Trombonist Dr. Wayne Wallace is also a composer, arranger, producer and educator who has long been at the heart of the San Francisco Bay Area’s remarkable Latin-jazz scene. Over his 30-year career, Wallace has performed or recorded with Santana, Tito Puente, Bobby Hutcherson and a host of other major artists. He has also been a member of Pete Escovedo’s band and of John Santos and the Machete Ensemble (which recently disbanded). Earlier this year, Wallace released a pair of albums as a leader—Dedication and The Reckless Search for Beauty—on his own Patois Records label. For Reckless Search, Wallace gathered many of the Bay Area’s top-tier Latin-jazz musicians to form an ensemble of 12 (plus special guests) comprising horns, percussion, drums, piano, synthesizer, guitar, bass and vocals. The disc pays tribute to Wallace’s primary musical influences—Afro-Cuban, Brazilian, jazz, funk and R&B—offering a combination of Wallace’s original compositions and his arrangements of jazz/funk/soul classics. All tracks fuse multiple genres and feature crisp, tight arrangements with deep, relentless grooves. The opening track, Wallace’s “El Duende Africano,” sets the tone by invoking the “spirit” or muse to “come down” to these proceedings, using a modern Afro-Cuban timba groove and a horn arrangement inspired by Tower of Power. The Bill Withers song “Use Me” is given a deep Latin/funk feel and features a stellar lead vocal from Alexa Weber-Morales. Duke Ellington’s “Chromatic Love Affair” is played as a lush, heartfelt danzon (a romantic Cuban ballroom style dating from the 19th century). I also like Wallace’s majestic arrangement of Mongo Santamaria’s “Afro Blue,” which offers sacred Cuban bata drums alongside a sophisticated jazz-horn arrangement, and features Weber-Morales. Throughout, the ensemble plays with the same fire and spirit that ignites dancefloors in the Bay Area’s Latin-jazz venues where these great musicians have performed for so long.
Must Play: “Use Me”
Producer: Wayne Wallace. Engineer: Gary Mankin. Mixing: Gary Mankin and Wayne Wallace. Studios: Bay Records (Berkeley, Calif.), Knob and Tube Studios (San Francisco). Mastering: Ken Lee (Oakland, Calif.).