“The Art of Latin Jazz” is the first album under multi-Grammy Salsa bandleader Oscar Hernandez’ name. It also takes him out of his Salsa genre comfort zone.
Oscar Hernández had been a successful Salsa musician and bandleader for over 4 decades. He was the musical director for Ruben Blades’ Seis del Solar. Additionally, Oscar has been leading the acclaimed Spanish Harlem Orchestra for 15 years, and counting. With both of these groups Oscar Hernandez has won multiple Grammy awards.
Oscar Hernandez Steps into Latin Jazz
This is the first time Oscar puts his name on the cover of an album. Ironically, it’s not a Salsa one!
There are two reasons why Oscar made this album. First, the work with SHO has diminished and he didn’t want create another Salsa band in Los Angeles, where he’s made his home for 11 years.
Secondly, he always been a fan small Latin Jazz bands, from Cal Tjader to Mongo Santamaria.
Oscar decided to record “The Art of Latin Jazz” because the opportunity presented itself. Therefore, he saw it as the right time.
Why Record “The Art of Latin Jazz”?
Through the years, Oscar has kept composing songs in the Latin Jazz format. He likes to include some in his Spanish Harlem Orchestra albums. Along the way, Oscar accumulated a catalog of 25 to 30 of his compositions.
With more time available in these last few years, he created a quintet to play those Latin Jazz songs mostly around the Los Angeles area. Oscar decided to name his small group “Alma Libre”.
After 4 or 5 years playing gigs with Alma Libre, a friend encouraged Oscar to go to the studio. With that idea, Oscar Hernandez decided it was time to record his Latin Jazz material. This time, for the first time, it would be under his own name.
The Musicians for “Alma Libre”
Oscar Hernández is very clear on his philosophy for playing music. It is a team effort and the team’s agenda comes before any individual agenda. So he begins with the story of bass player Jorge “Sawa” Perez.
Jorge “Sawa” Perez (bass) – the Cuban born bassist is known around the LA area as an emerging talent.
One night after playing the first set with him during a gig, Oscar approached Sawa and mentioned that he could be much better if he would learn to play to accompany as a teammate. When “Sawa” did so in the next set, Oscar congratulated him with a hug.
Justo Almario (sax & flute) – the Colombian-born is perhaps the best known musician in Alma Libre. In the 1970’s he was recruited by Mongo Santamaria for his Latin Jazz band. Since then, Justo has been a well-known figure in the Jazzy world. Oscar has a very high regard for Justo.
Jimmy Branly (drums) – also Cuban born living in the Greater LA Area, Jimmy received a lot of accolades from Oscar. “He understands the concept of music; any type of music” says Oscar. He added, “I did a trio with him and felt very comfortable. And I had never done a trio before. As a matter of fact, that might be my next album”.
Christian Moraga (congas) – originally from Chile, he went to Cuba to study percussion. Christian was recommended to Oscar by a friend. Oscar says he has a good concept and is a good team player. “Now he has his own little group here. That is good so he can walk on my footsteps. That way he knows what it is to be a bandleader.
Gilbert Castellanos (trumpet) – adding a trumpet was a last minute decision. Oscar notes that Alma Libre normally plays with one horn, but he’s glad of adding a trumpet for the recording. He describes the Mexican-American as “a kickass player” who’s well known in the west coast.
Jeremy Bosch (chorus) – the New York-based member of the Spanish Harlem Orchestra served on chorus on “Danzón Para Las Seis”.
The Songs in “The Art of Latin Jazz”
Most songs were part of the catalog of songs Oscar Hernandez has accumulated. However, there are two exceptions. The title song “The Art of Latin Jazz” and “Right On” were two fresh songs write especially for the album.
The title song is a great prelude to what the album has. It showcases the quintet and the great concept of the album.
The rest of the songs provide a good mix of rhythms and tempos. Oscar compositions make good use of the talent in Alma Libre, allowing the musicians to shine individually as well as a cohesive group.
My favorite song is “Danzón Para Las Sies”. In this one Oscar uses a Danzon which then turns into a Cha-cha with a nice Charanga-type chorus to pay homage to his six sisters!
Why Release with Origin Records?
Oscar says that the decision to release under Origin Records responds to two factors.
First, it’s a label owed by musicians and is for musicians. The label was recommended to Oscar by other musicians.
You have to pay for releasing with them, instead of getting paid. However, the artist only pays 30% if fees instead of 50-60%.
More importantly, the artist keeps ownership of his music. Most label take ownership of it, which doesn’t make sense.
For the fees charged, Origin also provides help with the marketing and distribution of the album.
The second reason Oscar went with them is that he’s already going through a crowdfunding campaign for his SHO album, and didn’t want to have two campaigns simultaneously.
Great Latin Jazz Album
All-in-all, “The Art of Latin Jazz” is another great album by Oscar Hernandez. He put together a great group of musicians in Alma Libre, wrote great compositions, and managed the quality of the album with great care.
I really enjoyed listening to this album very much.