By Bobby Reed | Published January 2021
Trombonist Noah Bless—who has played with the likes of Eddie Palmieri, Paquito D’Rivera and the Spanish Harlem Orchestra—had plenty of experience to draw upon when developing his aptly titled leader debut: New York Strong–Latin Jazz! The album serves not only as an entertaining escape during the long days of the pandemic, but also a poignant reminder of the brand of Latin jazz that New York City venues have been missing on a nightly basis during the COVID-19 crisis.
Leading a gifted quintet, Bless delivers dance-inducing grooves with his renditions of Rudy Calzado’s “Ganga” and Baden Powell’s “Canto De Ossanha.” Although his brass swagger is front and center on these two tunes, Bless avoids grandstanding and knows when to yield the spotlight, giving keyboardist Mike Eckroth and bassist Boris Kozlov plenty of room to strut.
Bless showcases a more exploratory aesthetic with his original number “Chasing Normal,” and on his tune “The Key,” the band—expanded to a sextet with flutist Alejandro Aviles—gracefully navigates compelling shifts in time signatures, moving into and out of a pulsating, songo beat.
The band’s authoritative command of tempo—anchored by the work of drummer Pablo Bencid and percussionist Luisito Quintero—is on full display on a 7/4 rendition of Ray Santos’ “Sunny Ray.” A brilliant reading of Jobim’s “Ligia” features delicate dialogue between Eckroth and Bless, while the curveball in the program is a version of James Taylor’s “Fire And Rain” that highlights the familiar melody and convincingly makes the case for trombone as a muscular lead instrument.