Album Remarks & Appraisals:
A comprehensive anthology of all the different music projects of outstanding Peruvian flute and saxophone player Nilo Espinosa. On this compilation you can find most of his best and grooviest tracks from the '60s and '70s, playing with the Nil's Jazz Ensemble, Bossa 70, Los Hilton's, Nilo Espinosa & Los 007, or Nilo Espinosa y Su Orquesta. A total feast of tropical music, bossanova, boogaloo, Latin soul, jazz funk, rumba, lounge, and even disco!
Nilo Espinosa may not be the best-known player in jazz circles -- or bossa nova, disco, funk, Latin soul, boogaloo, and rhumba -- though he is one of the best at playing all of them (often in the same ensemble). Espinosa is a Peruvian sax and flute-playing legend who has been hard at it since 1959, when he was getting a conservatory education. In 1962 he made his debut with the Neptuno Orquesta, who played in a club underneath a movie theater in Lima. Not exactly an auspicious beginning, perhaps, but it was enough and he was able to do correspondence studies at the Berklee School of Music in Boston. From 1963 to 1965 he played in an established jazz group at the Astoria in Lima and began to formulate his own ideas for creating jazz ensembles to fit his mood and method. This 18-cut disc issued on the Vampisoul imprint (a label well-known for brilliant reissues and compilations of Latin jazz, Pachuco soul, bossa, funk, and lots of other stuff, including rock & roll, on vinyl and CD) is a fantastic overview of Espinosa's work with five of his own ensembles -- Nil's Jazz Ensemble, Bossa 70, Los Hilton's, Los 007, Nilo Espinosa y Orquesta -- and some guest spots. Most of the tunes here are from the 1970s, though there are a few from the late '60s, and given the technology of the time, the sound is not exactly modern digital. (But it will more than do.) The jazz-funk in the opener, "Reflexiones," is just killer with breakbeats, electric keyboards, and taut popping (fretted) electric basslines, all backing Espinosa's wide-open soprano saxophone work. The groove is deep, laid-back, funky, and in the pocket -- 18 tracks of this stuff would have been just fine, but man, there is so much more.
The spy movie groove in "El Gato," with a tough horn section and punchy clavinet, sits atop a cowbell, maracas, cymbal, and snare breaks, creating an insanely woolly and wild dance groove. "Summer Love," by Nil's Jazz Ensemble, works on the laid-back tip with vibes and that soprano just singing over a proto-funk, late jazzed-out soul beat (it would be nice to know who the drummer is on these tracks; his breaks are amazing) that would have given Barry White (who knew Espinosa) goosebumps if he heard it. It still has its edge, but the whole arrangement is silky and smooth, and Espinosa's soprano playing is both lyrical and uncanny in its sense of time. The theme song of Los Hilton's is pure Latin boogaloo -- tough, lean, mean, and solid (and Espinosa's tenor is strictly bad-boy meat and gravy). Uh HUH. There are a couple of interesting covers thrown into the mix to showcase the man's diversity and his ability to do everything from playing concert halls to clubs to resorts! There's a really snaky flute workout with a grooving soul-jazz group on Rimsky-Korsakov's Scheherazade, a completely reinvented "Light My Fire" as a bossa with Charlie Guerrero on vocals, "El Bueno, el Feo y el Malo" by Ennio Morricone, and the Gwen McCrae smooth stepper hit "Rock Me Baby" -- and yeah, you know what that is. The bottom line is that this big long hour-plus disc is all killer, no filler by a man whose work as an innovator is well-known in his own country, where is a hero. He has nurtured three generations of musicians -- remember, most of the members of the legendary Peruvian funk outfit Black Sugar were all either Espinosa protégés or collaborators -- and his name is spoken with both reverence and a warm, knowing smile by those Americanskis lucky enough to have played with or heard him. Dig in. ~ Thom Jurek