There are quite a few Latin jazz groups around in the L.A. area but few feature the vibes in the forefront. Ruben Estrada, following in the tradition of Cal Tjader, is the lead voice of this colorful sextet heard on this well-paced and consistently exciting disc. With stirring rhythms contributed by the vibist’s son, Ruben “Cougar” Estrada, and Raul Rico, Jr. on congas, the music is both danceable and creative within the idiom. As accessible as it is intelligent, this CD is a difficult one to resist!
– Scott Yanow, Music Connection, July 1995
The spirit of the late Cal Tjader hovers over these ten finely crafted that dazzle with bebop sensibility and Chicano West Coast coolness. The sextet is the evolution of a family band that started off with eight brothers in the 1950’s and has whittled down to diehards Ruben and Henry keeping the flame lit. Raul Rico, Jr. on congas and pianist Joe Rotondi, Jr. serve as musical pillars keeping the arrangements tight and crisp. It would be easy to typecast tem as a tribute band, but there’s to much originality and style for that.
The opener “Mr. Ray, picks up where Tjader left off, nothing fancy and just a straight-ahead groove. Ruben is a marvel on the mallets ringing off riffs that resonate like raindrops of water. A “Latin for Lovers,” aura compliments bolero classics “Un Cigarillo, La Lluvia y Tu,” and “Ya No Me Quieres,” with Henry doing his Stan Getz-thing on tenor. The Rotondi original, “Joe’s Songo,” and the title track are my favorites with the guajira written to Ruben’s wife, and “Delia Bonita,” holding melodically timeless lines that sing. A top pick from the coast!
– Jesse “Chuy” Varela, New York Latino, July 1995
Like a breath of fresh air, the new recording by the Estrada Brothers has finally emerged from Southern California, and it's About Time.
After close to three years in the making, this aptly titled and well-crafted recording is a portrait of a well-established and respected family musical dynasty, which, up until now, has remained relatively unknown to the general public outside of California.
About Time is the third Estrada release in recent years, and without a doubt, their finest. This ten-tune collection of straight-ahead Latin jazz, boleros, guajiras and cha-chas, includes standards like George Shearing's "Lullaby of Birdland," Dizzy Gillespie & Chano Pozo's "Guachi Guaro," original compositions, and more.
Steeped in the 'school of Tjader,' the Estradas exhibit a great respect and understanding of how the vibraphone should function as the lead instrument in a jazz setting. According to the liner notes, leader Ruben Estrada systematically followed the legendary Cal Tjader all around California for decades soaking up his mentor's music like a "thirsty sponge." Ruben's vibe work throughout the recording is impeccably lyrical, innovative and swings with all the energy and vibrancy of the '90, without ever losing sight of, or respect for, tradition.
About Time is a very well performed recording by a tight working band whose familiarity with each other and with the music comes through on every tune. From the very first notes of "Mr. Ray," to the closing bars closing bars of funky finale. About Time is an excellent example of no-hype, jump outta the box swingin', straight-ahead Latin jazz. And while Ruben's vibraphone remains consistently out front, this is a much an ensemble effort as anything else.
Exceptional performances are contributed throughout from pianist , Joe Rotondi Jr., bassist, Malcolm Ian Peters, saxophonist, Henry Estrada, percussionists, Ruben "Cougar" Estrada Jr. and Raul Rico Jr. (special smoke alert on "Two Friends"). Overall, this is a great record, it grooves, it grinds, it smokes, it cha-chas and leaves you wanting more.
While they have been a California treasure up 'til now, The Estrada Brothers are finally out for all of us to enjoy, and it's About Time.
- Alfredo Cruz, The Descarga Newsletter, June 1995
During the late fifties, the Estrada Brothers, Angel, Robert, Henry and Ruben formed their music aggregation. The charts included American pop, classical, jazz, Latin and the Mexican folkloric music encouraged by Louis, their violinist father. Ruben, who started out as a trumpeter, learned to play percussion, mastered the keyboard, now directs the sextet from behind the vibraharp, was quoted as saying "I've fallen in love with the melodies of Cal Tjader, he puts another song in each solo."
Now, forty years later after hundreds of performances at weddings, social events and concerts which included kicking the evening off for Tito Puente, Ruben Blades and Poncho Sanchez, the Estrada dynasty is intact with third generation presence of the leader's son, drummer Ruben "Cougar" Estrada. It is at this time their Rumba Jazz Records label CD About Time is being released, an outstanding Latin jazz album for listeners and most importantly, for dancers.
Cal Tjader expired in 1982. His memory is kept alive by the recordings he left behind. The Estrada Brothers are just one group that will not permit Tjader's name to disappear into oblivion. Many of its charts are Tjader tunes, but I assure you they are all different than Cal's sounds. For example, Alonzo and Guachi Guaro, two Tjader classics, include different melodies and searing montunos by pianist Joe Rotondi Jr. Then a Tjader romantic mood is created with a subdued vibe and piano sound to the ballads Ya No Me Quieres and Un Cigarillo, La Lluvia Y Tu. Creating the Tjader moods are Ruben Estrada on vibraharp, Henry Estrada on alto and tenor sax, Malcolm Ian Peters on electric bass, Raul Rico Jr. on congas and percussion, Joe Rotondi Jr. on piano and special friends Adolfo Acosta on fluglehorn, Ramon Banda on timbales, Robert Clements on percussion and Ruben Martinez on flute.
The Estrada Brothers' musical proficiency is at the peak of its power and About Time will shine the light of international recognition on the Southern California based group because their time is now.
- Max Salazar, Latin Beat Magazine, June/July 1995
This is the long awaited and long overdue release by one of the best Latin jazz bands around, The Estrada Brothers. Their new disc's title About Time is very apropos considering that it has been six years since their debut recording, The Estrada Brothers first came out on the Chazz Records label back in 1989. As good as that first effort was, this latest endeavor is far superior. The material is an excellent blend of original compositions, a couple of little known and seldom played boleros and several tunes associated with the band's number one influence, Cal Tjader.
For those of you who are not already acquainted with this fine ensemble, the Estrada Brothers are vibist Ruben and saxophonist Henry. Ruben's son, Ruben Jr. (better known as Cougar) is the group's drummer and Malcolm Ian Peters is the bassist. Joe Rotondi, Jr. handles the keyboard duties and the conguero is Raul Rico, Jr. Special guest artists on the disc include timbalero Ramon Banda, percussionist Robert Clements, flautist Ruben Martinez and fluglehorn player Adolfo Acosta.
Every tune and every musician on this disc is outstanding and I know that fans of first-class Latin jazz will enjoy it tremendously. The Rumba Jazz label was created especially for this album and is the brainchild of producer Raul Rico, Jr. It is my sincere belief that the success of this first release for Rumba Jazz will lead to many more in the hopefully near future by the Estrada Brothers band.
To the loyal fans of the Estrada Brothers who have anxiously, yet patiently awaiting this recording this recording to come out for lo these many years, your prayers have finally been answered. For those who have not yet heard of the Estrada Brothers or their music, it's About Time.
- Mal Sands, L.A. Jazz Scene, July 1995
Although the Estrada Brothers have had their group for decades, it was not until 1997 that they had an opportunity to record for a major jazz label. The band started in the mid-'50s and was founded by Ruben, Henry and Angel Estrada. The brothers grew up in Oxnard, California and were inspired by the jazz meets Latin music of Cal Tjader, Stan Kenton and Tito Puente. Ruben (who originally played trumpet and drums) plays vibes in the style of Tjader while Henry plays saxophones and flute; Angel left the band in the 1970s. Raul Rico Jr. became the group's percussionist in 1976 and in 1986 the group solidified with the addition of Ruben's son Cougar on drums, pianist Joe Rotondi, Jr. and bassist Malcom Ian Peters. In 1995, the band finally made its first recording, About Time on their Rumba Jazz label. The success of that CD resulted in Milestone signing the Estrada Brothers and recording Get Out of My Way in 1997.
- Scott Yanow, All Music Guide