Colombian-born percussionist Samuel Torres makes his debut as a leader with a pastiche of textures and captivating compositions, accompanied by some top-notch Latin-jazz artists including the ever-funky John Benítez on bass, supreme pianist/composer Hector Martignón and drummer Ernesto Simpson. Torres links several of the tracks with brief conga interludes and provides thoughtful and interesting moods for his excellent cast, including the lyrical vocal scatting of Julia Dollison. There is a richness and diversity to Skin Tones in everything from the chosen musical genres to the occasional use of odd meter.
The opener “Crazy Montuno” creates a funk-infused atmosphere and offers Martignon freedom and space to explore, followed by a very melodic conga solo by Torres, who must have at least six precisely tuned drums in his arsenal. The dialog between sax man Mike Campagna and trumpeter Mike Rodríguez continues through the song’s faded ending, leaving you wanting more. “Saying Goodbye” features a wonderfully jagged and sophisticated melody between vocalist Dollison and Rodriguez on trumpet, then calms the mood for a probing trumpet solo over a 7/4 groove punctuated by the rhythm section. Other highlights include “The Key”—a fabulously rich piece with hints of Afro-Colombian and Puerto Rican folklore, and the powerful and harmonically dense “Express to Queens.”
Skin Tones is at once intelligent, sophisticated and explosive.