The Afro-Caribbean Jazz Collective | Fiesta at Caroga Review
by Elberton Cisnero
The Afro-Caribbean Jazz Collective’s latest offering, Fiesta at Caroga, celebrates Salsa and a world music sound. Led by guitarist Jose Guzman, this ensemble blends the heart of Afro-Caribbean rhythms with the sophistication of modern jazz, creating a soundscape that is as familiar as it is fresh in the world music genre.
The Afro-Caribbean Jazz Collective, an assemblage of accomplished musicians, is the brainchild of bandleader, guitarist, and composer Guzman, conceived during his graduate studies at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. The ensemble’s lineup boasts an impressive array of talent: Eric Davey on trumpet, Brian Stark with his tenor sax, Ben Weisger on trombone, and a robust percussion section featuring Stephen Busath on congas, Sebastian Nassar on timbales, and Brian Shank on additional percussion. Ian Stewart’s bass guitar work lays the rhythmic foundation, while Guzman’s guitar stylings are a central feature. Notably, the Collective often includes a rotating cast of members, including luminaries like Victor Garcia, Tito Carillo, and several university professors from central Illinois. Their diverse backgrounds and expertise coalesce to form a unique sound that is at once a tribute to and an evolution of Afro-Caribbean music.
“Descarga 2,” by Guzman, sets the album’s tone with its powerful percussion and Guzman’s guitar work. The ensemble’s rhythm section, led by Busath’s congas, Massar’s timbales, and Shank’s percussion, lays down a vibrant Salsa foundation. The song embodies the spirit of celebration, driven by Stewart’s classic Salsa basslines and a horn section that delivers catchy, riff-based melodies.
“Xipirona Cha Cha” takes us on a joyous journey through the Cha Cha salsa form. The composition’s medium tempo and Guzman’s blend of salsa and jazz guitar techniques produce an atmosphere of light-hearted celebration. The trombone solo by Weisger stands out, perfectly marrying the energy of Salsa with the fluidity of jazz.
“El Cañaveral” delves into the mysterious and evocative world of coastal sugar cane fields. The song opens like a sunrise, slowly revealing its beauty. Stark’s tenor saxophone solo perfectly captures the essence of this imagery, blending celebratory melodies with a sense of mystery.
“El Volcan” is a Stark original that is captivating with its sensual salsa rhythms. The ensemble’s cohesion in creating a mid-tempo groove is noteworthy, and Davey’s trumpet solo adds a passionate flare, complementing Guzman’s elegant guitar work.
“Cariño” introduces a new dimension with the inclusion of the Caroga Arts String Orchestra. This slow bolero, themed around finding joy after sorrow, is heightened by Davey’s soulful melody and the impressive string arrangements. The violin solo in the tumbao section is particularly poignant.
“Baile Bailekita” is a high-energy tribute to dance. The initial slow introduction of strings paves the way for a lively salsa beat. The song encapsulates the joy of dancing, with Guzman delivering another stellar solo performance, supported by the infectious rhythms of Busath, Massar, and Shank.
Fiesta at Caroga is a multicultural journey that pays homage to the roots of Afro-Caribbean music while embracing the contemporary flair of jazz and world music. The Afro-Caribbean Jazz Collective has created music that makes you want to move and resonates with the soul. The ensemble’s talent and commitment to celebrating and evolving the Afro-Caribbean music tradition bring this album to life. Each track tells a story, a narrative that weaves through the history and future of two rich musical genres.
Supported by the Individual Artist Program Grant from the City of Chicago’s Department of Culture & Special Events, this self-released album, published under ASCAP by JGB Music, marks a significant milestone in the journey of The Afro-Caribbean Jazz Collective. Fiesta at Caroga is a fun listen with a fusion of traditional rhythms with modern musical influences from around the world.
Fiesta at Caroga
Release Date: May 5, 2023
Label: Jgb Music