Roll & Rock . . . Blues & Rhythm . . . It’s uncanny how the mere switching of the known order of things packs an immediate and visceral wallop - - challenging our assumptions and expectations. Such is the power of the simple yet intriguing twist in the title of the album Latin Jazz-Jazz Latin. On this impressive seventh release by multiple Grammy-nominated trombonist/composer/producer Wayne Wallace, on his own Patois label, the repertoire, instrumentation and even the generations of participants speak to the whirling, cyclical energy of the genre.
A deft blend of jazz standards and originals provide the platform for Wallace’s soaring and soulful artistry. That most titles are eminently danceable is no surprise, given that Wallace - - an ardent student of Cuban maestro’s Chucho Valdes and Juan Formell - - embraces the roots of jazz as a dance music genre. For example, the joyous opening songo-descarga (jam session) ‘İA Ti Te Gusta!’ establishes right away one of the unique aspects of the album.
Rather than the brass frontline common to the Latin jazz genre, this album features funky, tight violin ensemble work that draws upon the string and flute traditions of the Cuban charanga band format. A far cry from the simpering, static vibe many Americans associate with both these instruments in popular music settings, their crisp easy swing provides an intriguing cushion for Wallace’s driving virtuoso trombone solos.
That violinists Mads Tolling, a veteran of the Grammy® Award-winning Turtle Island Quartet, and Jeremy Cohen, whose Quartet San Francisco has numerous Grammy® nominations to its credit, expertly provide the distinct ‘fire and ice’ quality that mark the charanga genre and was pleasingly expected. A welcome surprise is the facile jazz acumen of 17-year-old up and coming flautist Elena Pinderhughes.
The plaintive call of Wallace’s horn at the opening of Mercer Ellington’s ‘Things Ain’t What They Used To Be’ soon gives way to the knowing response of the coro voices comprised of west coast stalwarts, percussionist and educator John Santos and vocalist Orlando Torriente. Wasting no time, the band jumps right into a swinging ‘blues caribe’ jaunt. In contrast, the elder Duke Ellington’s ‘Prelude to a Kiss’ allows the danzón rhythm to bring out the delicate folds and shadows of the tune. As much as it is Wallace’s album, the effort is as much a showcase of the talents of Wallace’s core rhythm section which, with the exception of Colin Douglass replacing the late Paul van Wageningen on tap drums, has provided the trombonist with vibrant support for a number of years. They include: pianist Murray Low; bassist David Belove and percussionist Michael Spiro.
From the days of Eddie Cano, Bobby Montez, Manny Lopez, Don Tosti and Cal Tjader in the 1950s and 1960s, the West Coast has exhibited a unique voice and timbre in the Latin jazz genre. Where the bands of Tito Puente, Joe Loco and Machito oozed New York swagger and Broadway’s nervous, neon bustle, the music of their Pacific coast counterparts possessed a different brand of heat: the sun-drenched coastal sweep and gem-like glint of Hollywood. One of the legends of the Bay area Latin-jazz scene, Pete Escovedo, joins the group on timbales, providing his time-honed, rock-steady beat on the jazz-drenched cha cha cha, ‘La Habana’. Another West Coast legend, saxophonist/flautist Mary Fettig (herself a veteran with Tito Puente, Stan Kenton and Airto among many others) dazzles on the closing number, ‘Pasando El Tiempo’.
From Argentine tango to New Orleans jazz, the influence of Afro-Cuban rhythms throughout the diaspora has been visionary, non-linear and often unexpected. Wayne Wallace demonstrates all three qualities by his flip of the jazz script in this latest offering.
Jim Byers hosts the archival Latin-jazz program The Latin Flavor Classic Edition on WPFW 89.3 FM, Sundays from 6p to 8p, and since 2010 has produced the Metro Mambo lecture/concert series for the Smithsonian.