A scaled-down, electronic version of the Afro-Cuban big band came down from New York for an evening of updated Cubop at Blues Alley last night. In an opening set of originals from its new album, the Frank Ferrucci Latin Jazz Ensemble was as attentive to structure in its arrangements as it was capable of cutting loose in polyrhythmic extravaganzas.
No Latin jazz group can get off the ground without a strong percussionist at its foundation. This role was superbly handled by Roger Squitero, who blended the hollow thump of congas, the sound of cracking wood, the tinkling of bells and the whistling of tropical bird in explosive combinations.
When the leader was at the Steinway, his combined orchestral and percussive approach resulted in some good interplay with reed player Greg Alper. When he turned to his electronic keyboards, it made for a rather thick texture that tended to obscure the horn. Guitarist Bill Washer's slashing attack and raw sound came off effectively as might a growling plunger-muted brass instrument.
This is a band with a concept that comes out of Dizzy Gillespie's 1940s collaboration with the late Chano Pozo. The ensemble can make a real contribution if it stays with the reasonably comfortable sound levels of last night.
Sergio Brendao was on electric bass and Portinho was at the drums.