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Chris Washburne and the SYOTOS Band – Low Ridin’ [TrackList follows] – Zoho

Chris Washburne and the SYOTOS Band – Low Ridin’ [TrackList follows] – Zoho ZM 201504, 46:28 [4/14/15] (Distr. by Allegro) ****:

(Chris Washburne – trombone, tuba, producer; John Walsh – trumpet, Flugelhorn; Ole Mathisen – saxophone; Yeissonn Villamar – piano, keyboards; Leo Traversa – bass; Vince Cherico – drums, percussion; Oreste Abrantes, Roberto Quintero, Isa Washburne – percussion; August Washburne – electric guitar)

Trombonist Chris Washburne (who also plays tuba on this date) returns to his roots on the sixth release with his SYOTOS [“See You On The Other Side”] Band, the Latin-ized Low Ridin’ (which marks his debut on the Zoho label). No, this isn’t Washburne’s jazz roots, it’s the rock and pop music he heard growing up: the classic rock, the British pop, the West and East coast songs which permeated the late ‘60s and 1970s. This is music with solid groove, the soundtrack of youth given a fresh, Latin jazz hue. In fact, Washburne coined a new term for his material: Acid Mambo. Think Led Zeppelin, Joe Cocker, the Doors and Lou Reed mixed with Cal Tjader or Mongo Santamaria. That’s the gist of this 46-minute, 11-track outing.

Washburne may not be as famous as he could be, but he’s got extensive credits as a leader, session player and collaborator on numerous other projects, including Randy Klein/Oleg Kireyev/Chris Washburne and NYNDK. And certainly he and his SYOTOS Band are a tight outfit: they’ve been doing this for nearly a quarter century. This large ensemble also includes John Walsh (trumpet, Flugelhorn); Ole Mathisen (saxophone); keyboardist Yeissonn Villamar; bassist Leo Traversa; drummer Vince Cherico; August Washburne on electric guitar; and three percussionists. Together, these musicians provide plenty of nuanced detail and upfront energy.

The proceedings kick off with surety and aliveness on Dave Mason’s “Feelin’ Alright,” which should be familiar to either Traffic or Joe Cocker fans. Washburne takes the soulful arrangement and superimposes a mambo beat on top. Walsh soars to his trumpet’s upper register; Villamar slips in some funky electric piano during a mid-tempo break; and the rhythm section supplies a jubilant pace. War’s huge 1975 hit, “Low Ridin’,” fits in perfectly with the Acid Mambo template. The cha-cha line is highlighted by Washburne’s trombone, Villamar’s rollicking acoustic piano, and of course lots of and lots of percussion, which accents War’s original arrangement. That cha-cha underpinning also is the base for a funky, odd-metered variation on Jimi Hendrix’s “Manic Depression.” It’s interesting to hear how Washburne finesses the guitar-centric piece and instead focuses on horns and percussion, while the group improvises on an Afro-Cuban 6/8 tempo.

Washburne seems to have an affinity for Neil Young. First he restructures Young’s 1971 “Ohio,” which Young wrote when he was part of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. Young’s guitar licks are transmogrified into plucky and bright horn embellishments, while the Latin jazz tinting furnishes this track a different and winning effectiveness. Another Young piece delivered via Washburne’s Latin jazz treatment is “Sugar Mountain,” which Young composed in the late ‘60s but did not issue until 1977, on the three-record compilation Decade. Young’s rendering was a plaintive song about coming of age; but Washburne flips it into a buoyant burner with polytonal montunos, evolving polymetric grooves, microtonal elements and an exuberant mindset. It’s one of the album’s best arrangements, but is surpassed by another one which successfully combines Led Zeppelin with Duke Ellington. That would be “Stairway to Heaven/Heaven,” which melds the 1971 Led Zep hard rocker with Ellington’s 1968 sacred music hymn, “Heaven.” This is an audacious move by Washburne, but one that miraculously works, by pairing Ellington’s churchly melody beneath Led Zeppelin’s riff-heavy, chord progressions. Washburne appears to like Led Zeppelin, since he does some intriguing re-arranging with the band’s “Kashmir.” That lengthy, 1975 piece notably morphed hard rock with Moroccan folk music. Washburne uses the main theme as a jumping off point for some heated sprees which fuse North African rhythms, Latin jazz intonations, and a grooving horn section, plus multiple, unconventional meters.

Chris Washburne and the SYOTOS Band make their way through other cuts which should be recognizable to anyone acquainted with classic rock, including the Doors’ “Break on Through (to the Other Side)” (where the bossa nova pulse has a nova/son montuno rhythmic glaze); and Lou Reed’s “Walk on the Wild Side” (which utilizes Reed’s plagal cadence, but played to the rhythm of a lilting guaguanćo). Low Ridin’ concludes with Mathisen’s “Syotomon,” a tribute to an artist currently incarcerated in prison. The tune is a nod to the band’s commitment to working with inmates, trying to inspire them to transform themselves. The track’s title character, Syotomon, is a superhero with musical instruments as appendages. He battles social ills in urban areas by transmuting inner city troubles into heartening music. A close listen to this multi-layered arrangement definitely does impart a sense of heroism, conflict turned into nonviolence, and life-affirming change.

TrackList: Feelin’ Alright; Low Rider; Get Up, Stand Up; Stairway to Heaven/Heaven; Manic Depression; Ohio; Walk on the Wild Side; Break on Through (to the Other Side); Kashmir; Sugar Mountain; Syotomon.

—Doug Simpson

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