The historical evolution of the Caribbean Basin and specifically the Greater Antilles, has been over five hundred years in the making. The triangular connections between Europe, Africa, and the New World with its ensuing social and economic constraints, established the conditions for an innovative culture in the region. The enculturation process led to the creolization of the music and the creation of hybrid religions as Santeria in Cuba, and Voudou in what was then Hispaniola (Saint-Domingue), adding an intriguing dimension to musical development. In an ambitious and panoramic endeavor, percussionist Michael Spiro, and trombonist Wayne Wallace, with supplemented roles as arrangers and producers, formed La Orquesta Sinfonietta, and present Canto América an engaging narrative of the Afro-Caribbean experience on a grand scale.
With this project encompassing such a broad scope, Spiro and Wallace decided to prepare themselves with a full string orchestra, wide-ranging horn section, and an array of vocalists, to augment their dependable Latin Jazz Quintet. Having an ample supply of over fifty assorted instruments and voices at their disposal, they were able to pick and choose from individual soloists to string quartets and big band scenarios, all enhanced by Spiro's propelling percussion so dominant in this production.
The preamble "Canto America (Amanecer/Dawn)" offers an opus to Osain, the Yoruba god of the forest, as female voices blend with strings for a soft approach, as when the Spanish caravels first arrived into the tranquil islands, which would soon be disrupted. There is a definite Afro-Cuban concentration evident throughout, and "La Propaganda De Hoy," is a nod to Los Van Van, the innovative Cuban ensemble which reenergized the dance craze on the island with its funk and timba variations. The strings are positioned in the forefront to engage with the percussion and brass, as the repetitious vocal chorus encourages the dancers.
The Cuban danzón is revitalized on Hoagy Charmichael's "Stardust," which is treated with lush orchestration in the initial section, evolving into an unmistakable cha-cha-cha, in a brilliant arrangement exchange. Another standard undertaken with a fresh approach is "Afro-Blue," by Mongo Santamaria. This perennial favorite is transformed into a folkloric rumba ovation to Obatalá, the Yoruban god of wisdom, before taking an unexpected turn into jazz improvisation swirling around polytonal harmonies and emphatic drumming, again accented by the vocal chants. The incantations continue on "Hispaniola," where the deity Aganyú, who rules over volcanoes and earthquakes, is honored with the batá drums in a traditional Haitian petro rhythm, again emphasis is placed on the string integration, adding a novel concept.
Wayne Wallace gives himself some credit with his acquired nickname, on "El Medico," an elaborate rhythmic explosion which improvises upon the styles of rumba, guaguanco, charanga, and timba. Wallace obviously enjoying a chance to do some trombone soloing amidst the celebration. Continuing with the Santeria concept, Ogun is the orisha (god) of metal, and on "El Caldero de Ogun," is touted with the essential chanting, proceeding into jazz territory with pianist Murray Low taking it straight ahead, augmented by a fierce electric and acoustic twin bass attack. A complex percussion syncopation takes over the ending, in a show of strength and durability worthy of Ogun.
But not all is so male dominant in the Yoruban folkloric and religious landscape, as femininity is honored with "Ochun's Road." Ochun is the goddess of love, beauty, and sensuality, and being the youngest, is the most attractive. This a majestic arrangement, moving from tranquility into a cadenced scenario where melody and orchestration introduce the entrancing chorus as if from a sacred session, reclining into a mellow scenery.
The finale "Canto América(Puesta del Sol/Sunset)" is a forgiving invocation of the spirits, as the proverbial sun sets on the Caribbean. Though historically and culturally turbulent, the Caribbean is also a paradise on earth as depicted in the media, and part of its allure has been its rich and diverse musical heritage and contribution. With extensive and informative liner notes and insights, Michael Spiro and Wayne Wallace have done a tremendous favor to those interested in not only the music, but also the academic and intellectual approach to its formation and evolution as well. In Wallace's own words: "You have to go a long way to find anything else out there that blends Afro-Cuban folkloric music with the modern forms, diverse instrumentation, and vocals that we have here."
Canto América (Amanecer/Dawn); La Propaganda De Hoy; Stardust; Afro
Blue; Hispaniola; El Médico; El Caldero De Ogun; Ochun’s Road; Canto
América (Puesta Del Sol/Sunset).
Michael Spiro: percussion/arrangements; Wayne Wallace: trombone,
euphonium, arrangements; Colin Douglas: trap drums, percussion;
David Belove: electric bass; Murray Low: piano; Jeremy Allen: double
bass, fretless bass (1, 3, 7, 8, 9); Jamaal Baptiste: piano (8); Christian
Tumalan: piano (8); Jesus Diaz: lead vocals (4, 7); Mike Mixtaki: vocals
(4, 5, 7, 8); Edgardo Cambon: vocals: (2, 3, 6); Fito Reinoso: vocals:
(2, 3, 6); John Santos: vocals: (2, 3, 6); Cecilia Englehart: vox humana
(1, 8, 9); Maria Marquez: vox humana (1, 8, 9); Joe Galvin: vocals (3,
4, 8) percussion (4, 5, 6, 7, 8); Kristin Olson: vocals: (3, 4, 8)
percussion (4, 5, 7, 8); Nate Johnson: vocals (8); John Calloway: flute
(2) solos ( 3, 4 ); Tom Walsh: alto sax (7,8); Joe Anderson: trumpet,
ewi (5, 7, 8); Brennan Johns: trombone, bass trombone, mellophone,
French horn (1, 2, 4, 6, 7, 8, 9); Steven Banks: clarinet, bass clarinet (
(3, 7); Gabe Young: oboe (1, 3, 7, 8, 9); Marco Nunez flute, alto flute
(1, 3, 7, 8); Matt Shugert: flute (3, 7); Daniel Stern: principal violin (1,
2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9); Charlene Kluegel: violin (1, 2, 3, 5, 6, 7, 9);
Maria Jose Romero: violin (1, 2, 3, 5, 6, 7, 9); Nidhal Jebali: violin (1, 2,
3, 5, 6, 7, 9); Yoni Gertner : viola (1, 2, 3, 5, 6, 7, 9); Tze-Ying Wu:
viola (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9); Etan Young: cello (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 8, 7,
9); Brady Anderson: cello (1, 2, 3, 5, 6, 7, 9); Eric Juberg: alto sax (4);
Jonah Tarver: alto sax (4); Sam Motter: tenor sax: (4); Tonu Maas:
tenor sax (4); Theo Simpson: bari sax (4); Rachel Rodgers: flute (4);
Alexandra Signor: trumpet (4); Joe Anderson: trumpet (4); Iantheia
Calhoun: trumpet (4); Cean Robinson: trumpet (4); Kevin Wilson:
trumpet (4); John Sorsen: trombone (4); Brennan Johns: trombone (4);
Miro Sorber: trombone (4); Richard Marshall: trombone (4); Min Ju Kim:
violin (4, 8).