Percussionist extraordinaire Samuel Torres has made his debut recording as a leader for the One Soul Records label.
Skin Tones showcases the brilliant playing and beautifully crafted compositions of the Colombia-born musician. It emphasizes not only the rhythmic components of Latin jazz but also Torres’ love of song and the melodic tone qualities of the conga and other percussion instruments. The album introduces singer Julia Dollison and highlights the performances of a group of musicians handpicked by the leader including Hector Martignon on piano, John Benitez on electric bass, Ernesto Simpson on drums, Michael Rodriguez on trumpet and flugelhorn, Mike Campagna on tenor saxophone, Ralph Irizarry on timbales, Edmar Castaneda on harp, Wolfgang Barros on Colombian maracon - Skin Tones can be seen as contemporary jazz album with rich Latin colors and also as a road map to that place where musics of several worlds meet and influence each other. The album also reflects Torres’ family, background and life thus far.
Samuel Torres was born in Bogota, Colombia to a family with musical roots. His maternal grandfather was a trombonist in Ecuador who heard jazz in Panama and had records for his family to hear. His grandmother was a self-taught guitarist and singer who taught music to her four brothers despite the fact that she’s never had a lesson. She also played and sang with local bands.
Samuel first appreciated the music of his two uncles Juan and Eddie Martinez when he was twelve years old. (He had been actually hearing this music since he was a small child.) And on his grandmother’s records he was taken with the sound of the percussion of Tito Puente and Machito. "I went to sleep with this music and the sounds floated in my head all night long." It was a record by Ray Barretto that truly introduced young Samuel to the sound of the conga drums. "If we could have afforded this drum then in Colombia then, I would have had one. But they were very expensive it was cheaper to buy a car."
Amazingly enough at the time, Samuel’s mother, once she saw her son’s fascination with rhythm, took him to local clubs to listen and dance to the salsa bands. During that time he was attending a strict conservative school but his mind was on music. Samuel convinced his mother that he wanted a career as a musician. He was enrolled in a music program at the Universidad Javeriana despite the fact that he was still in high school. "On a typical day," says Samuel, "I would get up early to go to school, go to the university class after my high school day, come home in the evening and then go out to the local clubs, often staying out until 3 or 4 in the morning. I guess it sounds crazy, but I loved it."
In the early 1990s, as Samuel’s musical education continued as did his experience. He came to play with local bands and he also was formally enrolled at the college studying classical composition, percussion, harmony, history and more. By this time he had his own conga drums. From a Cuban musician Ernesto Simpson - Samuel expanded his knowledge of Cuban music. Says Torres, " I was learning so much - on the job certainly, but also about form, space, silence and shape in the classroom." When Simpson went to America to play with Arturo Sandoval, Samuel followed soon thereafter. He met and got to work with the Cuban trumpeter, touring the United States for 5 years. After much experience, (including performances with artists as Chick Corea, Tito Puente, The Boston Pops, National Symphony, Juanes, Shakira, Michael Brecker, Poncho Sanchez, Dave Valentin and Los Angeles Philarmonic), he moved to New York and got to know and perform with other jazz musicians such as Don Byron, Jeff "Tain" Watts, Paquito d"Rivera, Dave Samuels and Eric Reed. In this context, he met the celebrated African performer Richard Bona with whom hes touring around the globe.
In 2000 Torres won second place at the Thelonious Monk International Jazz Competition. He worked on a demo with acclaimed singer Julia Dollison in 2003 and was inspired to begin to think of doing his own first recording. "I have many influences" says Torres "from the masters of Latin music to Herbie Hancock and Miles Davis from contemporary classical music to flamenco and Pat Metheny. And all of this I hope is reflected in the colors shapes and melodies in Skin Tones."'