CD Review Latin Jazz Network 7/27/2007
Piratas Trovadores (Pirates Troubadours)
From the Badlands
By Tomas Peňa
Leave it to the mind of trombonist Papo Vazquez to conjure up a title that evokes images of riding shotgun through the Wild West! Actually, the analogy is not a stretch. According to Papo, “the badlands of North Philly is where I grew up. My father owned the neighborhood bodega and we were the only Puerto Ricans in the hood in the early 70s.”
Thirty years later Papo is still drawing his inspiration from the mean streets. The Mighty MF’s (track 1) makes for a great example. The tune is dedicated to an African-American street gang that ruled the streets of North Philly. Much like the gang, the music comes at you from every angle. It’s raw, ferocious and in your face!
Over the years Papo has built his career on fusing Afro-Caribbean rhythms with Bomba: Yuba; Sica; Hoyo de Mula; Aguinaldo and Plena with progressive melodic and harmonic elements. “From the Badlands” raises the bar in more ways than one. Yuba’donbe celebrates the enduring connection between Puerto Rico and Africa (via the Congo),
The Enemy Within, Si Seňor Bob and Bomba En El Monte showcase the band’s ability to fuse Bomba, jazz and other tasty elements to create a musical “sancocho,” Lina’s Waltz is a gorgeous ballad that highlights the band’s soft side, El Macanaso (featuring vocalist Herman Olivera) spins the story of a routine traffic stop that goes awry, Donde Esta Juan is a heartfelt “homenaje” dedicated to the late Puerto Rican trumpet player, “Juancito” Torres (1936-2003). Perhaps the most thought provoking tune is Los Mediocres. Among other things, the tune addresses such weighty issues as man’s inhumanity to man and the pitfalls of deluding yourself into thinking that less is more. This is fresh, original music that will get you riled up, make you want to shake the booty, cry and rejoice.
As always, Papo makes it a point to surround himself with the finest established and up-and-coming musicians (the usual suspects and a few invited guests): Sherman Irby (alto sax and flute); Willie Williams (alto and tenor sax); Edsel Gomez (piano); Ricky Rodriguez (bass), Anthony Carrillo, Richie Flores and Milton Cardona (percussion), Henry Cole, Victor Jones (traps), vocalist Herman Olivera and a special cameo appearance by former Young Lord, Felipe Luciano.
If that weren’t enough, a “very reliable” source has informed me that Papo’s next recording has been completed and is ready to roll. Without giving too much away, it will feature a world-class 19-piece orchestra, performing contemporary Puerto Rican music, jazz and (what Papo calls) “Sambomba.” At this writing there is no release date, however, the orchestra will go under the name of, The Mighty Pirates!
Looking back, Papo has come along way since he left the streets of North Philly for bigger and better things. As a musician, composer and arranger he has performed and/or collaborated with anyone who is anyone in the music business: Hector Lavoe, Chico O’ Farrill, Wayne Shorter, Tito Puente; Dizzy Gillespie; Manny Oquendo; Hilton Ruiz; Freddie Cole; Pharoah Sanders; Ray Barretto; Juan Luis Guerra; Shakira and Wyclef Jean, among others.
By the way, if you are wondering what Pirate Troubadour stands for, it’s someone who “steals” your musical allegiance through the sheer power of their music (you heard it here first, pa que lo sepa).
In a world where mediocrity reigns supreme, it’s comforting to know that there are cultural warriors like Papo Vazquez, fighting the good fight and keeping it real.
Papo's New CD Pirates Troubadours from The Badlands
Sherman Irby - Alto Sax & Flute
Willie Williams - Ten.Sax & Sop. Sax
Edsel Gomez - Piano
Ricky Rodriguez - Bass
Anthony Carrillo - Perc.
Roberto Cepeda - Voc. & Perc.
Juan Gutierrez - Perc.
Richie Flores - Perc.
Victor Jones - Drums
Henry Cole - Drums
Herman Olivera - Vocals on three tracks, invited guest
Milton Cardona - Coro
Yomo Toro - Cuatro, invited guest
Nelson Jaime - Trumpet, invited guest
Edgardo Miranda - Cuatro, Invited Guest
Freddie Mc Farlane - Piano
Felipe Luciano - News Reporter