San Francisco's premier Latin big band launches its self-titled Pacific Mambo Orchestra (PMO) debut barely two years after pianist Christian Tumalan and trumpeter Steffen Kuehn founded the 19-piece ensemble. A festival favorite and fixture in the Bay Area, the PMO is a sizzling modern day Latin salsa jazz orchestra built to revisit the big band sounds of '40s through the '60s as they perform dynamite arrangements of music from such Latin giants as Tito Puente, Machito, Celia Cruz and others. For this debut, the co-leaders offer five original compositions and borrow the balance from Latin icon Ruben Blades and saxophonist, composer and educator Dr. Aaron Lington of San Jose State University who, incidentally, is a standout in the reed section of the band.
Kuehn and Tumalan use dazzling orchestrations with instrumentation of four trombones, four trumpets, five saxophones, and a rhythm and percussion section that, altogether, produce an amazing amount of heat. The group's collective experience includes players who have performed with the likes of Carlos Santana, Dizzy Gillespie, Herbie Hancock and a host of major Latin ensembles.
From Tumalan's light piano-layered introduction on the opening salsa-infused "PMO Intro"which invariably turns heatedthrough to an instrumental version of "Bolero Cocomo," the album delivers the Latin flair in an aggressive yet tasteful fashion. Instrumentals like Kuehn's "Mr. 5.0," featuring flautist Evan Francis, guitarist Ray Obiedo and New York drummer Tommy Igoe, are not the mainstay of project but certainly reveal the band's dynamics. "Muevete Con Prisa" is a brief but perfect example of a delicious Latin tune showcasing the band's instrumentalists, with solo leads from saxophonist Tony Peebles, Kuehn and trumpeter Louis Fasmon, in addition to the percussion section.
With a powerful performance from the band, it's the vocals that carry the day on this recording and there are plenty of wonderful tunes from which to pick. Stevie Wonder's "Overjoyed" is the major vocal highlight of the album, with vocalist Kenny Washingtonthe "Superman of the Bay Area jazz scenedelivernig a super rendition of this classic. Just as enchanting is Grammy Award-winning vocalist Willy Torres, with his version of Blades' classic "El Cantante"; performed in a totally different key, it does bring to mind the late Puerto Rican salsa singer Hector Lavoe, who made it so popular.
Costa Rican singer Carlos Cascante does the honors on "La Ambicion" and "Cuando Estoy Contigo," while Oakland native and veteran songstress Alexa Weber Moralesaccompanied by veteran alto saxophonist Gene Burkertprovides a passionate performance of Lington's love song "Bolero Cocomo." Singer Armando Cordova delivers the last vocals of the set on the moving mambo "Querer Como Ayer," putting a discernible vocal stamp on this fine recording. The arrangements, instrumentals and vocals on Pacific Mambo Orchestra come together quite well on this audacious debut, evolving the Latin big band music of the past into a sizzling salsa sound of the future.
PMO Intro; El Cantante; Overjoyed; La Ambicion; Cuando Estoy Contigo; Mr. 5.0; Bolero Cocomo; Muevete Con Prisa; Querer Como Ayer; Bolero Cocomo- Instrumental Version.
Steffen Kuehn: trumpet; Christian Tumalon: piano; Louis Fosman: trumpet; Jeff Lewis: trumpet; Jonathan Ruff: trumpet; Henry Hung: trumpet (2, 3); Larry Lunetta: trumpet (2, 3); Tom Poole: trumpet: (1, 8, 9); Pete Cornell: alto saxophone; Doug Rowan: tenor saxophone; Tony Peebles: tenor saxophone; Benny Torres: tenor saxophone; Aaron Lington: tenor saxophone; Evan Francis: tenor saxophone (4, 6, 7), flute (6); Gene Burkert: alto saxophone (3, 7); Derek James: trombone; Mike Rinta: trombone; Jeff Cressman: trombone; Jamie Dubberly: trombone; Ryan Black: trombone (9); Mara Fox: trombone (1, 8); Jorge Pomar: bass; Abe Gumroyan: bass (1, 2, 8, 9); Camilo Landau: electric guitar (9); Karl Perazzo: timbales, guiro (2); Christian Pepin: congas; Braulio Barrera: bongos, compana; Omar Ledezma, Jr.: timbales (1, 8); Javier Cabanillas: shekere (1), congas (8); Carlos Caro: guiro; Armando Cordova: maracas, vocals (9); Alexa Weber Morales: vocals (7); Willy Torres: vocals (7); Carlos Cascante: vocals(4, 5); Kenny Washington: vocals (3); Ray Obiedo: guitar (6); Tommy Igoe: drums (6, 7, 10).
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