Chucho Valdes, Cuba's most famous jazz musician, has rebalanced the repertoire of his Afro-Cuban Messengers on Border-Free, mixing its American-jazz agenda (the group's name deliberately references both Valdes' roots and the late Art Blakey's classic soul-bop Jazz Messengers group) with more extended Latin-American input, and some Native American and Andalusian connections, too. Saxophonist Branford Marsalis, guesting on three tracks, is warmly romantic on tenor on the loping Tabu, agile and fluent on the Cuban dance-shuffle Bebo, and mercurial on a soprano-sax break full of north African microtonalisms on the hurtling, horn-hooting finale, Abdel.
All these compositions originate from Polish folk culture. They are based on well-known, less known, or sometimes completely forgotten songs from various regions of Poland. For the musical notations of some particular pieces, we are indebted to Oskar Kolberg and his 19th century monumental work.
Aldo Romano has long proven himself an innovative leader and the 2007 sessions that make up Just Jazz are no exception. Romano is not one to take a lot of solos himself, preferring to showcase his bandmates while adding color behind them. His pianoless quartet consists of clarinetist Mauro Negri, who played on Romano's earlier Dreyfus CD État de Fait, old friend Henri Texier on bass, and the much younger Géraldine Laurent, a gifted French saxophonist whose star is rising. Most of the release focuses on Romano's captivating originals, highlighted by the emotional "Cité-Soleil" (French for "Sun City"), named for the wretched shanty town in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. "Township" is an infectious African-flavored chant, with Laurent's vocal-like alto recalling Eric Dolphy, and Negri's electronically altered clarinet adding seasoning. "Chick Webb," named for the famous swing drummer, has a fun twist in that the bassist is the featured soloist.