For the last decade or so, one of the best-kept secrets in Latin jazz is a transplanted Canadian who is now living in New York. But Gary Morgan and his 20 piece orchestra PanAmericana! (complete with exclamation point) just might break out of that anonymity with their latest album, Felicidade, now out on the Consolidated Artists label.
Although Morgan keeps a low profile, he does have many years of experience in the jazz world. In the early years he was a saxophonist with many of the big-name jazz bands, and eventually added bass playing to his skill set. He even found the time to continue his formal musical education, aiming toward a bigger role in arranging and composing.
Morgan has always loved Latin jazz and has spent extended periods of time living in South America. Combining that fact with his extensive musical background has helped him become one of the best composers and arrangers of Latin music around, and has also led him into forming PanAmericana! to help further his musical vision.
The album is an outstanding collection of mostly Brazilian jazz that leans toward samba and other dance rhythms, but some of the pieces show other Latin influences, including Cuban. The mix of tracks includes some established Brazilian tunes along with a few new compositions by Morgan. Among the best of the latter is the lush and moody “Because Why?” and “Moragatu,” which takes advantage of the percussion-dominated, full orchestral sound that only a Latin big band can generate.
Some of the more traditional Brazilian songs include Jobim’s classic “A Felicidade,” which lends its name to the album and was probably my favorite track. It is a joyful romp, heavy with precision brass play and equally sharp percussion, supplemented by some nice baritone sax tones. I also greatly enjoyed “Batuki de Bangu,” a piece with a hint of African rhythms. It features some first-class solo instrumental work, especially a ‘duel’ between two of the band’s alto saxophonists.
Very enjoyable big-band Latin jazz, reminiscent of tropical nights and flashing dancers — recommended.