Azteca ‘Azteca’ (BBR) 3/5

The debut album from Azteca on CBS finds the band in a transitional phase, varying between Latin-influenced numbers and outright funk tunes. For that reason alone, funk fans who are in search of a little more exotic grooves may well find this recording of particular interest. Among group alumni Neal Schon of Santana provides some guitar riffs of distinction with Lenny White on drums, Paul Jackson on bass and the Escovedo brothers taking care of percussion duties. This album is more soul and R & B influenced than its successor and with mixed results. A first single, ‘Ain’t got no special woman’ was a blatant attempt to cash in on the then in-vogue Santana sound, but is no bad number for all that and has something of a southern soul feel with rock elements. A second single ‘Mamita linda’ on the album follows on from a subtle, reflective instrumental opener ‘La piedra del sol’ before the listener is straight into a rhythm guitar-based Latin-rock workout with some nifty organ work. Even more impressive is the steaming Latin-jazz outing ‘Non pacem’ which is probably the strongest cut on the entire album and this begins in a Latin vein with English vocals, then morphs into a funk-tinged second part with a fine solo from Harrell. Paul Jackson contributes vocals to his own composition ‘Can’t take the funk out of me’ and plays also on the Latin-funk piece ‘Peace everybody’ with a guitar riff right out of the main title to ‘Shaft’. Eventually Azteca split up after two critically acclaimed, yet commercially unsuccessful albums, citing a distinct lack of airplay as the major factor, and with ‘Coke’ Escovedo departing and performing for three years with Santana including the ‘Moonflower’ and Oneness’ albums. Extensive four page liner notes on the band history by ‘Jazz Today ‘columnist Will Layman are instructive and as ever with BBR, the graphics are spot on. Well worth investigating. Tim Stenhouse

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