May 8, 2006

Contempo May 2006

willie_lobo.jpgTrue to the title of their latest seductively swaying, exotic Narada Jazz excursion Zambra - a gypsy term alternately meaning “gathering of musical merriment” or a dance done by the women of Spain - Willie & Lobo were world class travelers long before they met in the early 80s on the beaches and in the cantinas of San Miguel De Allende, Mexico.

The son of an Air Force lieutenant colonel, El Paso born violinist Willie Royal had the gypsy in his soul by default, raised in such locales as Turkey, Germany, France and Florida (where he now lives). Later, on his own, he experienced a wild mix of cultures living and playing music everywhere from Amsterdam (where, remarkably, he met many refugees from Argentina), Brazil and Canada.

Meanwhile, Bavarian born guitarist Wolfgang “Lobo” Fink cultivated his own wanderlust as a signalman in the German Navy, and, inspired by gypsy guitarist Manitas de Plata, lived at different times in a gypsy camp in Southern France and later, the famous caves of Sacromonte in Granada, Spain. The sounds and rhythms he picked up from real live gypsies have played a part in the duo’s success story since the early 90s, when they first hit the charts with Gypsy Boogaloo.

“When I wanted to know where the sounds came from,” Lobo says from his home in a fishing village outside Puerto Vallarta. “I went right to the source. I came out of those caves able to walk and talk gypsy music. Later, when I met Willie, it became a sound steeped in Mexico where we met but which touched on every place we’d ever been.”

From Dunedin, Florida, Willie adds, “My roots are in American rock, country and bluegrass, but living in an Ankaran village for two years, South America, Mexico and Amsterdam played a huge part in expanding my musical universe and making me who I am today. You can be influenced by artists you hear from wherever, but to really play it, you have to live it. If you want to play Brazilian music, you have to feel the rhythms of the place and experience the waves on the beach of Ipanema. To truly feel and play an expansive, emotional Arabic flavored song like ‘Zambra,’ you have to have visited mosques in Turkey and Iran and feel the passion and haunting sadness of thousands of years of history.”

Last year, at about the time Willie & Lobo were scheduled for their first recording session for Zambra, the U.S. had its own major tragedy, and the duo literally flew over the devastated Gulf Coast on their way west to record at Rick Braun’s Brauntosoarus Studios. Braun, producing his fifth overall project for the duo - both artists launched their careers around the same time on Mesa Bluemoon Records - did the actual composing of the haunting yet somehow hopeful tribute “Balada Para Katrina,” but seeing the enormity of it from the sky inspired Willie & Lobo to reach some of their deepest emotional terrain ever. Aside from giving the usually frenetic Royal a chance to display a deeper sense of artistry that draws from his classical background, the track features Braun playing a beautiful piano accompaniment.

While this track is the emotional core of Zambra, fans of the trademark, slow grooving W&L style will be more than satisfied with the graceful breezes of the opening track “Donde Vayo,” whose hypnotic melody is enhanced by Royal’s powerful distant chanting and Braun’s Spanish flavored trumpeting. Braun and Brad Dutz keep the clicking percussion rolling on the soulful South of The Border flavored “Mama Mia” and dreamy, gently rolling “La Fortuna,” tunes which perfectly reflect the vibe of the cantinas Willie & Lobo once called home. Fans who know Royal strictly as a violin master will be pleasantly surprised by his turn on rhythm guitar throughout the moody ballad “Velas al Viento,” on which Braun blends his own soft wordless vocals and muted trumpet above the gently rolling bass-drum rhythms of Juan Estria (bass) and Miguel Volpe (drums).

“Working with Rick on the new album was a fantastic experience, it just felt right,” says Royal. “Besides having a total blast in the studio, he’s always inspiring us in new ways. The last few years after our album Manana, we actually felt a little creatively dry, but when Rick came on board, there was all this fresh energy and it was like the good old days when we first started and anything was possible. This is actually the fastest we ever recorded an album in our careers. The three of us just have an incredible camaraderie and bring out the best in each other, from the heartbreaks to the great romances of our life. What you hear is what we feel.”

jfeliciano2005.jpgThis year marks the 50th Anniversary of Jose Feliciano’s very first public performance, and in the continued celebration of the guitar legend’s genre busting, trend-defying career, he’s finally met decades of fan requests with the release of his first ever instrumental album Six String Lady. The melodically accessible but sharply intricate acoustic collection explores his lifelong love for the different styles he’s mastered, from classical to jazz and rock. Tracks like the punchy, sax-infused “Street Jazz” and the title tune would be welcome, adventurous additions to smooth jazz radio. On the artsier side, there are three pieces named after Segovia, and the project is dedicated to Feliciano’s mentor and lifelong inspiration.

“People have always seen me as a guitarist and singer, but vocals are always easier to latch onto, so I became known as a vocalist who would throw in a few instrumentals here and there,” says Feliciano, who claims to be the first guitarist to use the nylon string guitar, on his classic 1968 recording of “Light My Fire.” “I just felt it was time to come out with an all-instrumental work, to show other guitarists that I can stand in their league. Because in my mind, I’ve always felt I was a better guitarist than singer! I draw from everything that has defined me musically… jazz, rock, acoustic rock. I’ve been with my Six String Lady most of my life, and nothing’s going to stop me from showing more of what I can do with it.”

For more information about Six String Lady, please go to

camjam_9294203222.gifFans who love the kind of mix of R&B and Latin jazz that classic bands like Malo, Tierra and War brewed in the 70s will love heading Back In The Day, the third disc by the 15 piece, horn driven ensemble Cintron. Led by veteran percussionist Edgardo Cintron and vocalist Rocco DePersia — also a producer and promoter with more than 350 Latin dances under his belt - the band presents an irresistible old school blend of soul, street corner a capella and salsa. Going deeper into the tracking will reveal some solid original songwriting, but the covers of classics like “Suavecito,” “Hey There Lonely Girl” and “Expressway To Your Heart” form the playful, emotional core of the project.

Personal Tastes

1) Grant Geissman, Say That! (Futurism Records) – The versatile guitarist waves adios to his smooth jazz days with this spirited, supremely cool yet frequently burning - and deeply melodic - straight-ahead jazz date straight out of the Wes Montgomery school. An explosive Wes tribute and an extended version of Geissman’s TV Theme “Two And A Half Men” are highlights.
2) John Legend, Get Lifted (Sony Urban Music/Columbia)
3) Jamie Foxx, Unpredictable (J Records)
4) Van Morrison, Pay The Devil (Lost Highway)
5) Peggy Lee Sings Lieber & Stoller (Hip-o Select/A&M)

New and Noteworthy

1) Victor Fields, Victor (Regina Records)
2) Pieces of a Dream, Pillow Talk (Heads Up)
3) Chris Standring, Soul Express (Trippin’ N Rhythm)
4) Nestor Torres, Dances, Prayers & Meditations for Peace (Heads Up)
5) Spyro Gyra, Wrapped in a Dream (Heads Up)

Posted by Jonathan Widran at May 8, 2006 3:22 PM