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Cellar Live Records: The Finest in Live Jazz Recordings

Mike Oppenheim By

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Cellar Live Records is a contemporary jazz label located in Vancouver, British Columbia. Jazz saxophonist and producer Cory Weeds founded the label in 2001, one year after purchasing The Cellar Restaurant and Jazz Club (later renamed Cory Weeds' Jazz Cellar). Since that time, Cellar Live Records has released over seventy albums.

Performers at Cory Weeds' Jazz Cellar are some of the most important names in Canadian jazz, as well as major international artists. These include Joey DeFrancesco, Kenny Barron, Dr. Lonnie Smith, and Benny Golson, to name just a few. Owing both to the visiting artists and local Vancouver talent, the club was named in the Top 100 Jazz Clubs Worldwide by Downbeat on several occasions.

Cellar Live Records documents many of the seminal performances occuring at the club. Cellar Live releases are often, but not exclusively, recordings from concert events at the Jazz Cellar venue. Additional releases include recordings from other venues and studio sessions. With a steadily growing catalogue and distribution worldwide, Cellar Live Records contributes significantly to the availability of high quality music from established artists and emerging talent from all genres and varieties of jazz.

All About Jazz: Tell us about yourself and the Jazz Cellar.

Cory Weeds: I was born and raised in Vancouver (Burnaby actually) and, other than a lot of touring and a year at The University Of North Texas, I have lived here all my life. I guess I started appearing on the scene around 1996. The Jazz Cellar is a jazz club at 3611 West Broadway that I bought in 2000. I changed the name to Cory Weeds' Cellar Jazz Club in 2009. Unfortunately, the club will be closing on February 26, 2014.

AAJ: What factors contributed to closing the club? Will the label be affected by these same factors?

CW: The label will continue to run regardless of the club closing. As for the factors of the club closing, it had a lot to do with personal choice. Our landlord had become difficult. I am very tired of the food and beverage side of the industry, and am very tired in general after 13.5 years in the business.

AAJ: How did Cory Weeds' Cellar Jazz Club come to be and who was involved?

CW: Originally it was just myself as the sole owner with some help from my dad. Over time we had an additional five investors, three of which have been bought out. There are three remaining investors, including me.

It came about in 2000 because I was tired of not being able to hear quality jazz music in a listener friendly environment. There were clubs but not 'real' clubs. I thought that I had enough of a business sense and trust in the musicians to make it work. We didn't really have a dedicated jazz club in Vancouver, hence my desire to open one. Before my ownership The Cellar had jazz but was far from dedicated.

AAJ: What were you doing prior to buying the Cellar?

CW: Before buying the Cellar I was working at Prussin Music as a teacher and a high school music program liaison (for instrument repair and sales), and playing music.

AAJ: How did it go from jazz club to record label?

CW: The label started more as a lark than anything else. I'm big on documenting things and I honestly thought the club would be somewhat short lived, so I wanted to document every moment.

I assembled some recording gear, enlisted the help of some local engineers and, after a year of operation, we had assembled hundreds of tapes. With the help of then Vancouver jazz label Maximum Jazz we released Live @ The Cellar, a compilation of the best performances. I got a huge rush out of producing this recording. It was very exciting.

I asked Maximum Jazz if they would be interested in starting an imprint called Cellar Live and they were not, so Cellar Live was born.

I had a line of credit that had about $10,000 on it so I used that money (not all of it) to produce The Ross Taggart Quartet. Thankfully. Again it was such a huge rush and I enjoyed the whole process so much I thought I could maybe use the money from the sale of that recording to do another.

Before I knew it, I had a Canadian Youth Business Foundation loan and the catalogue was growing by the minute. A few trips to MIDEM in France resulted in some distribution deals in Japan, the US and we were all of a sudden a full on record label. Now, with over 80 titles in our catalogue, the label appears to be thriving and doing better than it ever has.

AAJ: Did you have production experience prior to releasing that first compilation?

CW: Not really other than a few co-led records with my band Crash, but my friend and co-leader Jerry Cook kind of handled most of the production of those recordings.

AAJ: How do you find artists to record and release? Are they exclusive to the Cellar Live label?

CW: We do not have exclusive deals with artists. In general, I reach out to them and ask if I can record. However, there have been many that have come to me and said "we should record." Dr. Lonnie Smith and David Newman, for example, asked me!

AAJ: Are the musicians specifically Canadian or local Vancouverites?

CW: We have released many recordings of all Vancouverites, Canadians, international superstars with Vancouverites as well as international jazz stars and their own bands. Some [are recorded] live at The Cellar, some done live in New York, some in studios, etc.

AAJ: There seems to be a good balance between established older artists and younger generation artists.

CW: I agree but it is not by design.

AAJ: How does Cellar Live release recordings from other jazz clubs and archival recordings?

CW: Usually the musicians are bringing the music to me. Many clubs now, such as Smalls and Smoke Jazz Club in New York have their own labels. That is making it hard to release recordings done there, but it's not impossible. My album Let's Go was recorded at Smoke last year and we're doing a date with a young trumpet player named Josh Bruneau later this year at Smalls.

AAJ: How does the label distribute its music?

CW: We have distribution in Canada and worldwide by Planetworks Distribution, Japan by Gats Productions and in the US by Distribution 13. We also sell through all the digital platforms, as well as our own website.

AAJ: Are most album sales in Canada or is there a significant international market for Cellar Live recordings?

CW: It's more international than Canadian, without question.

AAJ: How is the label responding to digital distribution? Are all current releases available as physical CDs and will previous releases be digitized?

CW: All of our titles are available digitally and many of our titles are no longer available physically. It's just not cost effective to repress many of the CDs that have run out.

AAJ: Is it fair to call Cellar Live a Vancouver-centric jazz label?

CW: I think it's too limiting. In the same way, it's limiting to say that we only do live recordings. I record and release what I'm passionate about and what is good music regardless of where it's from. Also, it has to have some salability.

AAJ: Are all shows recorded and select performances released? How do you decide which shows are released?

CW: All shows are definitely not recorded. There are two ways we do records. One is if it's a set thing where we know we're recording live for a [release]. In that case, people are paid and we release what we get. [The other is] what we call a 'recording on spec,' meaning we record with the intention of seeing what we get and make the decision after.

AAJ: Are all of the Cellar Live releases audio CDs? Was there ever interest in releasing live performance DVDs or videos?

CW: Yes, they are all audio CDs. I have never really been a fan of watching jazz DVDs and I'm not sure there is a huge market for them. They're expensive to make, so without the promise that they will sell, it's a hard investment to make.

AAJ: How does Cellar Live reflect your personal aesthetic in the albums released?

CW: The label absolutely reflects my personal preferences, but of course not in every instance. There are records on the label that are not my favorite because they are not what I dig musically, but they are still fantastic records. [As the owner of a label] you have to be able to separate yourself somewhat.

AAJ: How has your career as a performer influenced or impacted the label?

CW: Cellar Live has been a wonderful outlet for me to release my own recordings. I had never really thought I would release a lot of jazz recordings of myself. I kind of felt that when I bought The Cellar my playing career would sort of fizzle out and I would primarily be a club owner. The total opposite happened, and now looking back at it, I can see why and how that happened. I do not let opportunities pass by. I'm a doer, so I have taken advantage of the opportunities presented to me and I've run with them. I have released a lot records on the label and that would have never happened if I didn't have the label. My own playing career has become more than I could have ever dreamed. I have played, toured and recorded with Harold Mabern, Steve Davis, Dr. Lonnie Smith, Joey DeFrancesco, Mike LeDonne, Jim Rotondi, Lewis Nash, Peter Washington and then the numerous friends that I have had the great pleasure of doing wonderful things with. There are way too many to list.

I am so blessed and lucky.

AAJ: What kind of support do the club and the label receive from local and Canadian media? International media?

CW: The media has responded wonderfully to our recordings via radio and print media. We have Canadian Content rules here in Canada, so our stuff gets played a ton without having to do a lot of promo. Our releases continually show up in the Top 10 on the Canadian charts, which is great. If you look at JazzWeek in the US I think we have 4 records on the charts. We had 5 at one point, which represents 10 per cent of the whole chart, so I'd say we're doing pretty well!

AAJ: Any thoughts on Vancouver as a jazz city? How does it compare to jazz scenes elsewhere in Canada and the US?

CW: Well, the closing of The Cellar will be a big blow to the city's live music scene and will cause some uncertainty, but from a musician's perspective the talent here in many ways is unparalleled. The musicians in this city are phenomenal and I feel lucky to have such a wonderful talent pool to draw from.

AAJ: Are there plans to reopen the Jazz Cellar elsewhere in Vancouver or the Lower Mainland?

CW: I am looking at other opportunities and situations but nothing is imminent. The label will continue as it always has and hopefully, performance space-wise, something will come up.

Bill Coon and Oliver Gannon
Two Much Guitar
2006

Two Much Guitar features the quartet of guitarists Bill Coon and Oliver Gannon accompanied by bassist Darren Radtke and drummer Dave Robbins-keys. Six of the eight tracks are standards, while Gannon and Coon each offer one original to the selection.

While the album is guitar-centric, the contributions of Robbins and Radtke are significant. They keep everything together behind the comping and soloing guitars, as well as excel in their own ample solo spots.

The band is particularly adept with the swing tunes. "All the Things You Are" features liquid guitar solos, chordal melodies, and an extended solo from Radtke. The sound of the rapidly flitting bass solo fits perfectly within the sporadic texture of Robbins' drumming and the sparse guitar comping.

Coon's original "Zattitude" is a tour de force, with a funky, soulful fusion-esque melody. Robbins' drumming propels the track with virtuosic splendor and his drum solo is an exceptional display of his rhythmic and timbral sensibilities. The melodic solo sections are extensive and playful, including brief quotes of "Summertime" and "One Note Samba."

Van Heusen's "Darn That Dream" is treated with a liberal dose of melancholy. The arrangement is a clever interplay between the constantly moving bass and the two guitars. Robbins sits out on this track, but Coon, Gannon and Radtke fill the void remarkably well. The performance evolves from a very mellow interpretation to an increasingly rhythmic and swinging foray into the tune.

The live concert recording ends with the quartet tearing through the Gannon original "So Nice." The melody is angular and gripping, and the solos have a bluesy snarl to them.

Two Much Guitar is a prime example of the potential for the guitar quartet. The interactions between Coon and Gannon are exciting and fun, and the contributions of Radtke and Robbins in the rhythm section are electrifying.

Bruno Hubert Trio
Get Out of Town
2011

The Bruno Hubert Trio, featuring Hubert on piano, bassist Andre LaChance and drummer Brad Turner is a collection of three of the most vibrant instrumental voices on the Vancouver, and broader Canadian, jazz scene. Combining a funky sensibility and animated approach, the trio redefines ten jazz standards with their superb performances on Get Out of Town.

The energy of the trio and Hubert's muscular playing are apparent from the first notes of the opening track, "The Cost of Living." This same power is present on their rendition of Miles Davis's "All Blues." This slightly up-tempo interpretation is instructive in the ways in which a great group can give fresh life to a tune that has been played ad nauseum.

"For Dan" is a brisk ballad in 6/8, but it perfectly displays Hubert's unique talent for always finding the right note. The playing is restrained, but every improvised motif flowers into a full fluid line, expressing something essential.

"Caravan" is given the standard Latin flair, but much like "All Blues," the band finds more in the tune than is readily apparent. Turner's percussion work is evocative and Hubert captures the feel of an entire big band on his 88 keys.

The album closes with Joe Zawinul's "Mercy, Mercy, Mercy" played up-tempo, with Turner's rock-infused drumming and the acoustic bass mastery of LaChance holding everything together behind Hubert. Again, Hubert's piano playing evokes a far larger band, drawing on colors and harmonies only hinted at in the original tune.

Recorded live at Cory Weeds' Cellar Jazz Club in 2002, this was not a show to miss. Fortunately, the recording captures the intensity and inspiration of that night.

Cory Weeds Quartet
The Many Deeds of Cory Weeds
2010

The Many Deeds of Cory Weeds, fronted by tenor saxophonist Cory Weeds with trumpeter Chris Davis, organist Joey DeFrancesco and drummer Byron Landham brings together some of the most sought after players on the Philadelphia scene with Vancouver staple Cory Weeds.

This album is player-centric, with no original compositions. The eight tracks include five standards plus three tunes by local (British Columbia) jazz musicians.

The execution is impressive, with each player spotlighted during extensive solos. The album is lively and upbeat, with a heavy soul jazz feel.

"Fine and Dandy" is a brisk hard bop tune featuring excellent arrangements for the horns and the multi-faceted B3 playing of Joey DeFrancesco. The soloing is deft and fun, with a hint of "Foggy Day" coming from DeFrancesco.

The sole ballad, Hank Mobley's "Fin De L'Affaire," features a restrained muted trumpet solo from Davis, evoking images of Dexter Gordon. Weeds' own solo picks up where Davis' left off, before evolving into a bluesy sermon of incrementally increasing intensity.

Bill Weeds "Corner Kisses" is an improviser's playground. Davis starts the improvisations with a winding, at times abrupt, but always musical, solo continuing for several choruses. Weeds and DeFrancesco follow, but Landham's extended drum solo is the real highlight. At close to thirteen minutes long, "Corner Kisses" is the album's improvisational powerhouse.

Weeds and crew save the best for last with a funky and soulful performance of "Roofin' It," composed by British Columbia's own Kerry Galloway. Reminiscent of Joe Zawinul's "Mercy, Mercy, Mercy," the tune is perfect for DeFrancesco's diverse and continually developing organ realization, Weeds' soaring solos, and the often understated playing by Davis.

The Many Deeds of Cory Weeds emphatically champions the jazz organ quartet format in a similar vein to Larry Young's classic album Unity. Further, by combining talent from Philadelphia and Vancouver, BC, it demonstrates the rich potential for jazz from every corner of North America.

Dave Robbins Electric Band
Zap!
2013

Released in 2013, the Dave Robbins-keys Electric Band's album Zap! is a fresh take on jazz fusion, blending elements of rock and funk into the idiom superbly. The group consists of drummer Dave Robbins with saxophonist Evan Arntzen , guitarist Jared Burrows, keyboardist Brad Turner and bassist Kerry Galloway.

From Robbins' rock drumming to funk-inspired bass lines and sax riffing, Zap! is an unapologetically distinct album from start to finish. All eight tracks are originals composed by Robbins, who opted to give the musicians "as little direction as possible in regards to the arrangements and their roles." The result is a spontaneous realization of the inherent potential of Robbins' tunes drawing from five distinct and creative voices.

Robbins' polyrhythmic drumming, based around a clave-esque bell pattern, propels "River of Huge." The sax melody and floating keyboard solos would fit in any of the classic fusion bands' repertoires, from Weather Report to Return to Forever.

"Dimwit" is a restrained tune, with a controlled tension just below the surface. Burrows' guitar solo is especially soulful, but Arntzen follows with one of the album's best moments in his ensuing sax solo.

"Carboniferous" is introduced with an ear-catching percussion solo, which is joined by the funky bass line that holds the tune together throughout. The melody is housed in a web of countermelodies and the solos are angular and exciting.

"Green Hands" displays some arranging sensibilities and tactics not heard in the other tunes, but that are used to great effect. Burrows' chordal accompaniment and effect-ridden guitar lines offer a sense of drive and atmosphere especially well suited to this tune.

Zap! takes full advantage of the electric format, using Galloway's funk bass approach, Turner's keyboard mastery and Burrows' reverb and chorus soaked guitar to great effect. However, the quality of the compositions and improvisations truly give the musicians an opportunity to make use of these distinctions.

Fraser MacPherson
Live At Puccini's 1977
2007

Released in 2007, Live At Puccini's is an archival recording of the Fraser MacPherson Trio from 1977, featuring MacPherson on tenor sax with guitarist Oliver Gannon and bassist Wyatt Ruther.

The recording consists of twelve of the most popular standards including "I Got Rhythm," "All the Things You Are," "Body and Soul," "Sweet Georgia Brown," and "Honeysuckle Rose."

As a trio with a drummer-less rhythm section, Gannon and Ruther faced the daunting task of creating a full and driving rhythm section with only string instruments. They accomplished this effect marvelously, as can be heard on Gannon's excellent chord solo in "All the Things You Are."

MacPherson's playing is also outstanding, as evidenced by his breathy tone and evocation of Coleman Hawkins' on "Body and Soul" and "Sophisticated Lady." His playing on the fast swing tunes is no less impressive, as "Honeysuckle Rose" demonstrates.

The album is highlighted by two Louis Armstrong tunes. "Someday You'll Be Sorry" features some of the best interaction and communication between MacPherson and Gannon. Their simultaneous improvisations form a conversation, complete with statements, responses, interruptions and concluding each other's thoughts. "Struttin' With Some Barbecue" depends on all three players to create the samba treatment used here. They are more than capable, affecting a rhythmic groove that usually relies on a percussion accompaniment.

On this tour of standards, the ballads are lovely renderings, but the trio is at its best on the up-tempo tunes, a testament to the vivacity of Gannon and especially Ruther's performances. Though archival, the recording is excellent quality, as is the production value throughout. The balance between the guitar, bass and sax is an ideal showcase of the trio format.

Jodi Proznick Quartet
Foundations
2006

Foundations, the Jodi Proznick Quartet's 2006 release, features outstanding quartet playing, arranging and an intriguing selection of songs. The band consists of bassist Jodi Proznick, pianist Tilden Webb, drummer Jesse Cahill and tenor saxophonist Steve Kaldestad.

The quartet plays five originals and five covers, including tunes by Joni Mitchell and Peter Gabriel. The lone "standard" is Duke Ellington's "All Too Soon."

Foundations opens with a swinging rendition of the Joni Mitchell tune "Help Me." It represents the album's unique sound and style. The lyrical sax, percussive bass and incisive piano accompaniment are unrelenting, constantly driving the music.

"Duke of York" is propelled by a repeated bass motif and rolling drum work. Kaldestad's sax solo is a work of art. He reinterprets the harmonic material so successfully that his solo could easily be heard as an alternate melody.

"Reaction," composed by Webb, is a swinging up-tempo tune featuring exceptional solos and traded fours between Kaldestad and Cahill. Proznick does not solo on this track, but her playing is the glue giving it cohesion.

Peter Gabriel's "Washing of the Water" is a stirring ballad, showcasing Kaldestad's soloing over a relatively sparse background. "Tell Me Why" is another ballad, characterized by ear-catching piano motifs woven into the arrangement. Webb's chordal soloing creates a sense of disembodiment over the grounded feel of the rhythm section.

Foundations is notable for the quality of the individual performances and for the overall dynamic of the arrangements. The tune selection is augmented by the Joni Mitchell and Peter Gabriel songs, which nicely fit with Proznick's jazz conception.

Ross Taggart Trio
Presenting
2008

The late Ross Taggart was a legend of the Vancouver, and greater Canadian, jazz scene. Often a tenor saxophonist, Presenting is the first recording to feature Taggart leading a band from behind the piano. The piano trio format is filled in with bassist Ken Lister and drummer Craig Scott. The recording features five Taggart compositions and four standards.

"Ella's Walk" is a brisk and heavily swinging tune, exhibiting Taggart's mastery of the piano. Taggart switches effortlessly between angular melodic lines, bluesy licks, and Bill Evans-esque chordal passages. Lister and Scott are also highlighted in their own solos. This track opens the album with style, introducing the superb playing throughout the album.

"Tanara" is a slow ballad, drifting through a series of sentiments. A recurrent bass theme is reminiscent of Miles Davis' "All Blues," but it is quickly subsumed in the more complex structure of "Tanara." Lister's solo is a nimble display of the upright bass.

Taggart's playing on the Isham Jones' standard "There is No Greater Love" is exceptional. This rendition is well up-tempo. The melody in the right hand is complemented by a mirroring left hand, creating a contrapuntal web of piano notes. The piano solo alternates between brief conversational exchanges and extended flowing lines. Scott's drumming is particularly animated on this track, with brief fills finding their way into the crowded texture and fast tempo.

The album concludes with a solo piano performance of Duke Ellington's "Lady of the Lavender Mist." The chordal rhythm is a gentle rocking, evocative of jazz piano from a much earlier era.

Presenting is instructive as to why Ross Taggart was a major figure in the Canadian and global jazz scene. The trio is world class and the multi-instrumentalist Taggart excels in the piano trio format.

Zapato Negro
Zapato Negro
2006

Zapato Negro are a percussion-heavy Latin jazz band, and all of the energy of a live performance comes through on their self-titled debut album. The quintet consists of trumpeter and flugelhorn player Miguel Angel Valdes ("Miguelito"), pianist Andre Carrasquero, bassist Allan Johnston, drummer Gilberto Moreaux ("Gilbertonn"), and conga player Ivan Soto.

Carrasquero, Johnston, and Moreaux all contribute as composers. The group also plays Canadian composer Kerilie McDowall's "City Wildflower" and Juan Tizol's standard "Caravan."

Zapato Negro opens with "Jazz Tumbao Thing," a percussive-driven piece built around a bass ostinato and fragmented trumpet melody. It bears some similarity to Tizol's "Caravan," which closes the album. These sonorously spacious and exploratory pieces nicely frame the variety covered in the set list within.

"Caminando," composed by Moreaux, is a real gem. Pulsing piano chords, reserved bass punctuations, and the interplay of congas and drum set complement the beautiful melody. The harmonic architecture consists of two distinct sections, which enables the players to delve into a rich musical palette for their solos.

The theme for "Frankness" has a certain jarring, yet musical, dissonance that works well for the ensemble. This tension is manipulated and exploited during the horn and piano solos. Carrasquero's piano vamps behind the conga solo have a very funky feel, eliciting a sense of restless motion.

A sense of unease persists in the melancholy ballad "City Wildflower." Johnston's bass solo drifts among the floating piano chords and understated percussion work. It's almost conversational in its controlled pace and thematic development.

The band excelled during this performance and the recording captures all of the tones of the instruments. Everything is in balance and complementary of the musical whole. The nuances of the acoustic bass and percussion are especially striking.

Two Much Guitar

Tracks: Chi Chi; All The Things You Are; Polka Dots; Zattitude; Darn That Dream; Have You Met Miss Jones; If You Could See Me Now; So Nice.

Personnel: Darren Radtke: bass; Dave Robbins: drums; Oliver Gannon: guitar; Bill Coon: guitar.

Get Out of Town

Tracks: The Cost of Living; Simone; All Blues; Nica's Dream; For Dan; Get Out of Town; Caravan; The Man I Love; A Night In Tunisia; Mercy, Mercy, Mercy.

Personnel: Bruno Hubert: piano; Andre Lachance: acoustic bass; Brad Turner: drums.

The Many Deeds of Cory Weeds

Tracks: Juicy Lucy; Goin' Down; Fine and Dandy; Fin De L'Affaire; Corner Kisses; Boss Bossa; Sunday in New York; Roofin' It.

Personnel: Cory Weeds: tenor saxophone; Chris Davis: trumpet; Joey DeFrancesco: Hammond B3 organ; Byron Landham: drums.

Zap!

Tracks: Zap!; River of Huge; Dimwit; Carboniferous; Nasty Little Hairs; Slowing Movement; Unrise; Green Hands.

Personnel: Dave Robbins: drums; Evan Arntzen: saxophones; Jared Burrows: guitar; Brad Turner: keyboards; Kerry Galloway: bass.

Live at Puccini's 1977

Tracks: I Got Rhythm; All The Things You Are; Body and Soul; Goose Pimples; Someday You'll Be Sorry; Sweet Georgia Brown; Struttin' With Some BBQ; Drop Me Off In Harlem; Sophisticated Lady; Honeysuckle Rose; Young and Foolish; Back Home Again in Indiana.

Personnel: Fraser MacPherson: tenor saxophone; Oliver Gannon: guitar; Wyatt Ruther; bass.

Foundations

Tracks: Help Me; Duke of York; Acquiescence; Reaction; Washing of the Water; RB's Line; Must Be Rain; All Too Soon; Tell Me Why; Dancing Sunbeam.

Personnel: Jodi Proznick: bass; Tilden Webb: piano; Jesse Cahill: drums; Steve Kaldestad: tenor saxophone.

Presenting

Tracks: Ella's Walk; Lament for Someone; Never Let Me Go; Tanara; Mr. Randle; February; Hogtown Blues; There Is No Greater Love; Lady of the Lavender Mist.

Personnel: Ross Taggart: piano; Ken Lister: bass; Craig Scott: drums.

Zapato Negro

Tracks: Jazz Tumbao Thing; A Final Wish?; Segundo Recreo; Caminando; 20 Years Later; Frankness; City Wildflower; Blanc Et Noir; Caravan.

Personnel: Miguel Angel "Miguelito" Valdes: trumpet and flugelhorn; Andre Carrasquero: piano; Allan Johnston: bass; Gilberto Moreaux "Gilbertonn": drums; Ivan Soto: congas.

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