Both the roots and the blossoms of Latin jazz were on full display Wednesday night in the opening performance of the Hollywood Bowl's 2001 Jazz at the Bowl series.
The appearance of legendary bassist-bandleader-composer Israel Lopez, best known as Cachao, touched the sources, bringing the rhythms of the mambo and the improvisational spirit of the descarga (Cuban jam session) to the proceedings. On the other half of the bill, pianist-composer-bandleader Eddie Palmieri revealed the extent to which the music has continually kept pace by displaying his lifelong capacity to combine Latin rhythms with the most adventurous aspects of jazz.
Cachao's opening set was a delight. Kicking off the evening with his own "Descarga Cachao," he followed with other classics--"Goza Mi Mambo Cubano," "Isora Club" and "Lindo Yambu" among them (all present as well on his superb "Master Sessions, Vol. I" album on Sony/Columbia).
His spirited 12-piece ensemble (including actor-musician Andy Garcia playing bongos) romped through the music, with its passionate rhythms, call-and-response vocals and brisk ensemble passages enlivened by first-rate soloing, especially from violinist Frederico Britos and trumpeter Feliciano Gomez.
But it was Cachao's bass playing, especially on "A Francisquita la Gusta el Cusube" that was the real high point of the set. At 82, he played with the vigor of youth and the virtuosity of a master, underscoring his belief in the bass as something more than a string instrument--strumming, bowing, tapping on the wood, a complete rhythm section in a single package.
Palmieri's program, predictably, was far more linked to jazz, with his exploratory keyboard work at the heart of his program. Never hesitating to toss in bits and pieces of edgy, avant-garde sounds before switching to propulsive tumbaos, his playing was the engine that drove his sterling nine-piece group through a too-short bill. Trumpeter Brian Lynch, tenor saxophonist Ivan Renta and trombonist Chris Washburn offered compelling improvisations.
Juxtaposed against the Afro-Cuban roots from Cachao, Palmieri's program brilliantly exhibited the rewards that still exist within the colorful genre of Latin jazz.