Trombonist Wayne Wallace and his Latin Jazz Ensemble have a well-oiled record-making machine that seems incapable of turning out a subpar album.
Therein lies the mystery. The ingredients that Wallace and his bandmates pour into the machine are eminently predictablea studiously well-sampled array of Latin rhythms, didactically specified in the liner notes; a mixture of strong original compositions and Latin settings of jazz standards; tight ensemble playing by the quintet with plenty of space to breathe; a smattering of tasteful contributions by guest artists. The wonder is that this recipe, trotted out more or less annually, loses none of its freshness or capacity to amaze.
This time the covers include pianist Duke Ellington's "Things Ain't What They Used To Be," set against Cuban rhythms, and pianist Thelonious Monk's "I Mean You" as a Puerto Rican bomba; both are great successes. Saxophonist John Coltrane's canonical "Giant Steps" recast as merengue is no less successful, perhaps, but pales next to the fiery version orchestrated by bandleader Tito Puente's Latin Jazz Ensemble (from El Rey, Concord Picante, 1984). (Wallace has been reluctant in the last few releases to cast as far afield for covers as he did on The Nature of the Beat, Patois, 2008, which took on Ray Charles and Earth, Wind and Fire to great effect. But it would be great if he would revive such experiments.) The originals are especially strong this time round, notably "La Habana," a beautiful vehicle for the horns, and "Puertas y Caminos," a propulsive rumba.
Wallace's trombone recalls the great trombone sections of the great Latin conjuntos, while his solos have the panache and lyrical intelligence of the late trumpeter Clifford Brown's improvisational style. Pianist Murray Low's courtly precision is a highlight in the ensembles and solos alike. A trio of violinists (including Mads Tolling of the Turtle Island String Quartet) lend an old Cuban elegance (of the Orquesta Aragón variety) to the passages where they appear.
As ever, Wallace's group evinces the ironclad discipline and compulsory dance inducement of the great salsa orchestras, but seems somehow to be ever-so-slightly laid back: hard- driving but soft around the edges, in a way that is uniquely Wallace's.
¡A Tí Te Gusta!; Things Ain't What They Used To Be; ¡Estamos Aquí!; Giant
Steps; La Habana; I Mean You;Prelude to a Kiss;
Melambo; Puertas y Caminos; Pasando El Tiempo.
John Worley: trumpet; Wayne Wallace: trombone; Masura Koga: tenor saxophone; Mary Fettig:
flute; Elena Pinderhughes: flute; Murray Low: piano; Jeremy Cohen: violin; Tregar Otton:
violin; Mads Tolling: violin; David Belove: bass; Colin Douglas: trap drums; Michael Spiro:
percussion; Pete Escovedo: timbales; John Santos: vocals; Orlando Torriente: vocals;
Jesús Díaz: vocals; Mike Mixtacki: vocals.
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