Unidad is the fifth album from Detroit-based Latin jazz septet, Aguankó. It follows the release of Elemental in 2013, Invisible in 2015, Latin Jazz Christmas In Havana in 2016 and Pattern Recognition in 2018.
The band is led by conguero Alberto Nacif who emigrated from Mexico to Detroit in his teens. He studied percussion in Cuba and has performed internationally with the likes of Dizzy Gillespie, Arturo Sandoval, John Faddis and Jane Bunnett. In the 1990s Nacif headed Latin-jazz group Cubop and for 10 years co-led Tumbao Bravo prior to assembling Aguankó in 2012.
Seven of the album’s 11 numbers were composed by Nacif with three by saxophonist Russ Miller and one from trombonist Christopher Smith. The latter features strongly on the catchy mambo opener Kintsugi, along with piano and percussion. That’s followed by a familiar-sounding cha-cha, Discurso, and then Dualidad with smoochy tenor sax and trumpet solos.
Dedicación is a wistful bolero with trombone, alto sax and piano centre stage. Another mambo, Un Poco Cubop, showcases more sax and trumpet with driving percussion while the bright and bustling rumba/mambo Todo Es Todo has a finely played trombone interlude and highlights Nacif on congas.
Viaje Con El Viento (“travel with the wind”) is a flute-led Afro rhythmic cha-cha followed by a second bolero in the melodic, dreamlike Un Ensueño. The next track, Intercepción, raises the tempo with dynamic timbales from Jose Espinosa and then in contrast the danzón cha-cha Adiós Amigo lowers it again. Espacio Verde, another mambo, concludes the album with spritely solos on piano, alto, trumpet and finally congas.
With crisp, fresh arrangements by Nacif and first-rate musicianship from all the band, this is modern Latin jazz at its best.
Kintsugi; Discurso; Dualidad; Dedicación; Un Poco Cubop; Todo Es Todo; Viaje Con El Viento; Un Ensueño; Intercepción; Adios Amigo; Espacio Verde (45.39)
Charlie Miller (t, flh); Russ Miller (as, f); Christopher Smith (tb); Rick Roe (p); Patrick Prouty (b); Kurt Krahnke (b) on 3 tracks; Alberto Nacif (cga); Jose Espinosa (pc); Michigan, no recording date given.