© - Steven A. Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.
“Inspired by the work of the great Ahmad Jamal we generally approach songs more as a 'compositional device' which allows for interpretations whereby the song becomes a 'story' comprising edited musical scenes in the form of heads, intros, interludes, vamps, solo choruses, outros. Much like film editing. That way each musical scene contributes to the progress of the story of the song. Arranging becomes composing. We feel that with this approach we have created our own niche in the Latin world.”
“One of the appealing and distinctive aspects of Nueva Manteca's albums has been the way we tried to "shed new light' on the above-mentioned material, translating it into Latin Jazz, synthesizing the Afro Caribbean traditions with Jazz and European Classical music.”
- JAN LAURENS HARTONG, creator, Nueva Manteca
The music of the Latin Jazz band Nueva Manteca has intrigued me for many years, not least because they are so reminiscent of the Cuban Latin Jazz group Irakere, whose music created a lasting impression on me after I first heard it on their Columbia Records Newport Jazz Festival LP.
[Some of you may recall that Irakere was the band that first brought alto saxophonist Paquito D’Rivera and trumpeter Arturo Sandoval to the attention of Jazz audiences both in the USA and abroad.]
Chucho Valdes, a monster keyboard player, was the leader of Irakere and he created much of that band’s “personality” by the attention he paid to infusing his arrangements with elements of other styles of music while staying true to the forms of rhythm that were native to the Afro-Cuban tradition.
Dutch Pianist Jan Laurens Hartong assumed a role similar to that of Chucho’s when he established the Latin Jazz ensemble Nueva Manteca 25 years ago and gave its music a similar distinctiveness adding elements of Bebop and Modern Jazz phrasings to Latin Jazz themes, motifs and rhythms through the many intriguing arrangements he wrote for the band.
In celebration of its 25th anniversary Nueva Manteca recently issued Nueva Manteca Live! 25 Years, a self-produced double CD available through Jazz World Music and Agency. You can locate more information about this CD, the group and all of its recordings via this link or via www.nuevamanteca.nl.
Each CD is comprised of a live performance:  the first features a January 6, 1994 date that was recorded at Nick Vollebrecht’s Jazzcafe in Laren, The Netherlands and  and the second offers a January 5, 2013 recording from a concert at The Bimhuis in Amsterdam.
In 1994 the line-up consisted of two trumpets, tenor saxophone, piano, bass and four percussionists led by the marvelous drummer Lucas van Merwijk and the tumbadora Nils Fischer while in 2013 Lucas and Nils remained as does the piano and bass, but the front-line has been augmented and now consists of trombone, tenor sax, guitar and Hammond B-3 organ.
The addition of guitarist Ed Verhoeff on guitar makes possible the group’s exploration of the music of Carlos Santana which it does with its interpretations of five of Santana’s originals at the Bimhuis concert.
Tenor saxophonist Ben van den Dungen is also a constant between the two manifestations of Nueva Manteca and he’s added his virtuosity on soprano saxophone to the current edition of Nueva Manteca.
Of course, throughout its many iterations, Jan Laurens Hartong, who founded the group in 1983 lends continuity and constant creativity through his compelling arrangements of everything from Broadway shows such as West Side Story and Porgy and Bess to Jazz standards that include Victor Feldman’s Seven Steps to Heaven and Wayne Shorter’s Speak No Evil.
If you are a fan of Latin Jazz, you owe it to yourself to check out Nueva Manteca
Here’s more about Nueva Manteca and Nueva Manteca Live! 25 Years from the insert notes to the latest recording as written by Jan Laurens Hartong:
“Inspired by developments in the 70's and 80's when Latin Music became a rage under the name of Salsa, an 8-piece Latin Jazz group was formed in Rotterdam , the Netherlands in 1988. Some of us had been inspired by groups such as the Fort Apache band, Afro-Cuba and Irakere. Study travels to Cuba had been undertaken to work with masters such as Emiliano Salvador and Oscarito Valdes(Afro Cuba). As a result, the Cuban concept of using the drumset in combination with percussion was adopted by Nueva Manteca. The new band based itself on the Cubop style with the purpose of expanding it in a multilateral way, hence the adjective nueva . Since its formation, Nueva Manteca has been fortunate to be able to build a large following in Europe, the USA and Latin America. The music took us to many places including the USA, Canada, Colombia, Mexico, Trinidad, Curacao and many European countries. An absolute highlight was the honorable invitation we received to perform on the closing night of the 2004 Puerto Rico Heineken Jazz Fest where we were introduced as ' Europe's ambassadors of Latin Jazz'.
We initiated a unique state-sponsored concert series entitled "Nueva Manteca meets the legends", performing in the prestigious concert halls of Holland, including the world-famous Concertgebouw in Amsterdam. The series was breaking new ground for Latin Music. Over the years we had the privilege to host such respected players as Nicky Marrero, Armando Peraza, Giovanni Hidalgo , Orestes Vilato, Ralph Irizarry, Luis Conte, Bobby Sanabria, Dave Valentin, Claudio Roditi and Juancito Torres.
Our recordings, 9 in total, so far have been very well received from the start internationally.
The release of the CD "Let’s Face the Music and Dance" on the Blue Note label (1996) was a milestone, marking the first major-label signing of a European Latin Jazz group.
Already since 1993 Nueva Manteca had begun to produce thematic projects such as Porgy & Bess, My Fair Lady, West Side Story, Congo Square: Tribute to the music of New Orleans), Tango Con Clave Tribute to Astor Piazzolla) , Chicano Rock, arranging a wide variety of compositions which provided different kinds of musical challenges.
In addition to our instrumental music we created 2 religious works featuring vocalists - Misa Afro Cuban Sanctus and Requiem Para El Mundo which we successfully performed in Israel with top singers of that country.
One of the appealing and distinctive aspects of Nueva Manteca's albums has been the way we tried to "shed new light' on the above-mentioned material, translating it into Latin Jazz, synthesizing the Afro Caribbean traditions with Jazz and European Classical music.
Inspired by the work of the great Ahmad Jamal we generally approach songs more as a 'compositional device' which allows for interpretations whereby the song becomes a 'story' comprising edited musical scenes in the form of heads, intros, interludes, vamps, solo choruses, outros. Much like film editing. That way each musical scene contributes to the progress of the story of the song. Arranging becomes composing. We feel that with this approach we have created our own niche in the Latin world. Kudos must go to all the great guys who have been part of the Nueva Manteca family, past and present. Without your contribution and talent all of the above could not have been accomplished.
This 25th anniversary 2-CD package presents music and musicians from past and present and is dedicated to colleagues all over the world who keep Latin Jazz alive and kicking.
- JAN LAURENS HARTONG”
The following video captures some of the excitement of the group in performance at The Bimhuis and features the Santana Evil Ways track from the 2013 concert at The Bimhuis.