Venezuela has always been a land of possibilities. For over five centuries, dissimilar cultures from Europe, Africa, the Middle East and other regions of the world have melded harmoniously with the indigenous traditions of this exotic land. On Africa Latina, Pianist and composer Leo Blanco explores the fertile sounds of his homeland and other realms on this stunningly virtuosic release.
As he expands our collective appreciation of these fruitious idioms, he adds the nuance, both subtle and unabashedly overt, of his own distinctive and highly intuitive style. A native of the lovely city of Mérida, perched high in the Venezuelan Andes, Blanco boasts a wealth of educational background and practical experience in both popular and classical music styles. His early years in his home city were marked by successes as a conservatory student and involvement in Mérida's youth symphony orchestra. By the age of just 17, he was Caracas-bound to further his growth as a musician, arranger and composer. Then it was off to Boston's Berklee College and The New England Conservatory, where his reputation blossomed and he formed long-lasting relationships with some of the best young jazz players of his generation.
Several of the most acclaimed of those musician friends -- among other notables, saxophonist Donny McCaslin, Mexican drummer Antonio Sánchez and guitarist Lionel Louke, a native of Benin -- join Blanco on this nine track excursion through the music hinterland of Venezuela, Colombia and Peru. Far from just a cursory, jazz-grounded overview of sundry South American music styles, Blanco and his compañeros focus on a particularly compelling element -- the far-ranging influence of African cultures on the music of these lands. "When most people hear the term 'Afro-Latin' in music," the pianist readily admits, "they immediately think of Cuba and Brazil.
I've always loved the music of these two titanic cultures, but I feel is about time to open the door and show the rest of the world how Africa is one of the most significant influences on today's popular music throughout the Americas."
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