The Nashville Jazz Orchestra’s customary melodic and harmonic precision was enhanced with rhythmic vitality as they presented “Dancing The Night Away,” their annual foray into Latin jazz, Friday night. The show featured complex, arresting tunes with robust arrangements and intense solos. The two-set program attracted nearly a full house to Ingram Hall, and also included an unusual component. The Dance Theatre of Tennessee performed choreographed routines from artistic director Christopher Mohnani, Ron De Jesus and Brian Williamson during several songs. These included “Quimbara,” “Besame Mucho” and “Mambo Italiano.” It made quite a visual impact to see dazzling physical movements executed within suites, and balletic grace and passion incorporated into tunes with blistering percussion duels and fiery instrumental segments.
Distinct from some other jazz styles, the Latin mode places more emphasis on brass, beats and keyboards than reeds. Trumpet and trombone section members George Tidwell, Steve Patrick, Roy Agee and Chris Dunn, as well as NJO music director Jim Williamson consistently delivered exciting, fluid and rangy solos that demonstrated great range and impressive prowess during such tunes as Oscar Hernandez’s “Perla Morena” and “Rumba Urbana,” Alberto Dominguez’s “Perfidia” and Dr. Bobby Rodriguez’s “My Haunting Melody.” Pianist Mason Embry was equally sharp as an accompanist and soloist on “Malaguena Salserosa” and “Perfidia” among others.
The program opened with a brisk arrangement of “Cuban Overture,” a George Gershwin tone poem he penned in 1932 while on holiday in Havana. It also featured Ryan Middagh’s nicely updated arrangement. Though electric bassist Todd Parks and drummer Bob Mater didn’t get their usual chance for periodic spotlight moments, they ably linked the percussionists’ explosive, shifting frameworks and the NJO frontline’s surging contributions.
The concert’s other special guests were percussionist/vocalist Lalo Davila and wondrous singer Dalia Garcia. Davila is currently the director of percussion studies at MTSU and a magnificent timbales player. He’s also a fine singer in Spanish and English. Davila brought flair and stage presence to his spotlight performances, which included the leads on “Begin the Beguine” (done in less florid fashion than the Artie Shaw swing hit) and Tito Puente’s furious “Ran Kan Kan,” which was also among the night’s highlights. Davila delivered an amazing timbales solo and joined Glen Caruba (congas) and John Santos (bongos) for an adventurous foray that provided a host of beats and textures. The trio had a wonderful duel while they also wound their way back to the principal rhythmic setting.
Garcia, a prominent international artist who’s had multiple tours with Julio Iglesias, gave an enjoyable rendition of “Never On Sunday,” and was even more energized on “Mambo Italiano.” She demonstrated considerable charm during her captivating performance that included nice dance moves and fine vocal technique. Garcia doubled as a percussionist on “Ran Kan Kan,” and the encore “Life Ia A Carnival” that also included a final flurry of acrobatic movements from the Dance Theatre of Tennessee.
The NJO’s Latin jazz evening was a festive and memorable one. They reaffirmed the music’s passion and energy, as well as consistently exhibiting the ability to do so in an entertaining, delightful fashion.