When conga player John Nava and drummer Martin Binder hit on the idea to start an Afro-Cuban jazz group in 2012, little did they know how much lightning they would eventually let out of the bottle.
“We were looking to find a middle ground between the swing of traditional jazz and the beats and accents of Afro-Cuban music,” Nava says. “We originally envisioned having horns and great musicians playing quality tunes, so I guess we’ve accomplished that.”
But the two envisioned a traditional band. They had no idea the group would grow into more of a musical collective. That was beyond their original ambition – as were some of the band’s highlights that followed.
The group is currently producing original material for an upcoming second studio effort to follow their eponymous first effort, which was mostly all covers. And they are shooting for a return to the Monterey Jazz Festival stages in 2020 as a reprise of their 2017 sold-out debut, which resulted in a rousing standing ovation.
“I look around me onstage now and I wonder how in the world did I get lucky enough to be here,” Nava says. “This is me standing smack dab in the middle of my biggest dream. This is as close as you can get to being family without being related by blood.”
The collective’s growth has not caused them to abandon the original mission, however. With saxophonist Stu Reynolds, they have a songwriter versed in both swing and jazz, and now caught up in Caribbean rhythmic structures.
“Those rhythms that were brought to the Caribbean and ultimately to the Americas from Africa are completely compelling,” Reynolds says. “You immediately feel them in your body. When we combine them with traditional American jazz stylings it makes for a perfect marriage of head and body.”
Still, they retain an improvisational, free-swinging style, one that plays out well on stage.
“There may be written music and music stands around when you come to watch us, but remember: We come from the heart,” Nava says. “So forget about the bills and the problems and just let the rhythms and us take you away from it all, if only for a little while.”
THE LATIN JAZZ COLLECTIVE 5pm Sunday July 7. East Village Coffee Lounge, 498 Washington St., Monterey. $10. 373-5601, latinjazz-collective.com