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Wayne Wallace Latin Jazz Quintet: Bien Bien!

Raul d'Gama Rose By

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The music with clave that began with Machito "Tanga," and George Russell "Cubana-Be Cubana-Bop" has come a long way. With clave in his soul, trombonist Wayne Wallace proves, yet again, on Bien Bien! that the cheer of the music is truly infectious. Wallace is rare among musicians who can swing as well as he can clave. With the addition of shuffle rhythms and backbeats bubbling under the skin, he creates glorious music even with just a few notes on his 'bone.

On Bien Bien! Wallace has made several outstanding things happen: he employs two trombonists other than himself—Julian Priester and Dave Martell; there are no saxophones or trumpets and they are not missed at all; and vocalists Kenny Washington - Vocals and Orlando Torriente share English and Spanish honors on one track. Additionally, between drummers Paul van Wageningen and Michael Spiro, there appears to be a whole percussion orchestra, as pianist Murray Lowe brilliantly explores the rhythms hidden in the melodies and bassist David Bedlove thumps the strings .

Bien Bien! is a cheerful package—at least until the eighth track—because throughout, Wallace employs his characteristic swaggering tone on an instrument that can sound both languid and sexy. The trombone is also the most naturally human of instruments in the brass family, and Wallace, Priester and Martell have a fine time playing this characteristic to the max.



Then, there are the songs. On "Freedom Jazz Dance" Torriente and Washington, mimic the baile with superb rap and Corazon. Priester both purrs softly, jaguar-like, and growls with a mighty swell on both "Building Bridges" and "Going Up." Martell is comparatively lively—a leaping gazelle to Priester's cat. Wallace is characteristically soulful and complete throughout—especially on "In A Sentimental Mood," while "Mojito Café" is characteristic of the sublime rhythm of the entire record.

John Coltrane's "Africa" alone makes this record worthwhile. Wallace's wailing arrangement also features a slow buildup of percussion to a thunderous low, with the bass kicking in mightily, followed by bright splashes of cymbals. The song, as Coltrane conceived it, is a musical journey from slavery to freedom. Wallace's inspired interpretation adds to trombone literature, the wistfulness of his instrument—as it breaks down the mournful episode of slavery to the eventual triumph of freedom—poignant and unforgettable. The overall crunching rhythm of the song mimics the many oars and chains that once helped sail those ancient ships to America. Best of all, the sharp contrast of this version to the original that John Coltrane and Eric Dolphy created—no brass other than trombones here—is remarkable and fresh. On the merits of "Africa" alone, Bien Bien! represents a career high point for Wallace.


Track Listing: Bien Bien; Freedom Jazz Dance (Baile de Libertad); Mojito Caf

Personnel: Wayne Wallace: trombone, vocals; Murray Low: piano, vocals; Michael Spiro: percussion, vocals; David Belove: bass, vocals; Paul van Wageningen: trap drums, vocals; Julian Priester: trombone; Dave Martell: trombone; Kenny Washington, vocals; Orlando Torriente: vocals.

Title: Bien Bien! | Year Released: 2009 | Record Label: Patois Records

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