Review by Scott Yanow
Wonderful World is the excellent debut recording by Matt Dwonszyk, featuring not only his bass playing and leadership of a top-notch modern mainstream jazz group but nine of his originals.For this project, the bassist gathered together a group of musicians who he has known for up to ten years. Their familiarity with each other’s playing shows in the way that they blend together, communicate spontaneously, and in their formation of an attractive group sound. Some of the selections focus on the rhythm section (which includes guitarist Andrew Renfroe, pianist Taber Gable, drummer Jonathan Barber, and occasionally percussionists Jorge Fuentes and Ed Fast) while others feature three horns (trumpeter Joshua Bruneau, trombonist Steve Davis and tenor-saxophonist Jovan Alexandre). There are also three fine vocals from Shenel Johns. Dwonszyk wrote all of the songs but Gable’s “Dr. Dwonz,” the traditional hymn “My Soul,” and “What A Wonderful World.”
The set begins with “Pecan’s Delight”, the music has the feel of Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers due to the voicings of the three horns, Bruneau hinting at Freddie Hubbard, and the song being a solidly swinging hard bop number. The piece was named after Dwonszyk’s mother’s legendary pecan pie. The piece pays tribute to her consistent support of his musical career.
Each selection has its memorable moments. “Weak Incentive” is notable for including some of pianist Gable’s finest playing of the set. “A Year And A Day” (a tribute to the bassist’s late father that was written a year after his passing) is a thoughtful original ballad that features Renfroe’s laidback guitar. “Dr. Dwonz” has a particularly infectious theme, gives the rhythm section an opportunity to cook, and includes a rewarding solo from the leader. Dwonszyk plays a catchy bass pattern throughout much of “The Academy” which has a simple and effective melody along with excellent spots for guitarist Renfroe and the muscular tenor of Alexandre. The original was written for the Greater Hartford Academy of the Arts where the bassist was fully exposed to jazz.“Theodicy” is a philosophical term which asks “If there is an almighty God, why do bad things happen?” A medium-tempo jazz waltz, “Theodicy (Give And Take)” features a fine solo by Davis and a stirring tradeoff between Alexandre and Bruneau.
Of all of the originals, “Prospect Park” has the best chance to catch on. Named after a park in Brooklyn that the bassist often frequents and considers a quiet refuge from the struggles of life, it has a memorable melody swung at a slow-medium tempo and an excellent vocal by Shenel Johns. “Cuban Breeze” features speedy patterns from the bassist, a Latin tinge, excellent contributions by the percussionists, and hot trumpet and trombone solos. “Irene,” written in memory of a major storm, reflects on the strength and power of nature; it showcases the rhythm section. The traditional hymn “My Soul,” a piece that expresses the determination to continue on even when life is hard, is a showcase for Shenel Johns. The set concludes with a modernized and surprisingly medium-tempo version of “What A Wonderful World” which emphasizes the fact that, despite all of its difficulties, the world with its music is still a wonderful place to be. Wonderful World is a strong start to Matt Dwonszyk’s solo career. I look forward to his future projects.
-Scott Yanow, jazz journalist/historian and author of 11 books including The Great Jazz Guitarists and Jazz On Record 1917-76
Picture by Jason Goodman
by Jeff Mitchell (TRR Collective)
Pictue by Jason Goodman
Ray Vega’s illustrious career as a trumpeter and multi-disciplined musician has led him far and wide both over the physical landscape of the world as well as the musical landscape of jazz and Latin jazz ensembles.
His work spans numerous acts in contemporary and Latin jazz, with collaborative recordings and/or performances alongside the likes of Celia Cruz, Mario Bauza, Mel Torme, the “Mingus Big Band,” Paul Simon and many others.
With such a long and successful career under his belt, it’s clear that current projects of his such as the “NY Latin Jazz All Stars,” the “Ray Vega Quartet” and the “Ray Vega Latin Jazz Ensemble” are important to keep an eye on. However, it’s his ability to authentically play such diverse and distinctive subgenres as contemporary jazz and Latin jazz that seems to deeply define his own unique sound.
Picture by Jason Goodman
A clue as to how exactly he traverses different styles of jazz lies in his youthful exposure to the music.
“My first intro to the music was as a young person listening to Jazz on late night radio in the 1960’s. There were two R&B shows which would end their broadcasts every night with Jazz. One would end with ‘Flamingo’ by Jimmy Smith featuring Lee Morgan. The other would end its show with ‘Misty’ by Groove Holmes. These tunes are soulful and swing real hard.”
Such fond memories reveal the depth with which the language of jazz has embedded itself in Ray’s being.
“I remember seeing Jackie McLean on a Sunday morning show called ‘Like It Is’ on WABC TV. He played a tribute to Charlie Parker… I was around 12 years old… The bug had bitten me.”
Ray has come to understand what he suggests is most important for any jazz musician in Latin jazz to consider. Primarily, a keen respect for the subgenre’s roots and an interest in connecting genuinely with listeners.
“I think it’s essential that we did not disconnect ourselves from the rhythmic elements of West African music. The groove needs to move people. The music shouldn’t be so complicated that it lacks accessibility. We need to make intelligent music which connects to people.”
Vega also explains the importance of connecting both the “Latin” and the “jazz” in Latin jazz without catering too much to either side.
“Latin jazz is a double edged sword… Everyone wants to develop the Latin side of things… All while ignoring the jazz side. We need to be dealing with harmony… We need to be dealing with Pops, Duke, Bird, Diz, Monk, Bud Powell, Trane, Mccoy, Woody Shaw, Eric Dolphy, Mingus… etc, etc. The blues is the blues is the blues.”
We asked Ray what artists he’d most enjoyed working with over the years, to which he responded with a favorite from his younger days as a musician.
“As a young player, I really enjoyed working with Ray Barretto and his band, ‘New World Spirit’ the most. He demanded that we push ourselves to stay creative.”
Such an influence earlier in Ray’s career likely lit the flame of his own admirable creativity – setting him apart as a jazz trumpeter with a penchant for pushing the creative envelope. Of course, Ray Barretto’s band isn’t alone at the top of Vega’s list. His current bandmates and a certain influential saxophonist have all made a deep impression on him as well.
“One of my favorite sidemen is the legendary saxophonist Bob Porcelli. My time sharing the stage/recording studios with him will always rank high for me. Currently, I really enjoy working with my ‘NY Latin Jazz All Stars’ as well as my 2 Vermont-based groups[…] They’re enthusiastic to play.”
picture – Francisco Molina Reyes II
In as open an arena as jazz, it would seem natural for most prominent musicians to eschew the rigors of formal training in an effort to further innovate and develop their unique sounds; however, as is often the case, the best in the business tend to have undergone extensive studying to fully form their own styles. Such is the case for Ray, whose scholarly achievements and teachers in music are just as astounding as his body of work.
Vega learned proper technique on trumpet from such excellent teachers as Mike Lawrence and Jerry Gonzalez, among others. However, he also studied Afro-Caribbean percussion with Louis Bauzo, which gave him a clearer understanding of the rhythmic underpinnings that so define Latin jazz.
“As a trumpeter, I realized early on that it’s essential to study with a teacher who will guide the student through the standard methods in order to develop their sound and technique… Overall prowess on the horn. Why? Because a trumpet played poorly is not a pleasant thing to listen to.”
Picture by Jazson Goodman Cover design by Edward LaRose
Ray has fused the scholarly with the innovative throughout his career, not only performing with a long list of greats and leading his own bands, but also teaching his art to others through numerous master classes and excelling in his own musical studies. Such rigorous dedication to thoroughly understanding his craft goes a long way towards making him the musician he is.
In addition to attentively-learned technical proficiency, Vega’s music comes backed by an inspiring impetus – a wealth of optimistic emotion.
Expression rests at the heart of all musical endeavors, and for Ray, happiness is at the core of his compositions. He mentioned joy and hope as primary in his music.
“I hope that my music will provoke positive thoughts… I hope that my music inspires the listener to strive to raise their level of consciousness.” Visit https://trrstore.bandcamp.com/album/chapter-two to hear “Chapter Two”
by Robert Gluck
Mitch Frohman’s musical career began with humble aspirations, but the road he travels has taken him far.
The seasoned Latin jazz saxophonist and flautist has, throughout his career, amassed a staggering body of accolades and achievements, from playing in Tito Puente’s Orchestra to performing in Mongo Santamaría’s band and beyond. His work has appeared on numerous albums, recordings and even on television (he’s credited as sax soloist of “Sex & the City’s” iconic theme song).
His musical evolution far from over, he is now on track for breakout popularity as a solo musician alongside the Curtis brothers and drummer, Joel Mateo. His first album with this quartet, titled “From Daddy with Love,” sets the tone for a new wave of Latin jazz while holding true to authentic fundamentals of the genre.
Incredible as it is, such a musical career was not always his plan. He’d begun his musical journey with an accordion in his youth – going onto complete formal training at Miami University for a Bachelor of Music Education.
“I began as a little kid with the accordion as my first instrument, then switched to saxophone a few years later in Junior High School. Quit music in High School and took up music again in college.”
It wasn’t until he returned to New York that he began to delve into the world of Latin jazz music in earnest. It was the Catskill mountains that gave him his start, and the Pines resort, one of the largest in the Borscht Belt area at the time (mid-1970’s), provided him the initial inspiration to get into Latin jazz. Although he never worked there, the Pines resort served as his first opportunity to sit in with Joe Cuba’s famous sextet, an opportunity he enjoyed repeatedly throughout the summer he spent in the area.
This got him thinking about Latin bands and asking about Latin jazz bands when he returned home to the Bronx. Someone mentioned Tito Puente’s band, so he found out where they were playing and introduced himself to the band manager.
They let him hang out and sit in on gigs, then began calling him to sub when someone couldn’t make it. Once another sax player left, they gave him the job.
“It wasn’t planned because I was just trying to play with anybody, but that was the first “name band” that gave me an opportunity.”
Once he joined, he played with them every single night.
“I kind of made the breaks myself. You know, put in the work.”
Mitch “made the breaks” by staying flexible, all while gaining traction in the Latin jazz community. In music, more often than not, you take what falls in place – changing course as your career develops.
“I think that’s true of life in general. I think it’s more rare than common that you know what you want to be and then that path just stays straight from when you’re a young man.”
Despite the bans, tango spread and its variations became sub-genres. Today tango is a worldwide phenomenon.
Indeed, early on, his interest in sports rivaled his interest in music, though music ultimately won out.
“For me, it was sports and music. I was a good athlete, but not good enough to be a professional athlete… One thing that sports teach you is how to get along with others and that’s very helpful in being in a band.”
Mitch went on to join yet another legendary Latin jazz band while still playing with Tito Puente. This time, with his reputation preceding him, he was given a position in Mongo Santamaría’s band after a successful audition in 1988.
A series of career highlights ensued from then on – leading him all over the world and affording him many opportunities to play with greats in Latin jazz and other genres. Mitch went on to record with Mongo Santamaría, Celia Cruz, Eddie Palmieri, the Mambo Legends Orchestra, the Bronx Horns and even Aventura, among many others.
Such a broad body of influences and experiences in the music industry have imbued Mitch’s own original compositions with a special feel all their own. Tracks from his new album such as “Accents Con Ritmo” and “Mambo Sin Fronteras” clearly articulate his musical message – an expansion of the Latin jazz tradition into new territory and a new age. Tracks like “Mongo’s Groove” emphasize the importance of his experience with legendary bands such as Mongo’s and the style with which his own music has been imbued.
“‘Mongo’s Groove’ is a tune that I wrote that had that Mongo Santamaria band feel, so I named it that. Mongo had his style and Tito had his style… but Mongo was a little more… jazzy. [There were] Little different grooves that the bands had. Mongo, a little more funk and a different type of Afro-Cuban soul.”
Frohman’s inspirations stem not only from his fellow musicians, but his experiences growing up in the Bronx.
“That’s my life. Where you grow up, it sets your mind, your attitude, your friends, how you approach things. If I would be a lawyer or a doctor or a shoe salesman, I would still be from the Bronx and I would still be the same person.”
His upbringing in the Bronx gave him an early understanding of diversity in music – a lesson that may have influenced his later decision to step into the world of Latin jazz to some degree.
“Growing up in the Bronx, I came across so many different cultures, so I was familiar with Latin music just by virtue of being in an ethnically diverse area of NY. So, I didn’t come into this music blind.”
As last year’s recipient of a prestigious Chico O’ Farrell lifetime achievement award in Latin Jazz, his new efforts, coupled with those of TRR, are not likely to go unnoticed. Mitch’s music has already begun to spread and he’s done guest tours overseas, with Asia representing a major market he’s had recent success in. He anticipates returning there soon.
“With this new project, with the Curtis Brothers and Truth Revolution, it’s helped me get out as a solo artist. These guys, Zaccai, Luques and my drummer, Joel Mateo, are really the future of this music. They’re wonderful human beings and fantastic musicians… They really make me feel younger when I play with them. They’re a joy to work with.”
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