There has long been a love affair between jazz and Latin rhythms, with American jazz musicians finding Latin styles exotic and Latin musicians equally fascinated by jazz. Both cultures have independently drawn on the music of Africa, which forms the third leg of this love triangle – producing music that is powerfully exciting rhythmically, deeply felt in the body, by turns celebratory and yearning. In Cincinnati, the latest expression of that love affair is Mambo Combo.
Celebrating the classic mambo, Latin jazz and cha-cha of Tito Puente, Cal Tjader, Poncho Sanchez and Mark Levine, Mambo Combo has its compass set toward Cuba. It’s stocked with an all-star cast of Cincinnati-area musicians from the bands Tropicoso, ZUMBA, Mambo Diablo, Salsa Renegades, Drums for Peace and the Blue Wisp Big Band.
With founder/musical director Michael Sharfe on bass, Charles Ali Schweitzer and Baba Charles Miller on percussion, Brian Batchelor-Glader on piano, Tim McCord on reeds and flute, and John Zappa on trumpet, Mambo Combo is made up of first-call players with distinguished music resumés, all in heavy demand for live and studio work.
The band has built its monthly Cincinnati club residencies — at the historic Greenwich jazz club in Walnut Hills; the opulent Palm Court at downtown’s Netherland Hilton; Latitudes Bar and Bistro in Anderson and the city’s newest jazz hot spot, Caffé Vivace in Walnut Hills — into an exuberant Cuban Carnival dance scene, drawing a fervent group of followers who show up to salsa wherever Mambo Combo performs around the tri-state.