World & Latin

Heroic Gesture


Pianist Hilton Ruiz was a lesser-known but highly respected figure in Latin jazz circles, and was considered one of the top bandleaders in the genre throughout the 1980s and ‘90s. One has to wonder whether his death at age 54 (he slipped into a coma after an accidental fall in 2006 and never recovered) robbed him of what would have been greater acclaim in subsequent decades. Regardless of his untimely demise, he left behind an impressive body of work that includes Heroes, a 1993 album named for his nine-piece band, all of whom convene for a nine-song set of Latin-flavored and straight-ahead jazz classics.

The high-powered roster on this nine-song recording includes a mix of veterans and up-and-comers: saxophonist David Sanchez, trumpeter Charlie Sepulveda, trombonist Steve Turre, bassist Andy Gonzalez, drummer Ignacio Berroa, and percussionist Giovanni Hidalgo. The legendary Tito Puente sits in on three of the tracks.

The upbeat and percussive “Sonny’s Mood” opens the set, and features extensive solo lines from David Sanchez’s soaring sax and Ruiz’s cascading piano. “Guataca,” the following track, is slightly more reserved but still simmering, thanks to the combined solo work of Puente, Sepulveda and Turre.

Other noteworthy entries include the zesty “Little Suede Shoes,” the even handed but intriguing “Maiden Voyage,” and the quiet and lyrical rendition of Dizzy Gillespie’s “Con Alma,” a piano-trumpet duet that dispenses with the rhythm section to allow the two musicians maximum room in the spotlight.

Heroes is, as the title suggest, a gathering of Latin jazz titans. Out front and leading the charge was a pianist whose brilliant career -- though three decades in all -- was all too brief.