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Elio Villafranca and the Jass Syncopators: Caribbean Tinge

- CD Reviews

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Elio Villafranca and the Jass Syncopators: Caribbean Tinge
Live at Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola

Elio Villafranca on Piano
Gregg August, Carlos Henriquez on Bass
Willie Jones III, Lewis Nash on Drums
Sean Jones, Terell Stafford on Trumpet
Vincent Herring on Alto Saxophone
Greg Tardy on Tenor Saxophone
Anthony Carrillo on Barril / Congas
Juango Guitierrez, Nelson “Mateo” Gonzalez, Camilo Molina-Gaetan on Barriles
Jonathan Troncoso on Balsie Drum / Bongos


Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
August 27, 2014

All songs composed and arranged by Elio Villafranca.
Producer: Elio Villafranca.
Associate Producers: Todd Barkan, Scott Thompson, Mary Ann Topper.

This CD is a selection of eight works, with an added introductory track, all composed by Elio Villafranca, who has risen to the crème de la crème of New York and international jazz pianists. Elio, from Cuba, infuses Afro-Caribbean elements, plus pure jazz and Latin rhythms, to his engaging and enchanting compositions. Over the course of two years, 2011-2012, Elio recorded at Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola, in collaboration with renowned artists, such as Terell Stafford, Vincent Herring, Greg Tardy, Carlos Henriquez, and Willie Jones III. I have heard Elio perform in numerous venues and on previous recordings. Elio Villafranca brings energy, charm, and passion to the keyboard and to the audience, which is always vocally enthused during his dynamic concerts. It was hard to choose four tracks to feature below, and one additional title track features barril, congas, and bongos in vivacious tones and brassy tempo.

Notable tracks:

#2 – Sunday Stomp at Congo Square – This wild and feverish track seems to come straight to us from Havana, with three musicians on barriles, also known as bomba drums. The sound is deeply exotic, imbued with cultural imagery. Greg Tardy, on tenor sax, has the first riff, followed by Sean Jones, in an expanded trumpet solo, before Elio Villafranca attacks the piano keys for a rapid, effusive finale. Willie Jones III on drums, Gregg August on bass, and Juango Gutierrez, Nelson “Mateo” Gonzalez, and Camilo Molina-Gaetan on barriles fill each moment with relentless, rich rhythm.

#3 – Last Train To Paris – This very midnight tune, streamlined with Elio on piano, Willie Jones III on drums, Sean Jones on trumpet, Greg Tardy on tenor sax, and Gregg August on bass, reminds me of my own nights, years ago, riding last trains back to Paris. At times, sax and trumpet join for one melancholy phrase, while later moments reveal a soulful trumpet solo. Elio’s piano morphs into bells in magical, musical creations.

#7 – Mambo Vivo – This intoxicating, danceable track is infused with devilish mambo rhythms, highlighting the Cuban flavor of the album. The recording ensemble here, different from the other three featured tracks, is the same as on the title track, mentioned in the above introduction. This ensemble includes Elio on piano, Terell Stafford on trumpet, Vincent Herring on alto sax, Greg Tardy on tenor sax, Carlos Henriquez on bass, Lewis Nash on drums, Anthony Carrillo on congas, and Jonathan Troncoso on bongos. This is mambo similar to that of Copacabana bands, plus the overlay of contemporary jazz, a fantastical fusion. When Elio starts rolling chords into repetitive, hypnotic refrains, you won’t sit still.

#8 – Two to Tango – With an authentically styled, echoing bass, Gregg August has the tango tempo perfectly synchronized. You can hear the live audience go wild (as in other tracks as well), when sultry gets steamy. Yet, there’s pure jazz here, too, with this ensemble the same as that of Track #3. It’s a smaller group of musicians, with each showcased vibrantly and generously. The brassiness of a trumpet-sax conversation builds in atonal momentum, before bass, piano, and drums bring the mood back to melancholia.

Scott Thompson, Publicist
Elio Villafranca
Mary Ann Topper, Manager
Courtesy of Scott Thompson

For more information, contact Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower at