Joe Craven's website describes him as "a madman with anything that has strings attached, including hospital bed pans, gas cans, cookie tins, roasting pots, fiddles, mandolins, tenor guitars, saz, cuatro and a world of percussion instruments including animal bones, latex squeeze toys, cake pans, waste cans." On his latest release he focuses his broad-ranging musical talents on Latin-flavored acoustic jazz.
For almost 17 years Joe played with David Grisman's Quintet, trading off between fiddle, mandolin, and percussion. He's also played and/or recorded with Jerry Garcia, Stephane Grapelli, Darol Anger, Ramblin' Jack Elliot, and Ken Nordine. On this release he's joined by Grisman guitarist Enrique Coria on guitar, John Burr on piano, Christine Bonner on fold harp, Sam Bevan on bass, Tom Schmidt on clarinet, Kendrick Freeman on drums, and Rick Montgomery on steel drums. Joe's instruments include mandola, violin, guiro, bomba, mandolin, ukulele, sordu, tamborin, and an assortment of percussion instruments. Django Reinhardt with Stephane Grapelli popularized most of the tunes on Django Latino. Some, like "Minor Swing" and "Swing 42" have become standards in the modern acoustic jazz repertoire. But instead of trying to modernize or recreate the Reinhardt/Grapelli sound Craven has attempted give them a more tribal character. Music for Django Latino comes from Brazil, Cuba, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Columbia, Mexico, Argentina, Spain and even the USA. What unites all the tunes is how they swing with a gentle Latin beat. The orchestration throughout emphasizes the organic and acoustic flavor of the music.
Reading through the album notes is an educational exercise. Craven's pedagological proclivities are clearly evident. He details the source, history, and important musical influences of each tune with obvious gusto. This same attention to detail is evident in the recording as well. Co-producer Rick Montgomery and recording engineer Doug Chancellor have created a superb sounding CD. In small print the liner notes state "Recorded in a pro-tools free Environment, A.D.D." Translation, "We don't care for digital and computer recordings so we used good old analog tape and then transferred to digital for mastering only." The sound has a particularly seductive warmth and musicality that many modern recordings lack, so they must be doing something right.
Django Latino ranks as one of the most luscious recordings of beautiful music I've come across in some time. If you admire labors of love and aren't adverse to a musical trip to tropical climes, Django Latino should be in your Amazon market basket immediately.