Samuel Torres' life journey from a boy with dreams of being a full-time musician, to becoming a full-time musician, to becoming a successful one, takes another turn with the release last week of his second album, Yaounde. Born and raised by a hard working a supportive single mother in Bogot, Columbia, Torres' perseverance as a percussionist paid off as he became in demand in his native country, becoming proficient on styles ranging from jazz, salsa and pop music. After he left Columbia for New York in 1999, he was chosen to play in Arturo Sandoval's band and toured and recorded with the famed Cuban trumpet player for four years. From there, all sorts of opportunities opened up for the young Torres, as he got to perform with a luminous list of major artists like Chick Corea, Michael Brecker, Richard Bona, Claudio Roditi, and even international Latin pop stars like Marc Anthony and fellow Columbian Shakira.
With this kind of experience, combined with Torres' abilities as a composer, it was only a matter of time before Torres would record as a leader, which he finally did in 2006, and Skin Tones was the result. With the issuance of Yaound, however, Torres continues to show continual growth as a musician even as he reaches his mid-thirties. That growth came in large part rom a trip Torres took a few years ago to the central African country of Cameroon, where he witnessed firsthand the roots of music that formed some of the building blacks to Latin music. The album is titled after a song he wrote shortly after that trip, which in turn is named after that country's capital city.
But Torres didn't make a straight African record; instead he exploited the experience by strengthening the African strain in his own melange of jazz, Columbian, salsa, Cuban, Latin jazz and fusion. It makes Yaound sound very modern and deeply rooted at once. To make such a richly diverse record, Torres knew he needed the help of richly diverse players. That's why on various tracks are tactical appearances by the likes of Joel Frahm (tenor and soprano saxophones), Anat Cohen (clarinet), Michael Rodriguez (trumpet, flugelhorn), and Manuel Valera (piano, Fender Rhodes, Nord keyboard). John Benitez provides bass, both electric and acoustic, and Ernesto Simpson supplies the drums. But aside from solo conga interludes, Torres changes up the band configuration as each song dictates, making for a varied program of tunes within the overall theme of Torres' brand of modern Latin jazz.
Thus, selections like Un Atardercer en Cartagena de Indias", Yaound" and Cosita Rica - The Richness Of The Small Things" might sound like Latin-flavored contemporary fusion jazz, albeit with better percussion and more interesting chord changes. Bambuco (To Samta Fe de Bogot)" temporarily takes the tempo down to a light, Caribbean breeze; Velera's willowy piano is a highlight, here. La Nina en el Agua - The Girl In The Water (To My Love Larita)" is performed entirely by Torres on kalimba, an African thumb piano.
Ronca el Canalete," the only track that's not a Torres original, is a traditional Columbian folk song from the Pacific coast region, featuring Sofia Rei Koutsovitis on vocals accompanied only by Torres' congas. It's a beautifully but simply rendered song that hinges on the power of Koutsovitis's lilting voice, much as Lucia Pulido does with the colorful and traditional music of Columbia."Lincoln Tunnel" blends the energy of hot Latin music with the immediacy of New York; Michael Rodriguez' trumpet recalls the fiery brass sounds of Torres' old employer Sandoval.
Samuel Torres wanted to correct what he perceives are misguided impressions about percussion players. Say Torres, people would laugh and say, 'There are musicians and then there are conga players.' One of the things I wanted to do in my career was to help change that incorrect impression, I believe that composition is one way to do that." I think anyone who would listen to Yaound would have to agree he's done a great job at combating that stereotype.
Now, if he can only shorten the titles of his compositions...;-)
Here is a live performance of the title song, with Benitez on bass and Simpson on drums: