The new CD Salsa Norteña includes eight original songs by Rick Davies. Four of the pieces (1, 3, 5, 7) are straight-ahead salsa dura vocal songs featuring the lead vocals of Papo Ross. These selections were recorded in Montreal. The other four pieces (2, 4, 6, 8) are instrumental Latin jazz tunes that were recorded in Vermont and feature guest artist Ray Vega (another North Country transplant from NYC) on Trumpet along side veteran musicians from both sides of the U.S./Canadian.
Baile de amor is a salsa love song with lead vocals by Papo Ross. The song features a very danceable groove described by one Montreal salsa D.J. as being “evocative of Papo Lucca and Sonora Poncena." Also featured on the song are solos by conguero Neville “Pichi’ Ainsley and leader Rick Davies on trombone both of which are backed by swinging vocal coros and brass section moñas.
The name of the Latin jazz song Campamento de rumba refers to the yearly summer Latin jazz camp at the Flynn Center in Burlington, Vermont where Davies and his group are artists-in-residence every July (featuring guest artists like Ray Vega and Arturo O’Farrill). Based on a rumba clave, the two-part song contains solos by Davies, trumpeter Ray Vega, Alex Stewart on tenor sax, and pianist Tom Cleary.
El hombre de Panama is a tribute to the great Panamanian salsa singer Ruben Blades. With lyrics by Ecuadorian poet Fernando Iturburu, the song pays homage to the musician/actor/activist iconoclast who once ran for the presidency of Panama. There are short horn solos including two by the Cuban trumpeter Eduardo Sanchez brimming with sabor. Singer Papo Ross sings a number of soneos that refer to Blades and his famous songs. Kuki Carbucia adds to the swing with a tasty piano solo. After a horn-fueled mambo section, Davies performs a trombone solo.
A beautiful Flugelhorn solo by Ray Vega is a highlight of the 6/8 Bembè Swing, which is a song inspired by the traditional Cuban bembè. Ainsley’s cajon and Maldonado’s bells highlight the rich percussion underpinning. In addition to Vega’s offering, Stewart, Cleary, and Davies also supply solos.
A story of life and death in the barrio is the basis for Iturburu’s lyrics in Requiem por un amigo. Papo Ross adds a strong emotional sensation to the song with his edgy vocals. A solo by Davies sets up the final vocal section where Ross increases the emotional level with his soneos including some that are rap-like.
Vega para ti (Vega for you) was written by Davies to commemorate the move of his old colleague and friend Ray Vega to Vermont a few years back. The song is fast paced, danceable Latin jazz featuring solos by Vega, Stewart, Davies, Cleary, and drummer Jonathan Maldonado.
The bolero Lady K was originally recorded as an instrumental on the Rick Davies’ CD Salsa Strut. Written by Davies in dedication to his wife Karen, lyrics were added by Iturburu and Ross in this romantic vocal remake.
Son, Son,Son is a quirky sextet tune featuring John Rivers on bass and a conga solo by Neville “Pichi” Ainsley, as well as solos by Davies, Stewart, and Cleary. The song’s title went through a myriad of changes before finally becoming a paean to Benny Goodman’s classic “Sing, Sing, Sing.”
Published on Seven Days: Vermont’s Independent Voice (http://www.7dvt.com)
Rick Davies, Salsa Norteña
By Dan Bolles [06.27.12]
(Emlyn Music, CD, Digital Download)
Trombonist Rick Davies is among the region’s most accomplished Latin jazz players. But before he relocated to the North Country a decade ago to join the faculty at SUNY Plattsburgh, he plied his trade for years in NYC and the Caribbean, and shared stages with Latin jazz giants from Tito Puente to Santiago Ceron. With Wyclef Jean, Davies has performed for President Bill Clinton and appeared in an episode of VH1’s “Storytellers.” Davies’ accolades extend into pop, as well: He’s recorded with Blondie and Michael Jackson and worked with the likes of Gloria Gaynor. In short, dude’s legit.
Locally, Davies is perhaps best known for his work in the Latin-jazz all-star ensemble he founded, Jazzismo. It features some of northern New York and Vermont’s finest players, including pianist Tom Cleary and bassist John Rivers. Davies’ latest labor of love, an extension of that group, is a new album titled Salsa Norteña. It stars six Jazzismo alums and several notable Latin-jazz players from New York, Vermont and Montréal, including trumpeter Ray Vega, drummer Jonathan Maldonado and vocalist Jorge “Papo” Ross.
The record boasts eight original compositions from Davies, written in tribute to, and in the style of, salsa dura, a branch of the genre popularized in NYC in the 1970s that emphasizes propulsive percussion grooves over horn and vocal melodies. Recorded in Montréal and mastered by Lane Gibson in Charlotte, Salsa Norteña plays like a street festival in Washington Heights. The bright, colorful and irresistible collection of Latin grooves is delicately arranged and expertly, vibrantly executed with immaculate taste.
From the opening pulse of “Baile de Amor” through the rumbling closer “Son, Son, Son,” Davies has crafted an album that deserves a place in the collections of discerning Latin-jazz aficionados anywhere. Without exception, the performances here are stellar. Davies in particular displays a beautifully expressive tone that both accents Ross’ sandy croon and proves a worthy foil to Vega’s explosive trumpet. Alternating tunes, bassists Edward Maldonado and Rivers compose a formidable rhythm section alongside Jonathan Maldonado and Neville “Pichi” Ainsley on conga. Cleary is subtly magnificent on piano, while saxophonist Alex Stewart and trumpeter Eduardo Sanchez round out a terrific horn section.
Latin jazz may not get as much play here as do other jazz idioms. But Davies’ latest is proof that quality trumps quantity. Salsa Norteña is a masterful album and a perfect soundtrack to the steamy summer nights that lie ahead.