Herbie Mann - flute; Johnny Rae - vibraphone; NabilTotah - bass; Carlos "Patato" Valdes - conga; Jose Mangual - bongos; Santos Miranda - drums
A dedicated bebopper in the late 1940s and early 1950s, flutist Herbie Mann began combining world music touches with jazz by the mid '50s. His adventurous set at the 1959 Newport Jazz Festival with his Afro-Jazz Sextet, coming just one month after they recorded the exotic Flautista! on the Verve label, featured an organic blend of 4/4 swing and mesmerizing Afro-Cuban grooves, courtesy of a percolating battery of percussion from Cuban congero Carlos "Patato" Valdes, Puerto Rican bongo ace Jose Mangual (a member of the pioneering Machito Orchestra of the late '40s and early '50) and drummer Santos Miranda.
They open their July 4th set with Sonny Rollins' bright calypso flavored number "St. Thomas," which features some nimble, swinging vibes work from Johnny Rae against a churning undercurrent of percussion. Mann's flute solo is breezy and buoyantly swinging here in keeping with the original spirit of that best-known and most-covered Rollins composition, which the tenor great premiered on his 1956 landmark recording Saxophone Colossus. Totah contributes a nice bowed bass solo on this Caribbean number before the percussion section kicks in with a dynamic jam, taking the energy level up a notch. They follow with Mann's Latin flavored "Answer Me," which finds Rae and the leader engaging in some rapid-fire call-and-response over another insinuating groove. Mann solos over the 4/4 swing section of the piece and Rae follows with a virtuosic solo of his own on vibes. Midway through this rhythmically shifting number, the Afro-Cuban feel kicks in hard with the percussion section engaging in a three-way, clave-fueled conversation. Congas, bongos and drums are prominently featured grooving in tight, polyrhythmic fashion as they build to a dynamic peak near the end of the piece.
Next up is the exotic "Bedouin," one of the sections from Mann's African Suite, which he recorded earlier that year. A mesmerizing number built on numerous interlocking parts - just like an authentic African drum choir -- it features Mann playing a Japanese flute against an insistent 12/8 groove. "Brazilian Soft Shoe" is a spirited romp that combines aspects of samba with West African drumming. Rae's vibes solo is particularly fluid and bracing here and the sextet generates so much infectious energy on stage on this set-closer that the crowd gives them a rousing ovation with shouts of "More!" Mann and his crew encore with an exotic world music interpretation of Duke Ellington's "Caravan," with the leader's mellow flute whispering over the pulsating percussion at the outset, then blowing white hot bebop over a swinging 4/4 solo section. Rae follows with an outstanding vibes solo, spurred on the percolating pulse of the three master percussionists before Totah contributes an extended bowed bass solo. The percussionists then get together in a heated three-way jam near the end of the piece before reprising the exotic theme for a rousing finale. Mann would return to Newport several times after this 1959 concert, documenting his 1963 and 1965 appearances with live recordings on the Atlantic label.
A Brooklyn native, Mann was born Herbert Jay Solomon on Apr 16, 1930. He started off on clarinet at age nine, inspired by Benny Goodman, before switching over to tenor sax and flute. After a stint in the Army, he got his first professional experience with Mat Mathews' Quintet in 1953 before stepping out as a leader in his own right the following year. From 1954 to 1958, Mann collaborated with several like-minded young beboppers on the scene, including alto saxophonist Phil Woods, tenor saxophonist Charlie Rouse and fellow flutist Sam Most. In 1959, he formed his Afro-Jazz Sextet and subsequently embarked on U.S. State Department-sponsored tours of Africa (1960) and Brazil (1961), eventually recording a bossa nova album in Brazil in 1962 with Antonio Carlos Jobim and Baden Powell. Through the '60s, he employed some promising young players who would later go on to lead their own bands, including pianist Chick Corea, vibist Roy Ayers and guitarists Atilla Zoller, Larry Coryell and Sonny Sharrock, bassist Miroslav Vitous and drummer Billy Cobham. He scored a hit in 1969 with Memphis Underground, which featured guitarists Coryell and Sharrock, bassists Donald "Duck" Dunn and Chuck Rainey and drummers Al Jackson and Bernard Purdie and was recorded at the famed Muscle Shoals Studio in Memphis, Tennessee. He followed that success up with 1971's Push Push, which featured guitarist Duane Allman of Allman Brothers fame.
By the 1970s, Mann began crossing over into more commercial areas, incorporating elements of pop, rock, funk, reggae and even disco into his recordings for the Atlantic label. He gradually returned to jazz in the '80s and formed his own label in the '90s, Kokopelli Records. He passed away in Santa Fe, New Mexico on July 1, 2003, following an extended battle with prostate cancer. His last record was 2004's posthumously released Beyond Brooklyn for Telarc. (Milkowski)