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02/19/13

Pete Escovedo
Live from Stern Grove
Concord Picante

At age 77, Latin percussion icon Pete Escovedo isn’t supposed to sound as vigorous today as he did on his last two live albums, 2003’s Live! and 1985’s Yesterday’s Memories—Tomorrow’s Dreams. But this show, recorded last summer on home turf in San Francisco, finds the timbales maestro consistently in the pocket and in command. Besides his confident playing, though, Escovedo’s strongest suit has always been his knack for choosing simpatico cohorts, and a good part of this set’s success is attributable to the supportive, slacker-free cast. Juan and Peter Michael Escovedo, Pete’s sons, liven up the percussion battery on congas and drums, respectively; the piano-guitar-bass team of Joe Rotondi, Michael Angel Alvarado and Marc van Wageningen contributes neat, well-crafted solos and serviceable accompaniment; and the five-piece horn army adds considerable body to each arrangement.

But much of the spark comes from the four guests who stepped onstage that day. Ray Obiedo’s honeyed guitar on “Brasiliero” reboots a jam that had until midway been meandering, and Dave Koz’s saxophone cues a shift in both the melodic and rhythmic foundation of the even-tempered “True or False,” coming as it does after Alvarado’s Santana-ringer guitar. Arturo Sandoval blows furiously and determinedly on set closer “Suenos de los Torreros,” and—was there any doubt she’d turn up?—Escovedo’s daughter, Sheila E., provides congas and vocals, turning “Dance,” written by her dad and brothers, into a true family affair. The odd song out: “Fly Me to the Moon,” sung by Pete who, let’s just say, is no Sinatra.

Originally published in January/February 2013
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