If Monday night in Hartford wasn’t sultry enough, Latin jazz rhythms turned up the heat in Bushnell Park for another very large and musically enthused crowd. Starting with Heshima Moja and Ofrecimiento’s “Afro Cuban Blues,” featuring Moja scat singing against the beat of David Allen Rivera’s conga drumming, the African and Caribbean influences were infectious. The impeccable Damian Curtis was at the piano, Charles Langford played a mellow saxophone and Kevin Sharpe set the polyrhythmic tone against Rivera’s congas. Last week’s headlining act, trumpeter Haneef Nelson, joined the band to play one of Nelson’s compositions, a piece he described as evoking “resistance, revolution and critical consciousness.” Nelson characterized the music as an experimental melding of Charles Mingus and Matubo Santa Maria that joins Cuban rhythms and black classical jazz. The extravagance of drumming was nothing if not consciousness-raising. The band finished with another of Moja’s compositions, “Love Conquers All,” a fitting testimonial to the good vibes of the Monday Night Jazz audience.
Continuing Monday Night Jazz’s long tradition of fostering new jazz talent, the intermission featured saxophonist and Hartford Jazz Society Emerging Artist finalist GB Sneed’s rendition of “Summertime.” If chosen from the four finalists, Sneed will appear in a 15-minute set on this year’s River Cruise, scheduled for September 9 (tickets on sale at http://hartfordjazzsociety.com/jazz-river-cruise/). Sneed described taking up the saxophone four years ago at age 53, with no previous musical experience, and playing his first public performance a year later. Monday night’s performance was surely proof that jazz talent emerges at every age and stage of life.
The polyrhythms – and the congas – were on fire when headliner Little Johnny Rivero and His Giants took the stage. With Rivero on congas, counterpointed against drummer Obed Calvaire, Zaccai Curtis at the piano, trumpeter Jonathan Powell, Kris Allen on alto sax and Luques Curtis on bass, it was nearly impossible to keep from dancing. Rivero reminded the audience that “percussion came from Africa, where people used drums to communicate,” and Rivero’s lightning quick hands on the congas carried on a conversation with Calvaire’s driving rhythm that continued throughout the set. On “Africa My Love,” Rivero started a call-and-response, answered by Calvaire, joined by Powell’s pure, bright horn tones and Allen’s clear and sultry saxophone, and overlaid with Curtis’ simultaneously loose and precise hands on the keyboard. “Little Giant” opened with Allen’s smooth saxophone, before Rivero picked up the tempo on the congas, along with Calvaire, and Powell’s trumpet trilled and punctuated the beat. Rivero dedicated the piece to Puerto Rico and the musical gatherings where he absorbed the congero tradition in the 1970s and ‘80s. On Monday night, Little Johnny Rivero brought a little bit of Puerto Rico – and a whole lot of dancing rhythms – to Bushnell Park.
photos by Maurice Robertson