Among the highlights of Kat Parra's fine recent Azúcar de Amor
(Patois, 2008) is the trombone and arrangements of Wayne Wallace. It is therefore gratifying to have this new record led by the San Franciscan. But while Parra's record comes across as a superbly executed homage to Latin music, Wallace's sounds like an idiosyncratically funky variant of the thing itself.
Wallace's repertoire on The Nature of the Beat
stakes out some unconventional territory and considerable breadth, but more than a few listeners will feel quite at home here, with familiar musical references to Ray Charles, the Miles Davis Nonet and Earth, Wind and Fire. The set list might suggest a welcoming party for music lovers of a certain age, and the music here admits that interpretation. But while this is largely a festive record, it is also an exceedingly professional and meticulously conceived one, the bedrock of which is a profound knowledge of the Afro-Cuban musical tradition.
All of the numbers here are cast or recast in an Afro-Cuban mode, making even somewhat overripe choices like "Fascinatin' Rhythm" (on the jazz side) or "Bésame Mucho" (on the Latin side) sound fresh. Superb jazz or Latin jazz arrangements tend to overlay a strictly Latin percussion foundation; and most cuts, even the more intense ones, are taken at a comfortable pace. Most tracks feature an irresistible montunoa propulsive, trance-like section, over which vocalists and instrumentalists improvise, frequently undergirded by Spanish-language versions of the lyric ("suéltameel corazónamor!" sings the chorus on "Unchain My Heart"). Wallace's supple playing on both trombone and the rare Wagner tuba brass instrument are highlighted to great effect throughout: liquid and tender on "Bésame Mucho," probing and insistent on "That Walk."
This is a big group of musicians, and noteworthy contributions tend to accumulate rather quickly. Pianist Murray Low plays with an elegance that would suit Cuba's venerable Orquesta Aragón. The joyously anachronistic synthesizer lines of Frank Martin add a dollop of '70s credibility throughout. The most valuable player award must go to Ray Stallings, whose baritone sax solo on the marvelous "Jeru" must grapple with the specter of Gerry Mulligan, and whose vocal (!) on "Unchain My Heart" goes mano a mano
with no less than the Ray Charles version. The Nature of the Beat
is not perfecta too-mellow reading of Herbie Hancock's "Come Running to Me" is pleasant but unconvincing, for examplebut somehow manages to be learned, funky and big-hearted all at once. Wallace and his band mates provide dizzying virtuosity and create breathtaking musical hybrids, having fun all the while.
Personnel: Wayne Wallace: trombone, Wagner tuba; Louis Fasman: trumpet, flugelhorn; Melecio
Magdaluyo: alto saxophone, flute; Ron Stallings: tenor and baritone saxophones, vocals;
Aaron Lington: baritone saxophone; Murray Low: piano; Frank Martin: piano, synthesizer;
David Yamasaki: guitar; David Belove: bass; John Santos: congas, percussion; Michael
Spiro: timbales, percussion; Paul van Wageningen: trap drums; Alexa Weber Morales:
vocals; Karen Aczon: vocals; Larry Batiste: vocals; David Chaidez: vocals; Jodene Noble:
vocals; Claytoven Richardson: vocals; Sakai: vocals; Sheryl Lynn Thomas: vocals; Orlando
Torriente: vocals; Jeanie Tracy: vocals.