Special Guests Kenny Washington & Bobi Céspedes
Wallace’s ¡Bien, Bien! named one of DownBeat Magazine’s Best CDS of 2010:
“4.5 Stars. A rollicking triumph of styles and genres that is fun from one end to the other.” — James Hale, DownBeat
“An accomplished arranger, educator, and composer.” — Maria Hinojosa, Latino USA
“San Francisco native Wayne Wallace is practically a one-man ecosystem of jazz. He is a phenomenal trombonist, composer, arranger, bandleader, educator, producer, and head of his own record label. With impeccable musicianship and boundless imagination, this group takes listeners on a multicultural musical voyage to Cuba, Africa, and Latin America.” — Forrest Dylan Bryant, Jazz Observer
Wayne Wallace’s extraordinary musical journey continues apace with his new album “To Hear From There,” a sizzling Latin jazz session that highlights the deep cultural currents flowing between West Africa and the Americas. Following up the Grammy Award-nominated “¡Bien Bien!,” which DownBeat named one of 2010’s best releases, the San Francisco trombonist, arranger and composer once again showcases his stellar quintet, featuring Murray Low (piano), David Belove (bass), Michael Spiro (Latin percussion and percussion arrangements), and Paul van Wageningen (trap drums) on a program of finely wrought originals and beloved standards. The CD will be released on January 18, 2011 on Wallace’s Patois Records.
Exploring Afro-Cuban folkloric themes, old-school descarga jams, clave-driven Latin jazz, hard-hitting timba, dance-inducing cha cha cha and more, the quintet puts a distinctive Bay Area stamp on an impressive array of rhythms. Incisive, often inspired solos abound, but Wallace designed the album as a forum for creative communion, and the musicians use the freedom to engage in a series of charged encounters.
“One of the things I love about the quintet is that there’s a constant conversation happening, whether between two or five players,” Wallace says. “I wanted to really highlight that. The band contains a lot of cumulative experience in a tremendous array of genres and styles. We’ve honed a unique sound, and I wanted to bring that to the forefront in the songs I composed and arranged, while giving plenty of space so people can hear what great musicians they are.”
Wallace’s passion for Cuban music is evident throughout “To Hear From There.” The album opens with “La Escuela,” an original composition he dedicates to Havana’s vaunted conservatory La Escuela Nacional de Las Artes, where he studied in the 1990s. Fluidly phrasing over the 4/4 groove, Wallace sounds like clave runs through his blood. He also pays tribute to numerous musicians who have inspired him. He dedicates the ebullient “Los Gatos” to Pete Escovedo, capturing the sense of joy and terpsichorean pleasure the percussionist/bandleader always brings to the bandstand. “¡Bebo Ya Llego!” evokes the elegance and vitality of Cuban piano patriarch Bebo Valdes, still going strong at 92. And “Philadelphia Mambo,” the album’s torrid closer, is a typically inventive piece by El Rey, Tito Puente, with whom Wallace performed and recorded.
“The comparisons between Puente and Ellington are apropos,” Wallace says. “Tito sat between two worlds as an entertainer and an artist. People sleep on him as a writer. I arranged ‘Philadelphia’ so it’s more of a jazz vehicle. I hear what Miguel Zenon and Danilo Perez are doing, and I really like what’s happening with contemporary Latin jazz, where the blending of the styles is being integrated more and more. This is another tune where you could really hear the percussion interplay.”
Never shy about sticking up for his horn, Wallace shares the spotlight on his ravishing “Serafina Del Caribe (La Mesenjera)” with three guest trombonists: longtime Santana sideman Jeff Cressman, his daughter, Natalie Cressman, who’s already a well-traveled pro at 19, and Dave Martell, a versatile Bay Area veteran with a vast resume. More than a tromboneapolooza, the piece requires encyclopedic rhythmic command, weaving together a pan-Caribbean feast of timba, songo, blues, guaguanco and swing.
Two brilliant vocalists also make essential contributions. The soul-drenched jazz singer Kenny Washington, a rising star who made a memorable appearance on “¡Bien Bien!,” returns for a thrilling rendition of trombonist Juan Tizol’s Ellingtonian classic “Perdido.” And Cuban-born maestro Bobi Céspedes delivers a definitive version of Moises Simon’s enduring standard “The Peanut Vendor” (El Manicero). Wallace notes that his relationship with Céspedes dates back decades to the formative years he spent in the Bay Area’s pioneering Cuban folkloric ensemble Conjunto Céspedes.
“Working with Bobi is a chance to honor what I learned in that group,” Wallace says. “When I went to Cuba I met her family there. All that deepens the music. It was great to have her on the record. She was very professional, very serious about getting it right.”
Each track offers a different view of the band’s (and Wallace’s) strengths. On “Ogguere,” the quintet offers a ravishing rendition of an Afro-Cuban lullaby, a gentle melody that inspires a particularly lyrical solo by Wallace.
The tune concludes with an infectious 6/8 groove powered by Spiro’s masterly bata work, suggesting that once the baby’s asleep, the parents are ready to play. Equally beautiful is Wallace’s arrangement of J.J. Johnson’s classic ballad “Lament.” Investing the pleasingly lugubrious melody with palpable ache, he offers a heartfelt homage to the trombone’s greatest modern champion. The quintet summons a different kind of soul on “Yemaya (The Seven Seas),” a dynamic prayer for the powerful matriarchal Yoruban ocean deity. As the band chants a surging coro in praise of the goddess, who is worshipped across the African diaspora, the piece alternates time signatures, evoking the realms of earth and sea. It’s a bravura performance grounded in Spiro’s deep knowledge of the Afro-Cuban religion of Santaria, information that suffuses everything the band plays. Seamlessly blending the sacred and secular, the quintet is both a steadily working ensemble and an on-going sonic laboratory, where the players constantly convene to share new insights.
“We really want it to sound like a group,” Wallace says. “We take that extra time, not only on gigs, but in the studio. I remember hearing Herbie Hancock talk about Miles Davis’ second great quintet, and how they spent so much time talking about music, and it translated on the bandstand when they played. Each of us, individually keep growing. We all teach. We’re always getting new information.”
In a career spanning nearly four decades, the musically multilingual San Francisco native has collaborated with a dazzling array of artists as a composer, arranger, first-call freelancer and studio ace, including Count Basie, Ray Charles, Joe Henderson, Celine Dion, Carlos Santana, Lionel Hampton, Earth, Wind & Fire, Sonny Rollins, Pearl Bailey, Aretha Franklin, Tito Puente, Lena Horne, Stevie Wonder, John Lee Hooker, Earl “Fatha” Hines and Kronos Quartet cellist Jean Jeanrenaud. One of his generation’s most eloquent trombonists, Wallace has been named in DownBeat critics and readers polls as a leading force on the horn. Known to many as “The Doctor” for his production skills, he is also a lauded composer who received a jazz composition NEA grant to compose “Digging Up the Roots,” a three-part suite reflecting the diverse musical cultures of the Bay Area. He is also active as an educator, and his own teachers included Julian Priester, Bobby Hutcherson and Will Sudmeier. But in recent years he’s poured a good deal of his creative energy into his label Patois Records, creating a rapidly growing catalog of acclaimed CDs. While producing celebrated sessions by rising jazz singer Kristina and the amazing Judeo-Latin jazz vocalist Kat Parra, he’s released a series of brilliant albums documenting his own music, starting with the straight ahead tour de force “Dedications” and the pan-Caribbean manifesto “The Reckless Search for Beauty,” released simultaneously in 2006. With his sixth album for Patois “To Hear From There,” Wallace continues to set a daunting standard as a Latin jazz visionary.
The Cuban-born vocalist and Santería priestess Bobi Céspedes summons the spirits of her ancestors with every tune, whether she’s singing in Spanish, English or the Yoruban language Lucumi. Since settling in the Bay Area in 1969, she has been a leading force in bringing Cuban roots music to the region, particularly with the celebrated band Conjunto Céspedes that she founded with her brother Luis and nephew Guillermo. She gained attention outside of Latin music circles as part of Grateful Dead drummer Mickey Hart’s Planet Drum and Bembé Orisha projects. With her deep, resonant voice and captivating stage presence, she’s a direct link between the new world and the old as she belts out son, rumba, boleros and Yoruba incantations. Always open to new sounds, Céspedes looks for connections between the African-derived music of her childhood and the African-American music that she absorbed living in Oakland. The styles all came together on her gorgeous 2002 Six Degrees Records release “Rezos.” Her latest album “Patakin” is a sensual session focusing on classic boleros.
New Orleans native Kenny Washington is a virtuoso jazz vocalist of the first order, with scintillating scatting technique and spot-on intonation. After a nine-year stint in the U.S. Navy Band that found Washington performing throughout globe, he settled in the San Francisco Bay Area and began performing and recording in various jazz clubs. He appeared in Roy Nathanson’s off-Broadway production “Fire at Keaton’s Bar and Grill” which ran in London and New York with a cast including Elvis Costello and Deborah Harry. He’s gained national attention in recent years through his work with vibraphone master Joe Locke, who brought Washington to New York for a weeklong run at Jazz at Lincoln Center’s prestigious Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola, and featured the singer on his critically praised E1 Entertainment album “For the Love of You.” It’s a stunning performance that fully justifies Locke’s declaration: “Kenny’s one of the very greatest living male vocalists, without a doubt.”