Album Review: Wayne Wallace – Latin Jazz/Jazz Latin

The following review first appeared in the August 2013 issue of Eric Nemeyer’s Jazz Inside Magazine

Wayne Wallace Latin Jazz Quintet

Wayne Wallace

LATIN JAZZ – JAZZ LATIN – Patois Records PRCD014  ¡A Ti Te Gusta!; Things Ain’t What They Used to Be; ¡Estamos Aqui!; Giant Steps; La Habana; I Mean You; Prelude to a Kiss; Melambo; Puertas y Caminos; Pasando El Tiempo

PERSONNEL: Wayne Wallace, trombone; Murray Low, piano; David Belove, bass; Colin Douglas, trap drums; Michael Spiro, percussion; John Worley, trumpet; Masura Koga, tenor saxophone; Mary Fettig, flute; Elena Pinderhughes, flute; Jeremy Cohen, violin; Tregar Otton, violin; Mads Tolling, violin; Pete Escovedo, timbales; John Santos, vocals; Orlando Torriente, vocals; Jesus Díaz, vocals; Mike Mixtacki, vocals

By Curtis Davenport

“Latin Jazz” is a term that has become extremely overused. You’ll find it slapped on virtually every style of instrumental music that employs even a hint of Latin Rhythms, which makes for a great deal of marketplace confusion. It’s no wonder that Mario Bauzá, the celebrated Cuban composer and bandleader would bristle when the term was applied to his art, insisting that it be called “Afro-Cuban Music” instead.

In my opinion, there are a scant few musicians working today who are able to fuse great jazz improvisation with great Afro-Cuban/Latin Rhythms the way that Bauzá, Machito, Puente, Tjader and Dizzy did. Those who can do it successfully are the ones who have earned the right to have their music called “Latin Jazz” or “Afro-Cuban Music”.  San Francisco based trombonist Wayne Wallace had the cojones to call his latest album Latin Jazz – Jazz Latin. That’s okay, because Wallace has the musical talent to back it up.

Though he is relatively unknown in the East, Wallace is one of the most important names in Latin Jazz in the Bay Area. He has released a string of Latin Jazz discs over the last few years that have been consistently first-rate, including To Hear From There, ¡Bien Bien!, and Infinity. What sets his work apart from many of his contemporaries is that there is always something new and fresh in Wallace’s arrangements, making each disc a kind of concept album.

On Latin Jazz-Jazz Latin, Wallace makes liberal use of a trio of violinists, not just as background “sweeteners” but as frontline part of the arrangement usually doubling a pair of flutes. The resulting sound caught my ear immediately on the album opener “¡A Ti Te Gusta!” a terrific descarga that leaves plenty of solo room for violinist Mads Tolling, flutist Elena Pinderhughes and Mr. Wallace. When was the last time you heard a “horn section” of flute, violin and trombone? They manage to pull it off quite effectively, as pianist Murray Low keeps the clave rolling under them. “¡Estamos Aqui!” a songo that features counterpoint between the string trio and a trombone choir is another winner; it will stimulate your feet as well as your mind, especially when vocalists Mike Mixtacki and Jesus Diaz join in. Speaking of the trombone choir, they really get a chance to shine on “La Habana” a cool mid-tempo cha-cha/danzon that also features a guest spot from Pete Escovedo on timbales. There are shades of the great Barry Rogers all over this piece and Murray Low once again has a brief but memorable solo. Mr. Low is new to me but I have to point out that he is marvelous throughout this disc.

The four cover tunes are all effective, which is a feat in itself. Often when Latin artists cover a jazz tune, the results end up a bit messy as the rhythm clashes with any attempt to maintain the integrity of the original music. I never felt that strain in this session; a tribute to the creative arranging.  Best of these is “I Mean You”, the Monk tune which is turned into a very effective bomba, with Wallace showing off his trombone prowess to great effect. “Giant Steps”, which I’ve heard some well-known Latin groups fall flat on, thrives in a mix of merengue and Afro-Cuban beats in 12/8 time. There are nice solo spots by Wallace and trumpeter John Worley but who really steals the show here is Masaru Koga, who sets an already hot performance on fire with his gritty tenor sax solo. I’d never heard Mr. Koga before this performance. I’ve got some homework to do.

Latin Jazz-Jazz Latin is another strong album from Wayne Wallace. I think that Mario Bauzá would be pleased.

One Response to “Album Review: Wayne Wallace – Latin Jazz/Jazz Latin”

  1. […] The best Latin Jazz trombonist working today does it again, with another strong album. East coast people, WAKE UP! and check this cat out. But I’m not the only one who has noticed, as the album has copped a 2014 “Best Latin Jazz Album” Grammy nomination. Read my full review for Jazz Inside Magazine HERE. […]

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