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Wayne Wallace Latin Jazz Quintet: Bien Bien! (2009)

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Wayne Wallace Latin Jazz Quintet: Bien Bien! How we rate: our writers tend to review music they like within their preferred genres.

With ¡Bien Bien!, as with previous releases, trombonist Wayne Wallace and his group display a very subtle kind of mastery. The elements of the combo's excellence are impressive enough. First, Wallace plays his instrument as beautifully as the trombone all-stars in Manny Oquendo
Manny Oquendo
Manny Oquendo
b.1931
percussion
's classic Conjunto Libre—or indeed the great Julian Priester
Julian Priester
Julian Priester
b.1935
trombone
, who sits in on a couple of numbers on ¡Bien Bien!. Second, the group deploys an irresistible laid-back groove, befitting their Bay Area roots; there is room to breathe here, in contrast to some Latin jazz derived from the breakneck New York salsa scene. (San Francisco's North Beach jazz scene is memorialized here on "Mojito Café.")

That combination of factors coalesced into something truly great on their The Nature of the Beat (Patois, 2008), which covered Ray Charles
Ray Charles
Ray Charles
1930 - 2004
piano
, the Miles Davis
Miles Davis
Miles Davis
1926 - 1991
trumpet
Nonet, "Bésame Mucho," and Earth, Wind & Fire, in a most appealing way. But the instrumental prowess and good-time groove only explain so much; there's something else present on a track like Nature's "That Walk," which starts off sounding merely like exceptionally competent genre jazz, but winds up transporting the listener. Wallace would surely call that secret ingredient a duende, a Spanish word denoting a spirit: in this case, something ancient encoded in the musical forms that's released by the musicians.

If that duende is present on ¡Bien Bien!, it's most likely lurking in "Africa"; uneven, but with sufficiently many high points to rank right up there with Tito Puente
Tito Puente
Tito Puente
1923 - 2000
band/orchestra
's "Equinox," from his live El Rey (Concord Picante, 1984) with the fantastic Jorge Dalto
Jorge Dalto
Jorge Dalto
1948 - 1987
piano
on piano sounding like a young Herbie Hancock
Herbie Hancock
Herbie Hancock
b.1940
piano
), among the finest Latin jazz versions of John Coltrane
John Coltrane
John Coltrane
1926 - 1967
saxophone
numbers. The piece begins with very Love Supreme-era Coltrane-like incantatory statements by Wallace and pianist Murray Low and proceeds to a statement of the familiar theme that stupendously uncovers previously unsuspected Latin profundity in the song. Low later delivers a marvelous solo that effortlessly weaves massively lyrical, McCoy Tyner
McCoy Tyner
McCoy Tyner
b.1938
piano
-like phrases (Tyner being the pianist on the Coltrane original), together with elegant Cuban-style figures.

If the mysterious duende were scrutinized under the microscope, part of its secret would surely lie in the mastery of both jazz and Latin elements. Wallace and company draw deeply on both sides of the Latin jazz equation, a balance that is rarer than it first appears: most practitioners are substantially stronger in one or the other elements.

Another, more prosaic, hypothesis about the duende: it has a lot to do with singing. ¡Bien Bien! features singers Orlando Torriente and Kenny Washington trading verses in Spanish and English, backed by a spirited coro, on a fine rendition of Eddie Harris
Eddie Harris
Eddie Harris
1934 - 1994
saxophone
's "Freedom Jazz Dance," but no other vocal tracks. Nature of the Beat, simply put, had more numbers with this vocal configuration, and the earlier record accordingly soared more frequently. This is a quibble momentarily forgotten, however, as the quintet cruises through most of the singer-less material on the more recent disc.

Track Listing: ¡Bien Bien!; Freedom Jazz Dance (Baile de Libertad); Mojito Café Building Bridges; In A Sentimental Mood; Playa Negra; Going Up! (¡Súbete!); Solid; Africa.

Personnel: Wayne Wallace: trombone, vocals; Julian Priester: trombone (4, 7); Dave Martell: trombone (4, 7); Murray Low: piano, vocals; Michael Spiro: percussion, vocals; David Belove: bass, vocals; Paul van Wageningen: trap drums, vocals; Kenny Washington: lead vocal (2); Orlando Torriente: lead vocal (2); David Chaidez: background vocal (2); Alexa Weber Morales: background vocal (2); Karen Aczon: background vocal (2); Sakai: background vocal (2); Jody Noble: background vocal (2); Sheryl Lynn Thomas: background vocal (2); Ron Stallings: background vocal (2).

Record Label: Patois Records

Style: Latin/World


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