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Evolution by Jeff Niess

Coinciding with the unabated expansion of Latin music’s popularity within the United States, Mambo Maniacs Records, a small label based in New Jersey dedicated to the highest-quality recording standards, has reorganized to expand its distribution and sign vibrant new artists to its roster. One of those, Jeff Niess, has added his vibraphone to the mix in a new CD, Evolution, that owes much of its inspiration to the music of Tito Puente, including Puente’s composition "Que Será Mi China," Neiss’ vibes-based coolness combined with Afro-Puerto Rican fire. The resulting paradox, reassuring shimmering sustained tones floating above the polyrhythmic apparent-chaos-turned-into-art, creates an engaging tension at the heart of the music of Evolution. On the one hand, the extroversion of the performances draw in the listener with a danceable allure that suggests a percussive section larger than its actual number. On the other, the softness of Niess’ vibes invites active listening to catch the nuances of the ringing accompaniment that he provides.

Evolution includes an assortment of original tunes and jazz standards adapted to clavé. For example, bassist Abiud Troche’s arrangement takes "Take Five," in four, and the rightness of Paul Desmond’s meter of choice becomes evident. For Troche stretches the long tones to conform to the newly metered song as Joseph Rodriguez’ percussion rules, saxophonist Andrew Neu’s purity of tone nonetheless recalling Desmond’s, though Desmond’s remains ever distinctive. By the same token, Toots Thielemans’ "Bluesette" is done in four as well, a rumba percolating under Neu’s and Niess’ assured melodic leadership.

But tunes like "Jordu" or Niess’ "Rumba Caliente" attain greater complexity as the moods shift and the course of the music becomes unpredictable. "Rumba Caliente" starts solely with Afro-Cuban percussion, but then after 20 seconds, the irresistibility of clavé takes over, and "Rumba Caliente" moves into another phase altogether. Plus, Hector Rosado’s and Rodriguez’ use of timbale to drive the music is a reminder of Puente’s influence on the music.

Recorded with painstaking attention to capturing the sonic contributions of each of the instruments, including balance and richness of timbre, Evolution offers the magic of Latin music expertly played in a mutually supportive musical environment. It’s music that works its way into the listener’s consciousness and stays there long after the playing has stopped.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Jeff Niess
  • CD Title: Evolution
  • Genre: Latin Jazz / Latin Funk
  • Year Released: 2004
  • Record Label: Mambo Maniacs Records
  • Tracks: Rumba Caliente, Blusette, Little Cigars, Take Five, Que Será Mi China, Jordu, In A Dream, Expression, Let’s Play, Wapataca
  • Musicians: Jeff Niess (vibraphone); Andrew Neu (saxophone); Ricardo Ponz (flute); Jose Anaya, Elio Villafranca (piano); Michael Colon, Abiud Troche (bass); Hector Rosado (conga, timbale); Rick Agron (bongo, guiro, toys); Joseph Rodriguez (conga, bongo, timbale); Tony Perez (vocals)
  • Rating: Four Stars
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