by Ferell Aubre
Latin music is on an upswing as of late, thankfully. Rhythmically, Latin jazz has a lot to offer, but it is also about the deeper connection that the musicians portray when playing the music. Introducing, Ron Francis Blake, he might be a newcomer from a leader release standpoint, but certainly not from a performance standpoint. He is a regular member of the Poncho Sanchez line-up, taking up the trumpet chair with fiery precision.
“Mr. Bond/Half and Half” starts with a quiet intro with almost a symphonic quality, but when the syncopated middle register bass line enters, you know you are in for a treat. The melody has that ever elusive Latin sway, sexy and focused. The group is a well-oiled machine, the articulation is spot on and the balance is superb. Blake solos over various ensemble pads, his solo is energetic and highly melodic. Blake’s trumpet sound is tremendous, with a big sound that is focused and clear. Francisco Torres turns in a fine trombone solo as the band builds, and effortlessly segues between various feels and sections. The ensemble writing is of note here as well, it is colorful and always evolving.
“Saura de Nazareth” is a divine treat, Andy Abad’s guitar opens this fun selection, he is soon joined by Blake and later the group, to perform a traditionally inspired Latin melody that will make you want to dance. Blake’s articulation on this track is the highlight. His articulation on the melody is short and precise, while his solo is the perfect combination of slurs and accents to create that Latin jazz flavor that we all know and love.
“You and Me Bess” is a beautiful waltz selection that has many sections and feels. The band follows Blake’s warm trumpet playing with such sensitivity, as they listen to each of his phrases, building and supporting every nuance. The ensemble writing features a call and response rapport with Blake, and it shimmers. Walt Weiskopf’s tenor saxophone solo is a splendid example of melodic soloing that has purpose and direction. This is a catchy tune and since it is the ending statement of the album, you will find yourself singing it throughout the day.
This may be Blake’s debut release, but one that is assimilated by a venerable seasoned player. However long it may have taken to get here, thankfully we all can now enjoy Ron Francis Blake as a leader. Well done!