Salsa de la Bahia Collection

There is a staggering array of exquisite music on Salsa de la Bahia Vol. 1, which is unlike other compilations featuring various artists. There is something of a golden thread that runs through the entire 2-CD collection. And this makes it unique. This ground breaking anthology of Afro-Cuban music reveals the hidden history of tropical heat from the San Francisco Bay Area, in the forthcoming documentary entitled The Last Mambo. The film is directed by the well-known film-maker, Rita Hargrave and the music has been produced by the leading-light of the Bay Area Latin Jazz scene: trombonist, producer and founder of Patois Records, Wayne Wallace. The DVD is due out in the spring of 2014, but volume one of the music track has already been released and this was a wise move on the part of the producers, for it surely stands out on its own. The high-spirited collection of charts shows the uniqueness of the heritage of Bay Area Latin Jazz. The roots of Afro-Cuban music have been translated in a unique manner by the musicians of San Francisco in an osmosis that has created a saucy mix closer to the Afro-Cuban son, mambo, rumba and guaracha. For the mixed communities of the West Coast in Bay Area in the 1950s and 1960s, that music was inspiration. But Latin Jazz really blossomed—this time explosively—in the 1980s and Wayne Wallace was in the vanguard of that movement. So it should come as no surprise that Mr. Wallace should be in the producer’s chair of Salsa de la Bahia.

Despite conventional wisdom it is believed that historically the Latin “tinge” came before Jelly Roll Morton, at a time when the Spanish Habanera—the Cuban Contradanza—became popular throughout the world, around the turn of the century, which makes it probably as old as the jazz idiom itself. It was probably the legendary Buddy Bolden who was the first to use the habanera-based “big-four” pattern to flavour the jazz marches through the streets of New Orleans and in Congo Square—there may even be evidence to suggest that he used that pattern to create the first syncopated bass drum pattern to deviate from the standard on-the-beat march. Later, in 1914 “St. Louis Blues” by W.C. Handy incorporated habanera/tresillo as part of its bass line. But Mr. Morton did compose one of the first complete Latin Jazz charts in 1910, called “The Crave” (Ironically this was released in 1938). The Puerto-Rican-born Juan Tizol wrote “Caravan” for the Duke Ellington Orchestra in 1936, long before Mario Bauzá started making waves with “Tanga” (1943). But it was Mario Bauzá—trumpeter and musical director of Machito’s Orchestra—who “invented” the use of 3/2 and 2/3 clave and when he directed members of Machito’s band to begin on either side of the clave. “Tanga” was born that fateful night. Later, Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker even joined in the fray and “Cu-Bop City” became a hit. Then Mr. Gillespie composed “Manteca” with Chano Pozo and another legend came to life. Many compositions from brilliant musicians from Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic later, the final chapter in Latin Jazz proto-history came when the great timbalero, Tito Puente, then a nascent member of Machito’s orchestra was invited to bring his drums and flamboyant style into the front of the ensemble and the lights on the marquee were lit forever.

Now that the noise has died down, so to speak, it appears that this music played in the San Francisco Bay Area has remained a more pure interpretation of Afro-Cuban rhythm and voicing. This seems to be the state of the art as evidenced by the music of Salsa de la Bahia. The Estrellas de la Bahia is the first to suggest that aspect of the music. The rich colours and tones painted by the brass and reeds and woodwinds against the backbeat of the clave of the rhythm kings of such as Pete Escovedo, Benny Velarde and the younger generation of percussionists such as John Santos, Jesús Díaz and Karl Perazzo make for a thick tasty and soulful stew. Edgardo Gambón tells the fabled story of the Bay Area scene in the early years with great swaggering flair. This chart, “Canto, Clave y Candela” is a masterful herald for the music that is to follow. CD1 also boasts some fabulous charts, such as the roistering Benny Velarde classic “Tranquilizate” and the maniacally passion of “Virgen de la Caridad”. “Lou’s Afro-Cuban Blues” might easily have been the high point of the record, if it were not for John Calloway’s “Velero Sin Timon” followed by John Santos’ “Ponme a Gozar”. It bears mention that breathtaking soli by Camilo Landau on tres, in “Canto, Clave y Candela” and the soaring forays of Anthony Blea’s violin are among the finest moments of CD 1.

CD 2 has more of the same with superb music from Wayne Wallace (“El Espiritu Del Mambo”) which features heart-stopping soli from Karl Perazzo on güiro and Louie Romero on timbales. And then there is the fabulous music and timbales work of Orestes Vilató (“Toca Vilató”) that creates a wonderful ocean of sound. Here too, the music reaches its maximum velocity with the sensual narrative and throbbing rhythms on “Café Con Leche”. And lest that be considered the highest point of the disc, more brilliance is to follow when John Calloway literally explodes with a breathtaking display of virtuosity on flute, both with his reed-work as well as his mouth percussion on the flute in “Montuno Pa La Flauta”. This is probably one of the finest charts on the entire package, not only because of John Calloway but also the svelte arrangement of the piece. And then there follows one superb chart after the next. From “”Yolanda Pachanga” this shines not only because of the colourful and tasty percussion by Benny Velarde and his team of percussionists, but also because of the outstanding vocals by Sal Nuñez until the close of the disc with a rousing couple of charts: “Tumba Randy” Anthony Blea y Su Charanga and “Rumba Para Paul” by the ever-outstanding “Estrellas de la Bahia”.

With so much fine music on volume one of this packages and with the film to come in the spring of 2014, as well as hopefully volume two of this package, it is proper to marvel at what is at hand and await future surprises with bated breath.

Track List: CD1: Canto, Clave y Candela; Tranquilizate; Virgen de la Caridad; A Bailar con Avance; Lou’s Afro-Cuban Blues; Soy Matancero; Mira a Elena; Yo Vine a Bailar la Salsa; Dormido; Velero Sin Timón; Ponme a Gozar.

Personnel: CD1: Estrellas de la Bahia featuring Carlos Caro: conga, Benny Velarde: timbales; Pete Escovedo: bongo; John Calloway: flute; Tregar Otton: violin; Camilo Landau: tres; Benny Velarde y Su Super Combo featuring Anthony Blea: violin; Sal Nuñez: lead vocals, coro, percussion; Anthony Blea y Su Charanga featuring Edgardo Herrera: vocal, Orlando Torriente: lead vocal; Avance; Louie Romero y Su Grupo Mazacote; Orquesta la Moderna Tradición; Visión Latina; Edgardo y Su Candela; Jesús Díaz y Su Oba; John Calloway; The John Santos Sextet.

Track List: CD2: El Espiritu Del Mambo; Toca Vilató; Jardinero; Madre Rumba Padre Son; Café Con Leche; Montuno Pa’ La Flauta; Yolanda Pachanga; En El Tiempo De La Colonia; La Loca; Tumba Randy; Rumba Para Paul.

Personnel: CD2: Estrellas de la Bahia featuring John Santos: bongo; Jesús Díaz: conga; Louie Romero: timbales; Karl Perazzo: güiro, maracas; David Belove: bass; Murray Low: piano; Roger Glenn: vibraphone; Mike Olmos: trumpet; Wayne Wallace: trombone; Orestes Vilató; Jesús Díaz y Su QBA; Edgardo y Su Candela; John Santos and The Machete Ensemble; John Calloway; Benny Velarde y Su Super Combo; Orquesta la Moderna Tradición; Avance; Anthony Blea y Su Charanga featuring Anthony Blea: violin; Estrellas de la Bahia.

Patois Records on the web: patoisrecords.com

Label: Patois Records | Release date: August 2013

Reviewed by: Raul da Gama