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Brian Andres & the Afro-Cuban Jazz Cartel: This Could Be That

Chris M. Slawecki By

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This Could Be That celebrates the first decade of Brian Andres & his Afro-Cuban Jazz Cartel, which came together in 2007 in and around the San Francisco Bay Area's Latin jazz hothouse. Music is sort of the Andres' family business: Brian's father Mike, a professional woodwind player from the Cincinnati area (who appears on this set), introduced his son to the recording studio while Brian was still a child, while Brian's mother sang for chamber and liturgical music ensembles. By fourth grade, Brian was playing drums; by high school, he was studying at the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music.

But Andres' life changed—his "clave epiphany"—the first time he saw the Cleveland salsa band Impacto perform. "I've often likened it to the first time I kissed a girl. I just wanted to do it over and over again. The first time I heard it done well live, it had me," he recalls.

The Cartel supplements its third self-produced release with reinforcements from the front lines of Latin jazz such as San Francisco's resident percussion maestro John Santos, Peruvian percussionist Alex Acuña, timbalero Louie Romero (from the Fania All-Stars) and Cuban-American vocalist Venissa Santi.

"The first two albums we did had concepts," Andres explains. "On this one, things just happened organically. Everybody wanted to contribute. We ended up with a lot of different things in the record, and there wasn't one single thread."

This record may offer "a lot of different things," but they're all connected by the sheer brilliance of the Cartel's glistening sound. It opens with "Amyable," a mambo that Andres' father first recorded with Cincinnati's legendary Blue Wisp Big Band, here whipped into a Latin jazz ensemble frenzy by solos from Tony Peebles' tenor saxophone, Henry Hung's trumpet and (especially) Christian Tumalan's piano.

Mexican pianist Tumalan slyly arranges the Chick Corea Electrik Band's incendiary "Got a Match?" to reference Corea's standards "Armando's Rhumba" and "Spain." Tumalan's quicksilver and torrid opening lines truly honor the composer; Peebles' tenor sax solo sounds and feels like pure electricity slicing the entire tune open.

Jam-style arrangements can barely contain the energy of "Roasted to Perfection," heated by brass, congas, bongos and Acuña's timbales; and Daniel Ponce's salsa classic "Bacalaitos," which spotlights Nuyorcian percussionist Louie Romero, trombonist Jamie Dubberly, and (again) pianist Tumalan, who rolls the ivories through his fingers like a crackerjack gambler shooting dice.

Another expertly arranged classic, "My One and Only Love" stitches together lengthy instrumental AND vocal verses respectively featuring Andres' father Mike on alto saxophone and Venissa Santi on vocals. Santi's vocal is breathless and poignant, and nicely complements Papa Andres' alto.

"It's an honor to have so many world-class musicians on the new album," Andres explains. "That they all were willing to contribute to the recording is a testament to the high quality of music that we've created."

Track Listing: Amyable; Esto Puede Ser Eso; Limite; Les Cailloux; Got a Match; My One and Only Love; Bacalaitos; Roasted to Perfection; Banderas Rojas; Relativity; Algo Nuevecito.

Personnel: Alex Acuña: timbales; Brian Andres: drums; Mike Andres: alto saxophone; Braulio Barrera: campana, coro, guiro; Javier Cabanillas: cajon, campana, chekere, claves, congas, coro, quinto; Jamie Dubberly: trombone; Jesus Florido: violin; Aaron Germain: ampeg baby bass, electric bass, bass pan pipes; Jose Roberto Hernadez: coro, guichero; Henry Hung: trumpet; Steffen Kuehn: flugelhorn, trumpet; Hermann Lara: baritone saxophone; Omar Ledezma Jr.: bongos, campana, congas, timbales; Calixto Oviedo: timbales; Tony Peebles; alto saxophone, tenor saxophone; Mike Rinta: trombone; Louie Romero: congas, maracas, timbales; Venissa Santí: vocals; John Santos: pandereta; Derek Smith: drums; Nikki Smith: coro; Michael Spiro: bata; Christian Tumalan: piano.

Title: This Could Be That | Year Released: 2016 | Record Label: Self Produced

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