I could go on at length about what distinguishes percussionist Ray Barretto’s bands from most “Latin jazz” bands, but why bother when Barretto has spelled it out so simply himself? “Latin jazz…is a term I despise,” the conguero said not long ago. “We play jazz, with me providing the Latin overtones.” The five albums he has recorded with New World Spirit–a tough, moody band he put together in 1992–have made the point just as eloquently. Like his predecessors Tito Puente and Mongo Santamaria, the 69-year-old Barretto made his reputation performing in and leading Latin dance bands. Also like them, he has created a first-rate jazz outfit that concentrates on not only the many jazz tunes with a Latin heritage, but also on songs that sometimes readily, sometimes surprisingly open themselves to the Spanish tinge, from “Poinciana” and “Caravan” (on Barretto’s latest Blue Note album, Contact!) to “Summertime,” which became a hit on both jazz and Latin radio in ’96, and the quiet standard “Lazy Afternoon.” Still, my favorite album by New World Spirit remains its middle disc, Taboo (Concord), for several compositions by Barretto himself and two by the grand pianist Hector Martignon that poke into dark corners and court exotic spirits. Barretto’s conga work incorporates colorful cross-rhythms and accents, but he’s also willing to straight-out swing–a tendency that would lessen his impact in a strictly Latin band but buoys and propels the music of New World Spirit. John Di Martino, the pianist who has replaced Martignon, appears with Barretto on this tour, as does saxophonist Adam Kolker, who’s been with the band since its inception. In addition to the standards listed above, the repertoire includes Nat Adderley’s “Work Song” and McCoy Tyner’s “Effendi”; given the date of this booking, Horace Silver’s Latin-jazz classic “Song for My Father” might well find its way onto the set list too. Sunday, 3 PM, Preston Bradley Hall, Chicago Cultural Center, 78 E. Washington; 312-744-1430. NEIL TESSER

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo by Mephiso.