This recording, Mambo Influenciado is about what influences and inspires me. Inside every musician is the unique cumulative experience of what we have heard, where we heard it, who played it, and how it makes us feel. We listen, we learn, and we assimilate. At times, we come by things indirectly or even mysteriously, but often our influences are more obvious. My teachers in Cuba inspired me in profound ways, and I honor them by passionately studying and playing what they shared. By blending their influence with a lifetime of playing and listening to jazz, I aspire to spread their inspiration beyond me. I also learned a tremendous amount from the musicians on this recording. They have shown a hugely generous spirit in welcoming my ideas and inspiring new creative interpretations. Our music is a broad landscape of creativity and imagination that comes from our past, yet is also very much of the moment. Enjoy!' Craig Russo, 2010 Song Notes 1) "Ugetsu" has always been a favorite, especially the version Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers recorded live at Birdland in 1963. Cedar Walton's comping in the B section of that recording implies clave to me, so that's the origin of our Latin jazz version. Our interpretation has some reworking of the melody, and an original introduction by saxophonist, Chip McNeill. 2) Bobby Hutcherson's composition "Highway One" has been in my head for years, every since seeing Bobby play in the 1970's in the San Francisco Bay Area. Hearing Bobby play it at Dizzy's Coca Cola Club in New York City a couple of years ago inspired our version. There are outstanding, adventuresome solos by Chip Stephens (piano) and Chip McNeill (tenor saxophone). 3) I first heard "Melodious Funk" by Meredith D'Ambrosio on vocalist Giacomo Gates' recording. Although our version is instrumental, the melody and changes lend themselves nicely to a jazz/cha-cha-cha adaptation. 4) Special thanks to pianist John "Chip" Stephens for bringing the standard "A Time for Love" to the session. Chip's poignant piano introduction is followed by a luxurious Latin ballad, mostly based on bossa nova, with danzón on the bridge. 5 & 6) "The Island" and "Invitation" both feature guest vocalist, Nancy Kelly. I have admired Nancy's singing for years, as has anyone who knows who's who in jazz vocals. The challenge was to find tunes that would bridge Nancy's style with the detailed Latin grooves that our group plays. "The Island" is a slow and sensual 6/8, with percussion based on the Cuban folkloric rhythm Abakuá. "Invitation" uses medium tempo adaptation of the Cuban folkloric rhythm guaguancó, with a little straight-ahead swing thrown in. Special thanks to Joan Hickey on piano, for her amazing adaptability and sensitivity on both of these tunes. 7) "Let Me Count the Ways" by Victor Feldman was contributed and arranged by John "Chip" Stephens. I really liked Chip's idea of doing a tune that is not that well known and also doing it uniquely. We play a relaxed cha-cha-cha and montuno groove with interludes of light Calypso mixed with Puerto Rican bomba. 8) "Mambo Influenciado," best known as a Latin jazz standard by Chucho Valdes, speaks for itself. Influenced by mambo, cha-cha-cha, guaguancó, and Afro-Cuban 6/8, is what this group is all about! As always, we make the tune our own with, among other things, a re-interpreted introduction by John "Chip" Stephens and Chip McNeill. 9) "Seven Steps to Heaven" is a great example of blending the jazz and Latin traditions. The introduction is a reworking of the now classic vamp from "Gandinga, Mondongo y Sandunga" by piano innovator Frankie Emilio Flynn. This syncopation is juxtaposed with a slightly more syncopated version of the melody of "Seven Steps to Heaven". Special credit to Jeff Magby for his fearless drum solo at the end of the tune. 10) "La Rumba de Pogo" is a short, percussion-only rumba that I created at Pogo Studio with the help of engineer and co-producer, Mark Rubel. It's meant partly as segue to the next tune on the CD, but it's mostly just for fun. 11) "Force of Mind" is the kind of epic composition, I have learned to expect from Chip McNeill. Chip has amazing creative energy that comes through in his playing, composing, arranging. This tune brings out the best in the group, with strong solos over a rich and challenging composition. 12) Quips and quotes from Chip McNeill always make for fun sessions and gigs. "Chip's Last Word" is one of my favorites.
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