Saxophonist/percussionist Hilary Noble has teamed up with Latin drummer extraordinaire Bobby Sanabria to produce Noble Savage. The result is a musical stew with a pronounced accent of Latin spice that never overwhelms the variety of stylistic ingredients from hard bop to rumba, blues to a place just outside of categories. Noble calls it "Latin free jazz," but it's often more than Latin and not always "free" in the conventional jazz sense. Call it what he will, it's a quality effort throughout.
Noble's association with Sanabria stems from his tenure with the latter's Ascension band, and the rest of the rhythm section of that group (and of the Bobby Sanabria Big Band and Cuerto Ache) came along with the drummer. Their prior collaboration insured that pianist John di Martino and bassist Boris Karlov would have little trouble getting on the page with Noble in the leader's role. The band may have been formed for these sessions, but they play like a well established unit.
Andy McWain adds electric piano to the first two cuts, and three of the tracks feature Charles Neville, of Neville Brothers fame, on saxophones (soprano on "Rumb'asul" and Charles Mingus' "Jelly Roll" and alto on "Terra Australias").
Noble is well known in the Boston area for his work with the jam band Entrain, and when he and Sanabria take over "Rumb'azul" for an extended drum duo it's reminiscent of the kind of drum circles that seem to appear outside of most every jam band gig. Reminiscent, that is, until you realize that these guys can actually play. There's a lesson here for dreadlocked congo players everywhere - rhythm instruments are best left to those who actually have a sense of rhythm. When they are, magic can occur, and "Rumb'azul" produces one of the most magical experiences on the album. There are others, though, including the band's version of Mr. Mingus' tribute to Mr. Morton and Noble's "Seven Effects Of Highly Habitual People," which features some of the leader's most impressive reed work as he takes it from a straight-ahead opening to an outside tour de force.
There's enough good music here to leave the listener with hopes that this band can find more time to spend together, on stage and in the studio. Such a strong beginning deserves further development.