Ninety Miles Live at Cubadisco is not only one of the finest live recordings of the year, it's just one of the best jazz albums of the year. It was recorded in Havana, Cuba at Teatro Amadeo Roldan in 2010, just days after vibraphonist Stefon Harris, saxophonist David Sanchez and trumpeter Christian Scott recorded their acclaimed two-disc studio release Ninety Miles.
The name alludes to that stretch of waters between America, Puerto Rico and Cuba, which, however politicized, never succeeded in dividing music or artists. The trio assembled a great line-up of Cuban musicians to collaborate to make Ninety Miles an electrifying live set.
The CD captures the concert's full musicianship and energy from the Cubadisco stage from the first track on. Stefon Harris' composition "And This Too Shall Pass" signals virtuosity, but not over-the-top showiness, handing off the rhythmic sound-field of Edgar Martinez Ochoa and pianist Harold Lopez-Nussa. "This Too" is a freewheeling jazz narrative with a beginning, middle and end. It is followed up with another Harris tune, "Brown Belle Blues." This has a wending, calypso drive with Harris' vibes in lush interlocks with Scott's trumpet commanding blistering solos. Harris' dynamism is the perfect prologue to the restive and serene bass solo by Yandy Martinez Gonzalez on Sanchez's composition "City Sunrise," an expansive jazz concerto that evokes metropolitan conflict, energy and vistas.
In contrast, "The Forgotten Ones" is a haunted meditation, also by Sanchez, for the survivors of Katrina, from his CD Cultural Survival. Harris' elegiac solo sets up the somber horns that brighten with a quiet bongo cool that whispers through. Composer Rember Duharte's "Congo" is a driving jazz orchestral with everybody clamoring in razor sharp musical enclaves and translucence. Lopez-Nussa's central piano solo keeps evolving against the volcanic orchestral thrust of the piece. The finale is Lopez-Nussa's "La Fiesta Va," an at-ease neo-basso nova dance number that is musically infectious and joyous.
This recording captures the dimensional quality of this live performance, so tightly engineered on site and well-mixed at Village Studios L.A. Harris, Sanchez, Scott and the other members of the band are in top form, and it's easy to hear that these players are in the moment with this audience, great that this single evening is now preserved. In the meantime, let's hope they get together again and tour this.