This disc has special significance for Angel Roman. It came as an epiphany twelve years after he had virtually played any music at all. Spiritualism and parenting had intervened in between. Whatever else Mr. Roman had been experiencing, it shows and how. For this is a splendid disc, something of a watershed in the bassist’s work over more than a decade of paying his dues from Milwaukee to Boston, Miami and finally Austin, Texas. Along the way he no doubt picked up many reasons to be inspired, but none, it seems, more than the Afro-Caribbean culture that had been prevalent in his soul. Then bringing together his group, Mambo Blue, he recorded Finally Here, the album fashioned around that first bolt of lightning that struck him in August 2012, when the song “Finally Here” began to form in his mind and in his soul, and then on through his fingers on a solitary guitar.
It was worth the wait. This is a fine album, more full and sinuous than anything Mr. Roman has ever played before. Swirling around Afro-Cuban forms the music is generally slow and seductive. There is no race to be flashy and no gratuitous virtuosity. Just wickedly good music that is both individual and inspired. The pieces – part of his Latin American heritage – are all gently evocative and poetic. And while each is typically, an invitation to dance, the songs are (atypically for anything Afro-Caribbean) wonderfully descriptive, captivating, thoughtful and introspective. I find this rather distinctive among his peers. Perhaps he and his trumpeter, Pete Rodriguez are one of a kind. Or perhaps it is just something about his generation that I never noticed – which is not at all what it’s cracked up to be – or what his generation can be if left to itself.
It would be wrong to suggest that there are no songs on the album that are vivacious. “One More Twice” gets there as does “Keep It Skunky”. There is an effervescence that is almost palpable in both songs. And it will be hard to ‘keep your hands off’ the latter, so to speak. Clearly Angel Roman is a compositional talent as well. That aspect of his music just needs more exploration. Another unique aspect of his music is his playing. Granted that he is a bassist and thus inhabits the lower spectrum of sound but here too the main attraction is the warmth brought about by bringing the pitch of his instrument down to something more closely resembling the human voice. That added comfort in the sound makes it possible – desirable- to sit and listen to all of the eleven songs on this disc.
Angel Roman’s instrument seems to also be uniquely constructed. The use of his particular strings combined with a finger-style that although not new, is very light and brings a playfulness to the dance-like passages that are underpinned by the solidity of tone, pitch and consistency that give him the freedom to work with the music itself, rather than simply to navigate the inherent difficulties in an authentic performance of music this exposed. This means that he is able to – and does – bring out all of the contrasting influence; and hearing folk music, the blues and Afro-Caribbean forms coexisting as they do here is fascinating. “Almost Cha-Cha” and “La Familia” are but two examples of this coexistence.
It would be remiss to fashion a critique of this disc without mentioning the superb line-up in Mambo Blue. This not only means Pete Rodriguez, who is perhaps a most powerful ally any musician can ask for, but also musicians such as Chris Villanueva and Andy Smith, And Carmelo Torres. But there are nine musicians who play here on a revolving basis. The record might not have been so graceful and memorable without them.
Track List: Tata; One More Twice; Almost Cha-Cha; Recuerdos De Ti; El Camino; Finally Here; Isla De Mis Padres; Adiós; La Familia; El Regalo; Keep It Skunky.
Personnel: Aaron Lack: vibraphone; Andre Hayward: trombone; Andy Smith: drums and cajón (9); Angel Roman: bass guitar; Carmelo Torres: congas; Chris Villanueva: piano and Rhodes; Felipe Borrero: trumpet (6 & 9); Paul Deemer: trombone (3, 5, 6 & 10); Pete Rodriguez: trumpet; Russell Haight: tenor saxophone.
About Mambo Blue
Angel Roman (Bassist/Composer) grew up in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He studied music at the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music, and continued his education at Berkeley College of Music. Straight out of high school, Angel was asked to be a member of one of Wisconsin’s best recognized Latin Jazz group named La Chazz. Shortly before leaving to Boston, La Chazz got the distinct honor of performing with the Milwaukee Symphony. During his time in Boston, Mr. Roman performed with, and became friends with Pianist Danilo Pérez, Saxophonist Tommy Smith and played for Grammy nominated Salsa band, Caribbean Express… Read more…