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Fotos: Patrick Bonnard
Staff: Ricardo Culque
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Fotos: Tom Bauer
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Fotos: Peter Maiden
Fotos: Cristian Muñoz
Fotos: Tom Ehrlich
Staff: Michelle White
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Musicos: Edmundo "Mundo" Pina
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Chicago-Based Bands - Latin Inspiration
Background: According to leader/trombonist John Rodriguez, Latin Inspiration has been around since before 2005, and although they do both Latin Jazz and Salsa, it is the Latin Jazz side of the book where they really distinguish themselves. The core group consists of John Rodriguez, leader/trombone; VIctor Garcia, trumpet; Eddie Ramos, sax; Francisco Merced, Piano; Brett Benteler, bass; Osbaldo "Ogie" Merced, congas, Jean Leroy, drums/timbales; Angel Velez, bongo and Frankie Colon, lead vocal. Some of the core strengths of the group are John's trombone playing, which is inflected with a number of strong influences including that of Juan Pablo Torres; the percussion work, especially from conguero "Ogie" Merced, who can be a wild man when playing in settings that are comfortable with him breaking loose; the charts, which are heavy with bop and sometimes post-bop lines. Some of the material is original, and the covers are well above the "Let's Jazz Up 'Fly Me To The Moon" things that we hear from so many bands nowadays. This group put some thought into its repertoire and has one of the best "books" of the bands working this part of the spectrum in Chicago currently.
What we saw and heard: We caught a reduced unit of the group (minus trumpet and trap drums) at Carnivale on August 15, 2012. The missing pieces didn't prevent the group for putting out a fine set. John's trombone work is worth catching even when the band is playing in a smaller unit. In addition to some originals, some of their excellent covers included Mambo Mongo and Caravan. Later, we also gave their 2005 CD Latin Inspiration a good listen. This is an excellent CD, and if we had been writing these pages in 2005, we would have given it a very strong review back then. It's still worth trying to get, but to the best of our knowledge, you'll need to buy it at one of their performances, as they don't appear to distribute the CD through the usual suspects.
The Verdict: This group sometimes turns up at festivals in the area as well as restaurants now and then. It also works a fairly heavy calendar of private events. The promotion of the group is highly variable (when we caught them at Carnivale, for example, they were being advertised by the restaurant as "Latin Evolution.") Yes, you can (and will) dance to a lot of what they do, but this group should be taken seriously as a Latin Jazz band given the sophistication of its book and the caliber of the musicians. Keep your eyes peeled, and catch them when you can. We would rank what we are hearing from them right now in the top four Latin Jazz groups in Chicago (and there are a lot more of those around than most people realize). They have a few outposts on the web:
1.Their Reverbnation page is http://www.reverbnation.com/johnnyrodriguezlatininspiracion
2. Their Gigmasters page is htttp://www.gigmasters.com/Jazz-band/Latin-Inspiration/
3. John's MySpace page is http://www.myspace.com/latininspiracion