Afro Bop Alliance: Grammy Nomination for Best Latin Jazz Album

On February 8, 2009, two band leaders will be seated side by side at the 51st Annual Grammy Awards Ceremony hoping their combined efforts will result in an award for the "Best Latin Jazz Album" of 2008.

Dave Samuels of Caribbean Jazz Project and Joe McCarthy and his Afro Bop Alliance have already landed a 2008 Latin Grammy for their album entitled Afro Bop Alliance. Last year, their two great bands joined forces to make some exceptional music, producing one of the hottest Latin Jazz recordings of 2008.

On the Heads Up label, it's the third recording for the Maryland-based Afro Bop Alliance. Teaming up with the Caribbean Jazz Project, the group swelled to the size of a big band to create a winning sound. The group anticipated neither nomination.

Says Afro Bop Alliance bandleader Joe McCarthy: "I've never made a recording with the intention of trying to win an award. The idea behind the Grammy-nominated recording was to put some of our favorite music into big band arrangements."

This is his third album with Afro Bop Alliance and the second major collaboration with New York-based Caribbean Jazz Project led by Dave Samuels. The Washington Post calls it "an inspired pairing." Amplified by a talented team of brass and reed players, they forge a unique and powerful sound that gets audiences visibly excited and itching to dance.

Samuels wrote the opening high-energy track, "Rendezvous, " and four other tunes on the CD. Recognized as the top mallet player of his generation, the award-winning artist shines on both the vibraphone and marimba. Says McCarthy, "Dave is a phenomenal improviser with a wonderful time feel. With him the groove is paramount."

The big band instrumentation lends extra color and power to the music. The CD also features much-praised remakes of Dizzy Gillespie favorite "Sole Sauce, " the John Coltrane classic "Naima, " and the more conventionally Latin "Stolen Moments" by Oliver E. Nelson. The new versions are receiving plenty of airplay.

Besides the Latin Grammy win and Grammy nomination, the project has yielded two books being published by Alfred Music. One features McCarthy's drum-set-playing techniques; the other taps Dave Samuels' knowledge as a mallet player.

For these musicians, the path has been short on glitz and glamour and long on hard work and discipline. Samuels is based in New York, as is conguero Roberto Quintero. The rest of the musicians on the recording live and work in the Baltimore-Washington area.

Afro Bop Alliance bandleader Joe McCarthy lives in Annapolis and holds the rank of Chief Petty Officer as a musician in the United States Naval Academy Band. He is the principal percussionist of the U.S. Naval Academy Concert Band and the drummer in the jazz ensemble.

McCarthy founded Afro Bop Alliance in 2002, combining the harmonic language of jazz and the rhythmic language of many different Afro Cuban rhythms. The group is infused with the talent and experience of many military band career musicians and others.

About the musicianship of his colleagues he says: "The level is second to none. They are serious and reliable. Had I not been in the Navy Band, I may not have met most of these world-class musicians."

McCarthy's mother is Italian, his father Irish, a testament to the complexity and fire of Latin Music. It's attracted a nation of converts like him who are devoted to the sound. Other band members have equally mixed heritage. What they have in common is in-depth musical training, extensive experience and a love for the distinctive rhythms of Latin music.

Says McCarthy, "When people really understand this music they realize that the categories used to identify all the styles are somewhat limiting. The music's going to happen, " he says. "You follow your instincts and your heart and let the music evolve."

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