A native of the South Bronx, Ray Vega is a veteran of salsa and Latin jazz bands of Tito Puente, Ray Barretto, Celia Cruz and Mongo Santamaria, among others. A multi-talented trumpeter, percussionist, composer and arranger, he presents Latin jazz from a refreshingly original and contemporary perspective, and has established himself as one of the innovators of the new generation of Latin jazz players with his fiery brand of real New York Latin jazz - a fusion of jazz repertoire and Latin rhythms.
For Squeeze, Squeeze
, Vega called upon his long-formed working band composed of Bobby Porcelli, Igor Atalita, Gregg August, Wilson "Chembo" Corniel and Adam Weber. The band has been together for eight years, a rarity in today’s music world, and performs weekly in New York City, honing their chops and their intuitive feel for each other.
The new CD - named for what Vega’s son Aaron says to his day at cross lights: "Squeeze, squeeze, Dad!" - begins with Black Nile
, a Wayne Shorter tune that allows the band to groove immediately. Vega shines on a burning solo.Smile, You’re in Beirut
is one of four original tunes on the disc. It features a funky bass line with dramatic horn overplay.
Vega came about the title during a visit to the Lebanese city during the summer of 2002. He was working with the staff of the American Embassy for a series of concerts throughout Lebanon.
"One day, while sitting in a cab with my friend Walid, I realized that we were in a traffic jam of a magnitude that I’d never experienced," Vega says in the liner notes. "We were not moving .... all the while our cab driver kept reciting scriptures from the Bible, out loud in Arabic.
"He seemed to be at a very peaceful place, regardless of the traffic madness that we were sitting in. Suddenly, the cab driver started to drive against oncoming traffic in order to get out of the mess. The other motorists were screaming at him and honking their horns when, without warning, our cabbie screamed out of his window in perfect English: ‘Smile, you’re in Beirut.’"
The song itself is a jaunty tribute to that moment in foreign relations.
The spiritual Contemplation
is the other composition borrowed from a legend - this time McCoy Tyner. It features a beautiful piano solo by Igor Atalita and a brilliant trumpet solo to close.
Alto saxophonist Porcelli offers his swinging tune, Ne Quitez Pas
. The funk-laden title track follows before Porcelli comes back with Both
, a hot tune built on Cole Porter’s Night and Day
Vega then plays his friend Marty Sheller’s original, Salazar
, an ode to his friendship and influence - and a wonderful ode it is.
The evocative Sky
is another Vega tune. It spotlights the tight and light tone Vega achieves with apparent ease.Crescent Mood
, by bassist Gregg August, is a charming, though somewhat melancholy, tune. It features some dramatic, soft horn play by Vega and Porcelli. August adds his deft fingering on the acoustic bass.
The album ends with Vegas’s delightful La Tercera
, a potential classic.While Vega claims to be intimidated by the tradition of great jazz composition, Squeeze, Squeeze
finds him writing more and departing a bit from his rearrangement of jazz standards into a Latin framework. With his fourth CD as a leader, Vega continues to evolve toward fuller, musical self-expression.