The fourth annual installment of the Con Ritmo y Sabor Latin Jazz Festival started in high gear Saturday night at the Greek Theatre with the appearance of McCoy Tyner’s Latin Jazz All-Stars. The veteran jazz pianist’s style seems adaptable to almost any kind of setting, and the turbulent rhythms of Afro-Cuban jazz provided a particularly felicitous setting for his thick-textured harmonic excursions. His rendering of “Poinciana” revived Ahmad Jamal’s classic interpretation, enlivening it with a surging excitement not present in the original.
The surprise entry in the festival, however, was Cuban all-purpose performer Bobby Carcasses. Although he is largely unknown in this country, the veteran artist has been a significant figure in the Cuban music scene since the ‘50s (he appeared on the Steve Allen television show in 1958 with singers and dancers from the Tropicana nightclub, and founded the first Cuban jazz festival in 1980). The sixtysomething Carcasses immediately established his musical credentials with a stunning a cappella number in which he sang percussive phrases, bass lines and melody, seemingly all at once. When the group Columna B--led by his gifted keyboardist son Robert Carcasses--joined in, he continued to demonstrate his versatility. He sang “Tenderly” and “Green Dolphin Street” with a sensitivity that balanced jazz phrasing with Latin rhythms. And Columna B (who also appeared at the Jazz Bakery over the weekend) is a Latin jazz ensemble that deserves its own prominent hearing.
The moderate-sized crowd knew exactly what to anticipate from Willie Colon and his orchestra, and he did not disappoint. With a front line of three trombones and tenor saxophone blasting its way through infectious salsa rhythms, the set quickly became an invitation to dance, eagerly accepted by most of the audience. Colon highlighted his appearance with a nostalgic medley of songs recorded with the late, great Puerto Rican sonero, Hector Lavoe.
The intended climax of the evening was the appearance of composer Chico O’Farrill, leading his Afro-Cuban Jazz Big Band. But by the time the ensemble reached the stage--following the other acts as well as a ceremony honoring O’Farrill--very little time was left for music. A few numbers, highlighted by the stirring title track from his new album, “Carambola,” were all that were heard before the program abruptly--and to the considerable annoyance of the crowd--came to an end. Too bad. O’Farrill and his music deserved better.