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Joel Uriola Latin Jazz braids Afro-Latin beats with classical cuts

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Joel Uriola Latin Jazz “Dancing Jazz” album

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The song titles are in Spanish. But the music of the Joel Uriola Latin Jazz Band crosses language borders and cuts through any pretense, going down real smooth and warm, in “Dancing Jazz.”

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Uriola, the producer, bandleader, and pianist, categorizes his music as Afro-Latin jazz. Together with a sizzling hot band of other Venezuelan musicians (bassist Henry Mirabal and a killer percussion section, with timbal, congas, bongò), he’s managed to drum up something else entirely, encompassing so much more.

“Cosas” is broken up with an arch Baroque counterpoint by Uriola on piano, while the beats skip in broken time. This is what distinguishes Uriola’s band from many in Latin jazz, those inspired classical interruptions.

Uriola does it again on the far-out half-mast, “Dan-Son.” A good minute and a half goes into an orchestrated yet deceptively haphazard dance in a classical repast, moving forward toward the Romantic period and Beethoven’s tendency to lilt the notes. This dissolves into the sharper Afro-Latin rhythms dominated by the percussion section, while holding onto that dizzying counterpoint.

It’s so interesting and inventive how Uriola manages to ground the Afro-Latin flights of fancy with classical inventory throughout the 12 tracks of this album, making “Gitana” extraordinarily fragile yet flirtatious and “Melao” a cutting-edge hybrid altogether, sharing yet exchanging two distinct, opposing perspectives. His grasp of melody never falters, keeping the listener captivated on the strains that cut straight to the gut, accentuated by that intoxicating Spanish time.

“Todo En Menor” achieves one of the best mixes of Afro-Latin jazz and dance music. At once lively and dreamy, the Latin percussion — accrued through a throbbing bass — cushions the elixir quite memorably as the infectious, off-beats tempt anyone within a three-mile radius to dance.

“Dancing Jazz” is another perfect mix of groovylicious off-beats and pure, earworm melody, heard immediately on Uriola’s piano notes which also — at the 4:52 mark — jump right into the pool of a whirling, heady conflagration of Afro-Latin notes. Of all the tracks, this is the one that would find a safe home on Top 40 radio.

America, listen up.

Joel Uriola arranged all the tunes on this self-titled album.

Personnel: bass-Henry Mirabal, timbals-Mauricio Landaeta, congas-Carlos Guzman, and bongò-Renzo Hernandez.

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