One Track Mind: Brian Andres and the Afro-Cuban Jazz Cartel, “Black Market” (2013)

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It’s hard to deny the electricity, enthusiasm and emotion of Afro-Cuban music, and a certain drummer out of San Francisco has captured that essence in leading a band of like-minded specialists of the music form. Brian Andres, a Cincinnati native who transplanted to the San Francisco Bay right at the end of the 90s, fell in love with the exuberant form of jazz, which, when you think of it, is a drummer’s dream. Pursuing his dream culminated in the assembling of his own nine-piece jazz orchestra of some of the Bay Area’s best talents, dubbed the Afro-Cuban Jazz Cartel.

Next week, Andres is poised to release his second album, a festive affair he made with his Cartel, named appropriate to the Afro-Cuban scene being celebrated: San Francisco.

What is so enjoyable about San Francisco is that there’s just enough of a contemporary feel to give it an air of freshness, avoiding the sense that the music is an old, musty artifact to be passively admired like some museum piece. At the same time, the music’s strong, unmistakable ties to the genuine article leave no doubt that these guys really know the stuff.

The arrangements, however, might be my favorite thing about the record. It all seems to go toward that goal of “electricity, enthusiasm and emotion” that all good Cuban jazz music has. When I initially cracked open this CD, I immediately went straight to “Black Market” just to find out how they arranged that old Weather Report tune, and I got hooked right away.

“Black Market,” as presented here, is underpinned by a conga rhythm from Andres and percussionists Carlos Caro, Patricio Angulo and Javier Cabanillas. The keyboardist Christian Andres arranges the horn section to spice up the song and give it a purposeful deviation from the original, with lots of punches, and state the chorus with a great deal of zest. In between those big horn statements, he drops an electric piano solo followed by Tony Peebles’ sax solo, both to the point and right in that perfect pocket. The climax arrives at the ending section, a drum/percussion windup to one last horn motif, summing up the song’s melody in five seconds.

“Black Market” is one of Joe Zawinul’s best songs he contributed to Weather Report, and probably the best of his groovers for the pioneering fusion jazz group. I’ve found many renditions aside from the original to be lacking, even WR’s own live versions, which tended to get played too fast. By adapting the song ingeniously to San Francisco style Afro-Cuban jazz, Brian Andres and his Afro-Cuban Jazz Cartel at long last provided a compelling reason to listen to another version.

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San Francisco goes on sale July 16, by Bacalao Records. Visit Brian Andres’ website for more info.

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