The Nature of the Beat
A skillful trombonist and bandleader, Wayne Wallace uses The Nature of the Beat as a springboard for demonstrating the influence of Latin rhythm within a number of settings—some surprising, others not; some successful, others a bust. At his best, as on his own “¡No Esta Complicado!” Wallace’s arrangements, populated with tightly synced, beefy horn charts and sturdy Latin percussion, are inspired and the execution laudable. His initial solo breaks a sweat and goads the musicians to take that enthusiasm as their cue: Atop an insistent, timbales-fronted percussion battery, pianist Murray Low steps outside with an effervescent solo, prompting Wallace to return for a second note-perfect run. Two of Wallace’s other originals, the opening “Mis Amigos” and the closing “Oshumaré,” are inventive and daring, teeming with the caliente life force so crucial to Latin music.
But all too often—always on his cover versions, tellingly—Wallace’s ambitious concepts fail to gain traction. On Herbie Hancock’s “Come Running to Me,” Frank Martin’s electric piano and John Worley’s flugelhorn attempt valiantly to lift the take above the mundane, but it never gets there: Wallace favors a steady cha-cha groove that withers as it avoids any surprising turns—it’s the kind of jazz that non-jazzers call “nice,” but it lays flat. And the straightahead funk of Earth, Wind & Fire’s “Serpentine Fire” is just a mess: Claytoven Richardson’s grating lead vocal is more of a distraction than an asset, and the echoing female chorus approaches tackiness.
The ladies also invite cringes with their chirping behind Ron Stallings’ (who also plays saxophone on the record) rote vocal on the Ray Charles classic “Unchain My Heart.” A tropical-breeze-ified “Bésame Mucho,” bolero style, is romantic enough, but Wallace brings nothing new to that over-covered nugget, and neither the Gershwins’ “Fascinatin’ Rhythm” (although an interesting choice for the Latin treatment) nor Gerry Mulligan’s “Jeru” rewrite the history of those compositions.