There aren’t enough accolades to heap on Jim Self – he has long been considered one of the starriest exponents of the tuba, one of Hollywood’s music Royalty, as he is also regarded in the world of television; his credits also include principal tuba player in several celebrated West Coast Symphonies and Philharmonics. And he has been part of Wagner’s Ring Cycle, which ran for two years, and he has won a Grammy Award as well… You get the picture. Well, almost, until you realise that his actual music credits can fill a small book. One of the best-known tuba players in Los Angeles has now turned his attention to music that he has always considered his first love: Latin Jazz.
Jim Self is a musical polymath and a tuba player of frightening virtuosity – a sort of Paganini of the instrument, if ever there was one. But even the thought of bringing this project to fruition must have been a tall order because not only is the tuba rarely heard of in Jazz, there is almost no precedent for the instrument in Latin Jazz. So for all intents and purposes Self had to literally invent it. He enlisted the support of Francisco Torres, a first-call trombonist and an enormously talented composer, arranger and conductor for this project. Then he gathered some of the most exciting musicians well-known on the West Coast Latin Jazz scene. The result is Yo! an album that could only be listed as a masterpiece. It is an album so perfect in its repertoire, the recital by its musicians led by the dizzying performance of Jim Self that any further description of it would be in terms of unexpurgated hyperbole.
The music is, in Jim Self’s hands, both boldly symphonic and utterly supple, the tuba-player hardly making life easy for the rest of the ensemble – though the trombonist Torres and the rest of the stellar cast are completely unfazed. ‘Cal’s Pals’, the opening is strong and bold, epithets that apply equally to the music and the improvisatory soli, which have grandeur as well as exhilaration. Sample another track (video below) or any other of the tracks on this album as a taster: Jim Self as soloist and as ensemble musician is ravishing, but also dangerously becalmed. Once established in the first tune itself, Self’s performance on other any or all the tracks on this album are pretty much unsurpassed among modern-day tuba recordings; and being a first for Latin-Jazz this has set the bar unusually high for anyone else who dares to follow. Francisco Torres’ performance is not very far behind and he often playfully challenges Self to an old-fashioned swinging duel every now and then.
Another first is the engineering wizardry of Talley Sherwood, a long-time engineer for Jim Self’s other projects. Listeners will hear remarkable definition of the tuba, the double bass and the bass drum, every time the musicians’ growl, rumble and drop a symphonic bomb. Such clarity of the instruments’ closely-matched frequencies has been brilliantly differentiated. Add to this superbly natural sound, witty liner notes by Self and you have a most desirable package.
Track List: Cal’s Pals; Poinciana; For Charlie; Encognito; Sweetest Blue; Quiera Llegar; Yo!; Old Arrival; Morning; Dog Tags.
Personnel: Jim Self: tuba, fluba; Francisco Torres: trombone; Ron Blake: trumpet, Flugelhorn; Rob Hardt: tenor and soprano saxophones, flute; Andy Langham: piano; Rene Camacho: double bass; Joey De Leon: timbales, bàtá, shekere; Giancarlo Anderson: congas; George Ortiz: bongos.