The well-traveled and now New Mexico-based guitarist Wayne Wesley Johnson pulls out all the stops on the generally engaging double-CD set Jazzamenco, using (at various times) no less than seven guest guitarists, saxophone, Latin percussion, pan flute, charango and Chinese pipa to amplify the rhythm section of keyboards, bass and drums (which is present and accounted for on an indeterminate number of the session's thirty tracks, fifteen on each disc). As the saying goes, with friends like these . . . one could easily make the case that Johnson's sidekicks are quite impressive.
When appraising the album's nature and design, two antithetical features must be touched upon. On the one hand, this is by and large charming and lively music in a Latin vein, admirably performed by everyone involved. On the other, there isn't much actual jazz on Jazzamenco in the sense that the essence of jazz is improvisation. While there are a handful of concise and respectable solos along the way (most on guitar but one by saxophonist Rusty Crutcher on "Zamora"), the lion's share of the charts are through-written for the ensembles as a whole. That's not a bad thing in itself but listeners should be informed up front not to expect many sustained or resourceful ad libs. Johnson, who once criss-crossed the country with the great Les Paul, wrote or co-wrote twenty-two of the songs and may have arranged all of them (the notes are unclear about that). Ernesto Lecuona is represented by the familiar "Malaguena," guitarist Johnny Smith by "Walk Don't Run," Ed Marshall by Frankie Avalon's rock anthem, "Venus," George Gershwin by the closing "Summertime."
It must be assumed that most of the solos, such as they are, are by Johnson although guitarists Lou Pallo and Edgardo Cruz are credited with bassist Jon Gagan on Disc 1's sunny "Ticklestick." Matt Vaughn, unlisted among the album's personnel, performs (instrument unknown) on Disc 1's "Song for the Soul" and Disc 2's "Venus." Turning to the music itself, it is melodically handsome and rhythmically seductive from the outset. In other words, there are no complaints in either respect. As a bonus, Johnson uses the various instruments at his command deftly and to good advantage. In sum, low marks for jazz content but three stars for the blueprint, buoyancy and musicianship.
Disc 1: Blue Rumba; A Bit of Freda Vol. 2; Malaguena; Between Two Mountains; Walk Don’t Run; Turquoise Jungle; The River Suite; Ticklestick; La Gloria; Mama Song; Caresses for the Princess; Sambaleo; Song from the Soul; Fire of the Gypsy; Hypnotic Safari. Disc 2: Autumn; Dance of the Dove; A Bit of Freda Vol. 1; Chi Di Di Cha Cha; Hypnotic Safari; Pharaoh’s Journey; Short Stories; Segovia’s Dream; Passion; Cathedral Bells; Venus; Zamora; Melancholy; Pipeline; Summertime.
Collective: Wayne Wesley Johnson: acoustic, electric guitar, guitar synthesizers, piano, bass, drums; Rusty Crutcher: saxophone; Thom Bresh: guitar; Edgar Cruz: guitar; Tom Doyle: guitar; Nokie Edwards: guitar; Tim Farrell: guitar; Lou Pallo: guitar; Ruben Romero: guitar; Sher Lindsay: keyboards, vocals; Paul Arntz: bass; John Gagan: bass; Ben Lucero: bass; Tim Stroh: bass; K.C. Morris: drums, percussion; Josef Martinez: Latin percussion; Mario Reynolds: pan flute, charango; Gao Hong: Chinese pipa; Consuelo Luz: vocals.
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