After a year and a half of no live indoor jazz concerts at UNC-Chapel Hill, a large audience made up of students and the general public happily returned to UNC’s Moeser Auditorium to hear the UNC Faculty Jazz perform Latin jazz with guest bassist Ramon Vazquez.

The high energy of the group was fueled by the highly accomplished Cuban native who now lives and works in Puerto Rico. Vazquez has played with many of the world’s finest Latin jazz players, including Chucho Valdez and Chick Corea. Vazquez is a fabulous electric and acoustic bassist. This was most evident on his two unaccompanied solos which showed off his very nimble technique and melodic creativity. When he wasn’t soloing, his authentic Latin jazz bass lines gave the group a strong foundation. I liked watching him as he constantly communicated with the other rhythm players to achieve tight rhythmic grooves.

But the rhythmic excitement wasn’t all due to Vazquez. The UNC Faculty Jazz group consisting of Steve Anderson, piano; Juan Alamo, vibraphone and percussion; Dan Davis, drums, and the newest faculty member, Rahsaan Barber on tenor saxophone, are all experienced Latin Jazz musicians. In particular, Anderson provided the authentic Latin jazz accompaniment that drove each piece’s rhythm and harmony and Alamo, a native of Puerto Rico, provided the vital variety of Latin percussion on congas, bongos and vibraphone.

The highlights of the concert were the three original compositions contributed by Anderson, Alamo and Barber. Anderson’s “Jury Duty” had great energy because of its abundance of syncopations, rapidly changing harmonies, off-beat phrasing and climactic ending. The tune is complex but it is very accessible.

Alamo’s “Strollin'” blended Latin with swing rhythm and had interesting interludes, background lines and an exciting ending.

Barber’s “Brooklyn en La Casa” had a funky Cha Cha beat and a very lush melody. The arrangement was interesting also because it began with Vazquez’s first unaccompanied solo of the concert which he then transformed into the Latin groove of the tune.

There was one other original tune, written by the Triangle’s Latin jazz hero, Guillo Carias. Originally from the Dominican Republic, Carias has been in the area for many years, and is partly responsible for the rise in Latin Jazz music here. He wrote the beautiful ballad “Su tu Supieras” (“If You Only Knew”) which the group played very sensitively.

There were many fine solos throughout the concert but three stood out. The first memorable solo was Barber on “Jury Duty” – he has a complete modern command of the saxophone. He played with power, or with great sensitivity. He has a full tone throughout the range of the saxophone, and his ability to go high up in the extended altissimo range is very impressive. Additionally, with his timely growls and vibrato, there was never a dull moment in his playing. On the challenging “Jury Duty” Barber had a perfect solo. It is my opinion that he is one of the best saxophonists of the current generation.

Alamo showed off his tremendous skill on vibraphone with his “Strollin’.” His improvisation was very clear and exciting; one could follow him as he strategically built his melodic line higher and higher.

Anderson’s solos were all interesting as he created so much interplay with the other members of the rhythm section. I especially liked him on “Su tu Supieras” on which he very thoughtfully developed his improvisation based on Carias’ melody.

Before the last tune of the evening, Vazquez told the audience what great a time he had had working with UNC students for the past three days. Then he began his second unaccompanied solo of the evening. He began by playing a classic J.S. Bach sonata and then transitioned to a Puerto Rican folk tune. He has an effortless, virtuosic technique, a great sense of rhythm, and very creative melodic invention. The other tunes in the concert were “Nutville” by Horace Silver, “What Is This Thing Called Love” by Cole Porter, “The Nearness of You” by Hoagy Carmichael, and “The Chicken” by Pee Wee Ellis.