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Grupo Yanqui Rides Again by Bennett Paster and Gregory Ryan / Grupo Yanqui

Co-led by the young, up-and-coming New York City-based pianist (Bennett Paster) and bassist (Gregory Ryan), Grupo Yanqui's stock-in-trade is accomplished - but not overly-polished - Latin Jazz of the sort that simultaneously stimulates the intellect and moves the booty. Though the Grupo has been at it for almost a decade, this CD is only their second recording. If you are not familiar with either Paster or Ryan, their band features a couple of ringers whom you almost certainly know from your own CD collection. Saxophonist Chris Cheek has four CDs of his own out; plus he pops up everywhere these days, most notably in Paul Motian's Electric Bebop Band, Charlie Haden's Liberation Music Orchestra, The Brian Blade Fellowship, and the Bloomdaddies (with fellow tenorman Seamus Blake). Percussionist Gilad is best known as a sessionman whose fine work has graced countless high-profile jazz and pop recordings. Recently, however, he's been working on creative jazz and improv projects with bassist Santi Debriano, pianist Uri Caine, and the legendary alto saxophonist Oliver Lake. Drummer Kieth Hall and trumpeter Alex Norris, while less well-known, are no less accomplished and certainly no less fun to listen to. I especially enjoyed Hall's patient, understated, stress-free trap drumming throughout this warm and engaging CD.

Aside from two covers - Chick Corea's 'Tones for Joan's Bones' and Billy Strayhorn's 'Chelsea Bridge,' - the CD is comprised of original compositions written by Hall or Paster. Each of Ryan's rather oddly-titled pieces have a sort of unexpected, attention-grabbing twist. 'The Chick From Panama' has some real dark harmonies happening between the piano and bass, though it's basically a sultry, smoldering Latin-jazz tune with endlessly percolating percussion, Harmon-muted trumpet and tenor sax out front - Cheek's tenor solo here is magnificent, well-paced and soulful and is almost one-upped by Norris' fluid trumpet. 'If Woody Had Gone Right to The Police...' has an angular, oddly phrased head that unfurls over a bubbling, almost exuberant, guaguanco rhythm. 'PoMoAfroMoFoJoIntro' is a ruminative solo acoustic bass feature that sets up the roiling, soul-jazz tinged 'PoMoAfroMoFoJo' - one of the less overtly Latin pieces on this CD. Again, Norris' and Cheek's solos burn brightly, while Paster follows with a wild, cliffhanging, free-range piano solo.

Paster's contributions are similarly accomplished, though his tastes lean towards the Latin-funk end of the spectrum. 'The Unabonger' has a decidedly old-school modal jazz-funk flavor to it that I found endlessly appealing. 'El Vaquero Numero Cinco' is, as you might expect, in 5/4 time and sports a rather long and tricky theme that gives way to bracing solos by Hall, Norris, and Paster. The title reference in 'The Kid From Albuquerque' may be to Paster's own New Mexico-based childhood experience, but the tune is no-holds-barred Latin jazz in the vein of Jerry Gonzalez and The Fort Apache Band. Cheek chips in a nice alto sax solo here as well. The two covers fare similarly well. It's always great to hear early Chick Corea tunes, and 'Tones for Joan's Bones' is a great pick. The same could be said for Billy Strayhorn's tunes, and the sextet's sultry rendering of 'Chelsea Bridge' - the CD's only ballad - is absolutely first-rate. So, while there is Latin jazz aplenty on 'Grupo Yanqui Rides Again,' this Grupo is not riding a one-trick pony - they adventure into all sorts of diverse areas with the ease, inventiveness and good humor. This CD is a pleasure from start to finish.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Bennett Paster and Gregory Ryan / Grupo Yanqui
  • CD Title: Grupo Yanqui Rides Again
  • Genre: Latin Jazz / Latin Funk
  • Year Released: 2008
  • Record Label: Miles High Records
  • Rating: Four Stars
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