Essential Albums Revisited
At first blush one might feel that William Cepeda AfroRican Jazz: My Roots and Beyond might seem like an attempt to re-brand what is essentially Afro-Caribbean music. But as soon as the first measures of ‘Bomba Swing’ tear out of the speakers you realise that this album is fundamentally different not only from the Nuyorican-Jazz that you hear today and other forms of Afro-Caribbean music, but that coined word ‘AfroRican’ seems to have captured the Bomba and Plena rhythms of the island in ways that no one – yes, no one – has done before. And it is a boisterous party from end to end. But there is something quite deeper than the celebratory nature of the music.
William Cepeda is a seminal figure in Puerto Rican music. The leader and trombonist is more virtuosic a player than he is given credit for. With his signature violet-coloured horn Cepeda has broken down the African influence on Puerto Rican music in ways that Jerry González does with The Fort Apache Band, Papo Vázquez does with The Mighty Pirates Troubadours and more recently Miguel Zenón has done with his magnificent trio of albums on Sunnyside Records. What Cepeda has going for himself is his relationship to the mother-country, an Afro-Rican raised in Loíza, in the heart of Little Africa deep in Puerto Rico, Cepeda was immersed in the rhythms of his ancestors from the old continent. Cepeda has relocated much of his musical influences to a soundscape of his own making. Add to that his vibrant tonal colours and a rather large palette and you have a winning combination for the music that seems to flow right out of his body.
AfroRican Jazz: My Roots and Beyond now takes on a deep meaning. Bomba and Plena is king throughout. The rhythms dance and sing with a joie de vivre that overflows from the brim of Cepeda’s horn. His masterful arrangements – deeply influenced by his residency in Dizzy Gillespie’s United Nations Orchestra – are fiery, exciting and visceral. Alternating between trombone and conch, Cepeda is able to widen the spectrum of colours from which he draws inspiration for his harmonics. And he is a fine melodicist as his works on this album will show.
This album is also blessed with an ensemble to die for. Any band that hosts Donny McCaslin on tenor saxophone, Rubén Rodríguez on bass and the infinitely chameleonic Mark Walker on drums; guests Paquito D’Rivera on alto saxophone and clarinet and Slide Hampton on trombone, together with Luis Bonilla on trombone, Luis Disla on alto saxophone, John Benítez on bass, Bobby Sanabria on bongos, Yomo Toro on cuatro and on, and on… in an ever-increasing wave of wonderful musicians the ocean of music is as eternal as the idiom itself. All of this makes the music here irresistible; but it also puts into focus a part of Puerto Rico that is given scant attention – its African part that is – and what William Cepeda has tried to do on this classic album. It is a pity that the album seems to have practically vanished from memory and Cepeda continues to share his heritage with musicians who know better than to pass him by.
Track List – Bomba Swing; Ponte Pa’l Monte; Pa’ Mi Cuembe; Waiting For Carmen; Toca Mi Carcabol; Quasi Plena; For Now Or Never; Sara; Pa’ Mi Gente; Colors; AfroRican Jam.
Personnel – William Cepeda: trombone, cua, conch shell, percussion, vocals; Donny McCaslin: tenor saxophone; Omar Kabir: trumpet, conch shell; Raul Romero: guitar; Uli Gussendorfer: piano, keyboards; Rubén Rodríguez: bass; Mark Walker: drums; Juan Gutierrez: Bomba drums, vocals; Slide Hampton: trombone (1, 8); Paquito D’Rivera: alto saxophone, clarinet (4, 6); Yomo Toro: cuatro (2); Luis Bonilla: trombone (3, 11); Tony Luján: trumpet (2, 5, 6, 7, 11); Luis Aquino: trumpet (4, 6, 11); Luis Disla: alto saxophone (2, 9); Eric Figueroa: piano, keyboards (1); John Benitez: bass (6, 9, 11); Bobby Sanabria: bongos, vocals (1, 2, 5, 6, 7, 11); Edgardo Miranda: cuatro (2); Tito Matos: panderata, Bomba drums, vocals (1, 4, 6, 7); Cita Rodriguez: vocals (1, 2, 5, 6, 7, 11); Richie Viruet: vocals (1, 2, 5, 6, 7, 11); Juan Usera: vocals (1, 2, 5, 6, 7, 11); Julio Merced: Verso Negro: 1, 2, 5, 6, 7, 11).
Released – 1999
Label – Blue Jackel Entertainment
Runtime – 1:14:12