurice Ravel and Paco de Lucía, among others.

Fortià’s trio features two European jazz personalities of the new generation. Spanish pianist Marco Mezquida understands Fortià’s music deeply and performs with elegance and dynamism. The two previously worked together on their 2015 duo album My Old Flame. Rounding out the trio is French drummer Raphaël Pannier, with whom Fortià recorded the 2018 album Bulería Brooklyniana, mixing Brooklyn jazz underground with flamenco.


Maria Mendes

Saudade, Color Of Love (Challenge)

Hailing from Portugal and based for the last decade-and-a-half in the Netherlands, Grammy and Latin Grammy Award-nominated vocalist and composer Maria Mendes is no stranger to living between two worlds. With her critically acclaimed 2019 album Close To Me, Mendes spotlighted her ability to bring disparate influences together with her vibrant fusion of symphonic jazz and Portuguese Fado, the folk music of her homeland.

Now, Mendes brings her singular vision to the concert stage in collaboration with master keyboardist-arranger John Beasley and Metropole Orkest on her new live album, Saudade, Colour Of Love. Out Oct. 7 via Challenge Records, the album expands the emotional intensity of its predecessor’s hybrid sound with the backing of a full orchestra. The lush symphonic sound sparks when it meets the interplay of Mendes’ brilliant quartet and the singer’s fervent vocals.


Plínio Fernandes

Saudade (Decca Gold)

Born and raised in São Paulo, Brazil, Plínio Fernandes’ musical talent has brought him all over the world, including to the Royal Academy of Music in London, where he received his master’s degree and has lived for the last seven years. With Saudade, a collection of works for solo guitar, Fernandes makes his recording debut for Decca Gold, weaving his musical loves and telling his captivating international story in sound.

“I chose songs that I grew up listening to,” Fernandes explained, “and in many cases I fell in love with the guitar through them.” One can hear that love throughout Saudade.

The album also features special guests Sheku Kanneh-Mason (cello) on Villa-Lobos’ “Bachianas Brasileiras No. 5: I. Aria (Cantilena),” Braimah Kanneh-Mason (violin) on “Menino” and vocalist Maria Rita on a rendition of “O Mundo É Um Moinho.”


Xiomara Torres

La Voz Del Mar (Patois)

La Voz del Mar is a scintillating work by vocalist Xiomara Torres and vibraphonist Dan Neville on Wayne Wallace’s Patois Records. The recording showcases Torres along with Bay Area native Neville’s arrangements, and celebrates the rhythms and songs of generations of Afro-Colombians living and making music on Colombia’s Pacific Coast.

Guest artists include John Benitez, Edmar Castañeda, John Santos, Wayne Wallace and Destiny Muhammad. Neville, who has long studied with master musicians in Cuba and Colombia, spearheads the outing, part of an ongoing effort to share a cultural heritage from this little-known region. DB


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