Latin Jazz/Jazz Latin-- Wayne Wallace Latin Jazz Quintet

While Latin jazz permeates Wayne Wallace's previous recordings, the versatile trombonist's seventh release on his own Patois label is the first devoted exclusively to the genre. The five-time Grammy nominee displays a deep knowledge and broad view of Latin jazz, which he defines as "La Música de Las Américas," including "jazz from North America and the Caribbean, Argentinean tango, the Cuban son, Dominican merengue, and Afro-Puerto Rican bomba." The CD emphasizes to some extent the flute and violin sound popularized by charanga bands, derived from Cuban danzón that combined elements of European classical music and African rhythms. Thus, Wallace's regular group of pianist Murray Low, bassist David Belove, drummer Colin Douglas (replacing the late Paul van Wageningen), and percussionist Michael Spiro, is augmented by flutists Mary Fettig and Elena Pinderhughes, and violinists Jeremy Cohen, Tregar Otton, and Mads Tolling. They are joined in turn by tenor saxophonist Masura Koga, trumpeter John Worley, and timbalero Pete Escovedo, as well as vocalists John Santo, Orlando Torriente, Jesus Diaz, and Mike Mixtacki. Wallace's dazzling and spirited arrangements of both his own substantial compositions and four jazz classics help to make this album one of the most significant in Latin jazz so far this year.

On the opening "A Ti Te Gusta!" the sound of a charanga band merges with a Cuban songo rhythm, as the 17-year-old Pinderhughes' flute and Tolling's violin execute the dance-like melody. Low's montuno frames Wallace's exuberant solo and the lilting exchanges between flute and violin. The rhythms grow increasingly infectious as the piece transpires, thanks largely to the work of Low, Douglas, and Spiro. Mercer Ellington's "Things Ain't What They Used to Be" is injected with a 6/8 Afro-Cuban Abakua beat. Santo and Torriente sing the intro in Spanish and the theme and its familiar auxiliary riffs set up a bluesy down-to-earth solo by Wallace, and more elegant but no less effective outings by Tolling and Pinderhughes. Plunger-mute colorations blend delightfully with flutes and violins near the close. "Estamos Aqui!" is based on a "sanbrusongo" rhythm that was devised by Spiro and van Wageningen, mixing more modern songo with Afro-Cuban folkloric music, and is also an homage to Juan Formell's Los Van Van. The lively voices of Diaz and Mixtacki, gutsy trombone, gliding violins, and that irresistible beat, make for an alluring and highly danceable concoction.

John Coltrane's intricate opus "Giant Steps" is transformed by the melding of Dominican merengue with a 12/8 Afro-Cuban rhythm into a celebratory carnival romp. The harmony of trombone, flutes, and violin on the theme gives it a unique floating quality, and Wallace, trumpeter Worley, and saxophonist Koga take care of the rest, the latter's unrestrained post-bop solo over the relentless groove a highlight overall. This Wallace arrangement is particularly imaginative and memorable. "La Habana" is a cha-cha-cha with 77-year-old master Escovedo on timbales. A cool and serene melody conveys this tune's sensibility, with Low's lyrical solo succeeded by Wallace in a more extroverted, strutting mood, and also by Belove's resonant electric bass spot. For Thelonious Monk's "I Mean You," Afro-Puerto Rican bomba meets the composer's singular conception, but the melody remains intact through it all. Wallace and Low express their understanding of Monk's harmonies and rhythmic sense in their improvisations, and the orchestrated sections aptly and cleverly rework the thematic content. An interpretation of Duke Ellington's gem, "Prelude to a Kiss," borrows from both bolero and danzón, Europe engaging Africa. The sinuous and sensuous arrangement finds Low and the horns sharing the theme, with Douglas and Spiro tastily supplying the rhythmic pulse. Wallace and Low's solos are warm and affecting.

"Melambo" is described by Wallace as "a jazz Latin song that uses clave and the tresillo/habanera pattern as springboards to infer the feeling without literally playing them." Pinderhughes and Tolling glowingly capture the theme and various derivative riffs and vamps, and both generate statements of flavorfully lyrical and rhythmic thrust. Wallace raises the temperature in his thrusting, multi-noted essay, as the track shifts moods several times in an exhilarating manner. "Puertas y Caminos" is an Afro-Cuban rumba with a rhythmic, twisting, staccato head purveyed by Wallace. After Low's melodic solo, the trombonist soars heartily above the tantalizing rapid-fire percussion of Douglas and Spiro. "Pasando El Tiempo" acknowledges the New York Latin music scene circa 1977, when "Salsa Meets Jazz" prevailed at the Village Gate, and features Fettig's flute in a flowing, yet finely woven commentary. Low shines once again, the ensemble parts are audacious, and Spiro's congas are magnetic and pulsating.

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Scott Albin