Jazz trombonist Conrad Herwig's Latin tribute to Joe Henderson his best yet

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 08 November, 2014, 11:11pm
UPDATED : Monday, 02 February, 2015, 12:42pm

You can't judge a book or CD by its cover - or the front cover anyway.

A title such as The Latin Side of John Coltrane would probably put off many jazz fans who would expect the contents to be muzak. But you might reconsider if you looked at the back and saw who was playing on it.

The 1996 album of that title was trombonist Conrad Herwig's tribute to his main musical inspiration, and he recorded it with pianists Eddie Palmieri and Danilo Perez, and trumpeter Alex Sipiagin (who performed here with his quintet last month) among others.

The album was an audacious interpretation of some of Coltrane's best-known compositions from the early 1960s - Blue Train, Naima, After the Rain and A Love Supreme among them - and a critical hit.

Herwig has since recorded, among other things, a series of Latin Side of… tributes to other composers/instrumentalists he admires - Miles Davis, Wayne Shorter and Herbie Hancock - in the company of musicians of the calibre of Randy Brecker, Brian Lynch, Palmieri and Paquito D'Rivera.

However, his latest, The Latin Side of Joe Henderson, is arguably his best yet, perhaps because he worked with Henderson - who died in 2001 - for several years, and appeared on three of his albums. He had also worked with Davis, but only briefly, shortly before the great man died.

Another reason this works well is that some of Henderson's compositions originally had Latin-influenced arrangements - as did the one non-original tune here, a well known standard with which Henderson had a strong association. Kenny Dorham's Blue Bossa made its first appearance on Henderson's Page One album in 1963, with Dorham playing the trumpet, and thereafter it belonged as much to the saxophonist as its composer.

The other five tracks, all recorded live, are Recorda Me, Mamacita, Afro-Centric, Black Narcissus and Inner Urge.

The album benefits greatly from the presence on tenor saxophone of Joe Lovano, and the rest of a fine band includes regular Herwig associates Ronnie Cuber on baritone saxophone, Sipiagin on trumpet and Richie Flores on percussion.

Having found what seems to be a winning formula Herwig is sticking with it. This set was recorded at the Blue Note club in New York, and he recently performed a "Latin Side of Horace Silver" set there, which was presumably also recorded, with Michel Camilo on piano.

Meanwhile, another trombonist cum bandleader takes to the stage tonight at Ned Kelly's Last Stand, where Colin Aitchison leads the Ned Kelly's Big Band through its first Sunday evening session since its summer recess.

There may be a certain melancholia about the place this week though. Although the China Coast Jazzmen have diversified from the British/Australian style of "trad" jazz that was once the musical pie and peas of the pub, it's still part of the picture, and almost the last of British trad's heroes passed away last Sunday.

Clarinettist Bernard Stanley "Acker" Bilk, aged 85, has left to play When the Saints Go Marching In with trumpeters Kenny Ball, Ken Colyer and Humphrey Lyttleton, in a place, it is to be hoped, where there are saints around to march.

Chris Barber - another trombonist - is still playing, but he is the last surviving major bandleader of trad's golden era.

Bilk was always a much better musician than his idiosyncratic dress sense and affected yokel accent suggested. The huge commercial success in 1962 of his composition Stranger on the Shore elevated him to the financially comfortable but creatively undemanding role of performing breathy renditions of middle-of-the-road ballads, alongside the more uptempo sort of trad.

He could play New Orleans-style jazz and blues exceptionally well, and even his most anodyne pop was executed with painstaking professionalism. His late 1950s recordings with the Paramount Jazz Band is worth seeking out.

Take Three

Three other CDs on which Herwig and a stellar cast of friends explore the Latin possibilities of the jazz greats' songbooks.

  • Another Kind of Blue: The Latin Side of Miles Davis (2004, Half Note Records): the whole Kind of Blue album and one bonus track from Filles de Kilimanjaro get the Latin treatment from Herwig.
  • The Latin Side of Wayne Shorter (2008, Half Note Records): pianist Palmieri and trumpeter Brian Lynch are Herwig's key collaborators on a set which gives an Afro-Cuban twist to Footprints, Night Dreamer and Adam's Apple among others.
  • The Latin Side of Herbie Hancock (2010, Half Note Records): Bill O'Connell and Palmieri share the piano duties on a tribute which also features Brecker on trumpet. Maiden Voyage, Cantaloupe Island and Watermelon Man are all here.