Cedar Walton's latest release, Latin Tinge, is a middle-of-the-road assemblage of tunes in a trio setting. Walton, an accomplished and masterful pianist, is joined by bassist Cucho Martinez and percussionist Ray Mantilla, both experienced and talented veterans. The songs, however, follow the same structure and scheme, and it's this lack of variation that disappoints.
Latin Tinge ’s lineup includes timeless standards and three Walton originals. Each piece has basically the same set-up: intro, theme, solo by Walton, repeat of intro, restatement of theme, a second Walton solo, then out. The leader has the only true solos on the disc, fluid excursions that show a formidable dexterity, but not a whole lot of adventure. Though Martinez and Mantilla don’t take any solos per se, they do shine in particular on a couple of tunes when given the space. The Walton originals - "Latin America", "The Vision", and "Latino Blue" – all have a more confident feeling, and there's a little more inventiveness in the playing and the arrangements, almost as if the pianist felt more confident taking the trio through songs he wrote. It’s almost as if being the composer gave him the license to bleed the borders in a way that he wouldn't otherwise have done with the other songs.
The two standards - "Besame Mucho" and "Brazil" – show Walton actually leading his trio through surprisingly standard runs. With a pair of songs like this, which have been interpreted ad nauseum, one would expect a different angle, some new approach that would reveal new possibilities. The trio takes a careful route, and the music consequently remains faithful to the canonical texts.
Walton's playing is sure and thoughtful, and Martinez and Mantilla provide ample support (the former is especially memorable on "Triste" in which his bass seems to sing a song all its own). It's jazz by the numbers, played with metronomic regularity, simmering but never boiling over, smoldering but never burning.