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Mario Escalera Ballads Blues and Boleros Vol 1 Phoenix
Two very different discs from Mario Escalera highlight the breadth of his compositional skills and the inherent soulfulness of his playing regardless of format. From this tenor man who doubles on flute, Ballads, Boleros and Blues Vol 1, is a 1990 live date with a heavy nod to Latin America while Goodbye Pork Pie Hat is a recent studio session that cooks.
For Ballads Blues and Boleros Vol 1, Escalera assembled an experienced and adaptable group that included in-demand pianist Onaje Allan Gumbs, bassist Phil Bowler and drummer Wade Barnes. The quartet navigates the live set well with worldly cuts such as "African Flower" (featuring a delicate percussion and flute), the breezy "Ode to Sweetness" and piano/sax tour de force "Didn't Know" as the most intriguing. True to its title, also included are the swinging "New Blues," that is a forum for each band member to display their first rate improv skills and the ballad "When I Think of Her Name." Unfortunately, the CD suffers from a "live" recording technique that has trouble handling some of the highs, but if you can get past this, there is much here to delight.
Mario Escalera Goodbye Pork Pie Hat Phoenix
With more than just a tip of his own Lester Young pork pie to Charles Mingus, Escalera's new studio recording features bassist Reggie Workman, who in top form, helps define a focused session that has the leader spreading his tenoric wings. "Mingus Thoughts" begins with an extended Workman intro that uses time to its advantage in finding a groove before the sweet trombone of Clifford Adams picks up the melody and takes over. Whether comping to join the inventive rhythm section that also includes drummer Rudy Walker or enchanting with inventive solos, pianist Bob Neloms is a session linchpin. Escalera makes good use of his sextet's added brass that also includes trumpeter Oliver Beener to create quite interesting voicings, the three horns often blending in sectional synchrony. Vocalist Art Jenkins presents a powerfully soulful interpretation of the classic title cut's Rahsaan Roland Kirk lyric with Neloms beautifully setting the pace before backing an interpretive tenor that matches Jenkins' voice in body and character. "Samba for K.D." is a quick stepping return to Latin rhythms that has Walker and Workman keeping each player on their toes as each in turn prove equal to the task. With both these releases, Escalera shows that he is a gifted composer and a varied capable player whether he swings with a full tone or plays a bit more out.