The concept of blending jazz and Latin music is not a new thing. The two styles have been borrowing each other since the 1920's. Rare, however, is the musician or band that is equally versed in both styles.
When trumpeter and conga player Jerry Gonzalez formed his Fort Apache Band nearly twenty years ago his ability to blend the two styles in equal measure turned heads and has since had a gigantic effect on jazz, one not fully realized until the arrival of Danilo Perez and David Sanchez as bandleaders years later. What makes Gonzalez' arrangements stand out is the attention he pays to melody and harmony, something most traditional jazz combos don't do.
His band can shift seamlessly from post-bop standard to a merengue at the drop of a hat. Recently the Fort Apache Band has been shifting to more traditional jazz, in the style of Perez.
Friday night at HotHouse in Chicago Gonzalez was in his element. Playing for the first time in three years at the venerable institution, Gonzalez shifted from the forefront of the songs on trumpet to the background on congas with unnerving ease. Syncopating his rhythms with drummer Steve Berrios and bass-playing brother Andy Gonzalez allowed saxophonist Joe Ford, pianist Larry Willis, and Jerry Gonzalez greater flexibility with the melodies. Jerry Gonzalez opted for French horn and cornet, underscoring his solos with soft beauty. Ford swapped his alto and soprano horns with seemingly each song. Willis was a propulsive force of nature, laying thick notes on the keyboard like spreading jam on toast.