I'm not lying when I say I often get 5-8 jazz CDs in the mail every day. Whoever said jazz is dying is not on the right publicity mailing lists.
So I thought I'd offer an occasional feature, pulling aside two records that may otherwise have flown in under the radar — but which I think are worth keeping an ear out for.
Wayne Wallace, Bien Bien! (Patois Records)
The Bay Area is now — and has historically been — a hothouse of Afro-Caribbean jazz. The clave has been bouncing around the hills of San Francisco going back to the 1950s and Cal Tjader's quintets.
Trombonist/composer/bandleader Wayne Wallace has been part of the scene in his hometown since his teens. He's played soul (with Aretha Franklin), funk (Con Funk Shun), pop (Earth Wind and Fire), jazz (Max Roach) and Afro-Cuban (Tito Puente). His newest album is called Bien Bien!, featuring the Wayne Wallace Quintet: Murray Low on piano, Michael Spiro on percussion, David Belove on bass and Paul van Wageningen on drums.
Don't recognize any of the names? They're all veterans of that musical hothouse I speak of. (As a percussionist, I have special admiration for Michael Spiro, the kind of musician other percussionists speak of with reverence!)
The cut featured here is called "Mojito Cafe." Liner notes indicate that it's dedicated to musicians, clubs and good times from the 1970 North Beach jazz scene. I spent many nights myself at the Keystone Korner assuming it would always be there. It's specifically dedicated to Cal Tjader and the Afro Cuban percussion master Armando Peraza, both of whom contributed greatly to the sounds floating through the air coming in from the Bay. Elsewhere on the disc, two tunes from Duke Ellington, plus one each from Sonny Rollins and John Coltrane, share space with Wallace's compositions.
If you look closely at the liner notes on Latin jazz records coming from the Bay Area, chances are you'll see Wallace's name as producer/session man/arranger/spiritual guide. Which makes his new effort one to watch.
"Mojito Cafe," from Wayne Wallace, Bien Bien!. Wayne Wallace, trombone; Murray Low, piano; Michael Spiro, percussion; David Belove, bass;
Paul van Wageningen, drums. Released 2009.
Purchase: Amazon.com / iTunes
Luis Bonilla, I Talking Now (Planet Arts)
The second album to watch out for is I Talking Now from another trombonist, Luis Bonilla. He's also a product of California but he's now based firmly in New York. His resume: McCoy Tyner, Dizzy Gillespie, Toshiko Akiyoshi, Willie Colon. Currently he's a member of the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra, the Mingus Big Band and Arturo O'Farrill's Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra.
O'Farrill is the pianist on this CD, but don't expect any 3-2 clave. This is strictly a straight-ahead date pushed along by bassist Andy McKee and drummer John Riley. Saxophonist Ivan Renta, also a member of the ALJO, also appears on the disc.
I choose this CD for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is the command of progressive, straight-ahead jazz from musicians normally associated with Latin grooves. Fans, critics and even other musicians sell themselves short when boxing in musicians who know their way around a mambo.
The cut I've selected is called "Fifty Eight." Bonilla and his crew will not disappoint — listen for yourself.
"Fifty Eight," from Luis Bonilla, I Talking Now!. Luis Bonilla, trombone; Ivan Renta, reeds; Arturo O'Farrill, piano; Andy McKee, bass; John Riley, drums. Released 2009.
Purchase: Amazon.com / Amazon MP3 / iTunes