Even those familiar with names such as Cal Tjader, Clare Fischer, Francisco Aguabella or John Santos often have a sketchy idea about the history and present of the West Coast Latin scene. Here is an all-in-one refresher course and teaser.
Salsa de la Bahia Vol. 2 is a two-CD compilation that follows up what was originally a companion CD for The Last Mambo, a documentary about the Bay Area salsa and Latin-jazz scene that filmmakers hope to complete and release this year. While Vol. 1 addressed the scene from 2000 to 2010, Salsa de la Bahia Vol. 2, subtitled “Hoy y Ayer” (“Today and Yesterday”), covers it from the late 1980s to 1999 and then from 2010 to 2013. It is a broad view, and while certain players contribute to various groups, underscoring the notion of a close-knit community, most artists and bands are represented by a single track. The exception is Estrellas de la Bahia, an orchestra with a classic salsa sound anchored by trombonist, composer, producer and scholar Wayne Wallace, the founder of the release’s label and one of the forces behind this project.
Historically, the Latin West Coast sound was characterized by small ensembles. But on “La Ambición,” the Pacific Mambo Orchestra offers its own take on the sound of the Palladium-day orchestras, at once driving, muscular and elegant. Salsa de la Bahia Vol. 2 is also a chance to revisit the work of mainstays of the scene, such as Pete Escovedo, Orquesta Batachanga, Carlos Federico and Cuba-via-New York City transplant Orestes Vilató and the West Coast version of his group Los Kimbos. But the collection also includes such notables as singer Gladys “Bobi” Céspedes, perhaps best known for her work in the ’90s with Conjunto Céspedes; singer Kat Parra; singer and spoken-word artist Rico Pabón; and Ritmo y Candela, a group that featured greats such as Carlos “Patato” Valdés, José Luis Quintana “Changuito” and Vilató. Twenty years ago in their “San Francisco Tiene Su Propio Son,” included here, they were already proclaiming that San Francisco, indeed the Bay Area as a whole, had its own sound. That sound is very much worth rediscovering, and this is a good place to start.