Although his name is not as heralded as Eddie Palmieri, Tito Puente, or Fort Apache Band founders Jerry and Andy Gonzalez, New York-based trombonist Papo Vazquez is as central to the development of Latin jazz as any of those legendary figures. The virtuosic trombonist has been an important part of the New York scene since the mid-Seventies, when he was a regular at the Nuyorican Cultural Center in lower Manhattan, and his two live albums for CuBop, At the Point Vol. 1 and At the Point Vol. 2, showed off his dexterity as well as his compositional chops.
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But Carnival in San Juan is in another class altogether. With a backing band that consists of heavyweights like pianist Arturo O'Farrill, drummer Horacio "El Negro" Hernández, bassist John Benítez, and others, Vazquez merges Puerto Rican folk rhythms like bomba and plena with jazz and funk that's both aware of yet unbounded by tradition. His technical range -- he sounds as impressive on the heavy bomba funk opener, "Carnaval In San Juan," as he does swinging over Thelonious Monk's "Stuffy Turkey" -- is only part of the picture. On the album's centerpiece, the eleven-minute-plus "En La Cueva de Tan," he showcases a compositional vision that makes the album one of the better recorded examples of a modern Latin jazz sensibility.