One of the most hotly debated questions in Latin Jazz is " How do you combine the On The Beat clave feel with the Behind the Beat phrasing of traditional Jazz?" Rey Vega's "Pa'lante" is a primer on how it is done, showing that the two traditions have birthed an new art form with its own parameters. Trumpeter Ray Vega is of Puerto Rican ancestry and hails from the South Bronx and says Pa'lante refers to a phrase used in his Barrio meaning "to keep going in spite of the obstacles and challenges of life". He has a strong Salsa background having worked with such luminaries as Celia Cruz and Tito Nieves but he has an equally strong Jazz background having also worked with Tito Puente and Ray Barretto.
Vega credits his initial jolt of Jazz to a TV performance by Altoist Jackie McClean and you can hear the McClean influence in his choice of fellow New Yorker, altoist Bobby Porcelli, who started out with Machito and spent 30 years with Tito Puente. Porcelli has that rough edged sound- un poco desafinado- that seems uncomfortable with European Tempered tuning and that echoes the bray of African Elephants and the growl of lions. Igor Atalia puts in a strong performance on Piano. Bassist Boris Kozlov is a veteran of the New York scene who has worked with Bobby Sanabria and The Mingus Big Band and who demonstrates here his big, classic Sound. Drummer and Timbalero Willie Martiniz is crisp and concise and perfectly sets off Wilson "Chembo" Corniel on Congas. Chembo also started his career as a salsero, taken under the wing of Tommy Lopez Sr. who shepherded him to some late night, members only Rumba's in Harlem where the real deal was going down and where Chembo received the African Percussion tradition by direct Oral transmission. He began playing Jazz five years ago wanting to broaden his horizons and work in less restrictive structures but feels strongly rooted in the Clave foundation that allows him to hold the bottom firm in the open air of Jazz. Pa'Lante includes covers of Duke Jordan's "Flight to Jordan", Charlie Parker's " Yardbird Suite" , Wayne Shorter's "El Gaucho" and John Coltrane's " A Love Supreme".
Ray Vega originals include "Melani's Dream" written by Vega for his daughter, "Miles Away" written for Miles Davis and which features Vega on muted trumpet . There is also an traditional Decarga which pays tribute to Vega's Salsa heros and influences and an up-tempo number called "Prayer of Jabez" crediting inspiration to a Biblical Passage in Chronicles in which Jabaz asks God to bless him and keep him from evil. Vega's home page is headed by a Biblical passage "Praise Him with the sounding of the Trumpet...."Psalm 150:3, speaking to the spiritual content of his music in which the African side is heard in "Primera Oracion" , an Afro-Cuban prayer offered by Chembo. Porcelli has contributed a strong original with "K.D." which sounds a lot like a masterful reworking of "Alone Together" sharing the same form and bridge.
Pa'lante is a joyous gift from a group of musicians with a strong rapport and plays well at 2 am bringing up images of New York Skylines. Master musician Ray Vega has made another cornerstone contribution to the development of the Art of Latin Jazz.