Monday, April 13, 2015

Victor Feldman - Latinsville

© -Steven Cerra. Copyright protected; all rights reserved.

“Judging by the number of sessions it took to complete, the original Latinsville! album seems to have been a rather difficult project. Now we get a better sense of the album's gestation with the inclusion of five tracks recorded at a pair of previously unknown sessions. A quintet gathered at Contemporary's studios over two days in December 1958, to begin work on Feldman's second album for the label. Producer Les Koenig got as far as assembling an album side before a decision was evidently made to abandon the material and start over with an explicitly Latin feeling. A search of our vaults for bonus material for this reissue yielded nothing usable from the 1959 sessions, but it did uncover that assembled reel, along with the December session tapes. The tape boxes themselves divulged dates, song titles and engineering credits. Contemporary's original ledger books supplied the final part of the puzzle by revealing the names of the musicians who were paid for the dates.”
—STUART KREMSKY, tape vault archivist

Although Latin rhythms are fairly common in Jazz today, they were still finding their place in the music in the 1950s.

The pace of acceptance was certainly accelerated by the big bands of Tito Rodriguez, Tito Puente, Prez Prado, Xavier Cugat and Machito and the Mambo dance craze that they help to initiate in New York and throughout the countryin the 1940s and 1950.

These burgeoning Latin rhythms were reflected in the Jazz big bands led by Dizzy Gillespie, Stan Kenton and Shorty Rogers, the quintets of Cal Tjader and George Shearing, respectively, and in thematic recordings such as the Miles Davis - Gil Evans collaboration on Sketches of Spain.

Jelly Roll Morton claimed that the “Spanish tinge” has been an influential undercurrent in Jazz since its inception.

And while that may have been true melodically, it took a while before Jazz was actually set to Latin rhythm sections with an emphasis on the clave beat.

Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers, Horace Silver’s Quintet, The Jazztet and other East Coast based groups and composers such as Hank Mobely, J.J. Johnson and Sonny Clark all had tunes that they played with a Latin Jazz “feel,” but few Jazz groups soloed over Latin rhythm sections which emphasized the clave beat, preferring instead to switch to the more metronomic 4/4 time after the Latin-inflected theme was stated.

Perhaps because all of the the instruments that he played were percussive - drums, vibes and piano - the late Victor Feldman was always interested in playing in  authentic Latin Jazz modes which are generally categorized as mambo, rumba, samba, and tango and the more hybrid forms of these rhythms generally grouped as Afro-Cuban, Salsa and Latin Jazz Fusion. He even dabbled with some of the more specialized Latin Jazz rhythms such as the Venezuelan Joropo with its emphasis on 6/4 time.

Latinsville[Contemporary CCD-9005-2], an album done much earlier in his career [1958-59], was Victor’s first, major recorded statement of his affinity for various Latin jazz styles. The music on it serves as an excellent example of Victor’s lifelong fascination with different rhythms and his uncanny ability to place them successfully in a Jazz context.

Another influence that helped spawn the original 1958-59 recording project was the great admiration that Victor had for Cal Tjader, both as a vibist and as a fellow drummer, and the Latin Jazz music Cal was then performing with his quintet.

Pianist Vince Guaraldi was a member of Cal’s group at that time and he and Victor were great friends from their stint together on the Woody Herman band [Vince even replaced Victor with the Lighthouse All-Stars for a time before returning to his native San Francisco in 1960]. Vince and Victor had many conversations about Latin Jazz, often demonstrating certain figures or phrases while playing “montuno” 5-note rhythmic patterns using claves [two small wooden rods about 8 inches long and 1 inch in diameter; they are typically made of rosewood, ebony or genadillo].

Victor was always experimenting with melodies that were not originally written as Latin Jazz tunes by playing them over various Latin beats. In a sense, this tendency became a unifying theme for all of the music on Latinsville.

In the following insert notes that he wrote for Latinsville [Contemporary CCD-9005-2], Leonard Feather, the noted Jazz author and critic comments about the preparations that went into the making of the recording.

“A twofold process of cross-pollination led to the creation of the music for this album. Victor Feldman, a Londoner born in 1934, grew up during a period when virtually no live American jazz was to be heard in his country; his entire knowledge of this art form, during his childhood far more exclusively a U.S. product than today, was acquired through the study of records and association with older British jazzmen who had gained their knowledge in a similar manner. But soon after he had settled in Los Angeles, Feldman became crucially aware of the Latin American and Afro-Cuban rhythms that were considered at one time to be as alien to jazz as jazz itself had been to the British. That he absorbed the Latin idiom as swiftly and intelligently as he had acquired the sensibility for jazz is made clear in this, his first all-Latin session.

"Of course, there was just a little of this kind of music around London when I was a kid," says Feldman. "When I was 15 I learned some African rhythms on a conga drum; my teacher was a drummer from Ghana, which was then called the Gold Coast.

"When I came to California, I was very much impressed by Machito when I heard his band. He was singing riffs to the trumpet section or the reeds, more or less making up arrangements right on the bandstand, and this had some of the spontaneous spirit of jazz. And I heard Tito Puente and found his group very
exciting from the rhythmic standpoint."

Victor recalls the Gillespie orchestra of the late 1940s as a significant factor in his growing awareness of the new trend. "While I was in England I heard some records of the big band Dizzy had at that time — the first band, to my knowledge, that ever united modern jazz improvising and writing with Afro-Cuban rhythms. I suppose everyone familiar with the modern movement in jazz knows by now that a lot of jazz musicians recorded with Afro rhythm accompaniment from the late Forties, including, of course, Charlie Parker."

For his own maiden venture in this challenging area, he says, "I tried to blend straightforward arrangements in the Latin and Afro-Cuban vein with the improvisations of the jazz soloists, and it seems to me that Conte Candoli, Walter Benton, and Frank Rosolino play with the swinging pulsation that they normally would with regular piano-bass-and-drums rhythm. Vince Guaraldi and Andy Thomas also play beautiful solos which to me are very Latin in flavor. As for my own work—well, with the conga and the timbales and the bongos and bass patterns, I found myself playing in a different rhythmical groove."

Most of the sidemen have had previous experience with Latin music. Candoli and Rosolino were involved as members of the Kenton band, which has had an intermittent Spanish tinge ever since the 1946 Artistry in Bolero. Walter Benton, whom Victor considers one of the most underrated tenor men on the West Coast (an opinion with which I agree emphatically), went to Japan with one of the Perez Prado units. Both Armando Peraza and Al McKibbon were extensively associated with Afro-Cuban music as members of the Shearing Quartet; McKibbon and Guaraldi have figured in Cal Tjader's many Latin moods. The other pianist on these sides, Andy Thomas, has gigged in the Los Angeles area with Latin combos.

The cross-fertilization process is underlined by using themes of non-Latin origin. Most of the melodies originally were not even intended for incorporation with the Latin idiom, though the titles and lyrics logically indicated the type of treatment Feldman's arrangements give them here.

"South of the Border," heard in this version as an amiable mambo, is a British song which was popular in the U.S. in 1939. Starting with a repeated riff and leading to solos by Feldman, Rosolino, and Benton, it sets the mood for the album with admirable assurance.

"She's a Latin from Manhattan" comes up in cha-cha-cha guise under the clock-like guidance of Frank Guerrero's timbales. The tune, which dates from 1935, has an elementary harmonic structure that lends itself well to the process of Cubanization.
"Flying Down to Rio," the title song of an early talking picture, dates back 30 years. The melody is notable for the contributions of Candoli, muted and open, in a lyrical mood, and for Feldman's skillful scoring.

"Cuban Pete" stems from the session using a strictly Latin rhythm section. Tony Reyes's bass solo bridging the first and second choruses was an idea that developed spontaneously in the studio. The tune was a hit among the yanquis in 1937.

"The Gypsy," a song that shares Victor's English origin, was imported to the U.S. soon after publication in 1945. The vibes work here typifies that effortless subtlety with which he stresses the appropriate mood using a slight shift of accent here, a grace note there. The tempo is quite slow, but curiously seems less slow than it would with a straight 4/4 beat.

"Poinciana," played by the large group, is subjected to an effective variation with Victor playing the main phrase of the melody unaccompanied. After a voiced statement of the usual tag to the chorus of the 1944 melody, Walter Benton takes over for a solo that maintains a straight jazz-oriented eighth-note concept, in contrast with the following Guaraldi and Feldman solos, both of which seem to be slightly more conscious of, though certainly never inhibited by, the complex rhythmic setting.

"Lady of Spain" is a song of whose English origin Victor was unaware when he recorded it. Written in 1931, it was originally a somewhat corny up-tempo waltz. Again the theme is fitted to the occasion via shifted accents and some of the most intense, driving Cuban rhythm section work of the entire album.

"Spain" was one of Isham Jones's first song hits, published in 1924. Except for a brief interlude by Guaraldi, the spotlight remains on the vibes all the way.

"Cuban Love Song" is not merely pre-Castro, it's pre-Batista. The late Herbert Stothart, a movie executive who co-wrote it in 1931, was also the composer of

"The Donkey Serenade." As on several other tracks, I was impressed by the Bags-like articulation of Feldman, as well as by the tenor of Walter Benton. The latter's excursion into double-time jazz, though brief, has soul and spirit and lends valuable contrast to the performance.

"In a Little Spanish Town" is another tribute to pre-Franco Spain, having emerged in 1926. The tonic-and-dominant basis of the melody again facilitates the conversion into a mood that seems closer to Havana than Madrid. Conte's solo here is noticeably affected by the Latin background.

"Fiesta" is a song of obscure origin; Victor found it in a Mexican folk music book. Paradoxically, the harmonic framework with which his arrangement equips it makes the tune seem as contemporary as anything in the album, mainly because of the C-to-E flat minor 7-to-A flat 7 gambit.

"Woody'n You" is a jazz composition by Dizzy Gillespie which he first recorded in 1944 with Coleman Hawkins. (It was dedicated to Woody Herman, who never got around to recording it.) As you might have expected, the jazz pulse beats fiercely on this track, with contributions by Candoli and Rosolino.

Latin music followers for whom this may be the first exposure to Victor Feldman are advised to check back on his career with Contemporary. Suite Sixteen displayed him on vibes, piano, and drums with various British groups (OJC-1768/C3541); The Arrival of Victor Feldman is his first American LP as a leader (OJC-268/C3549); he can be heard as a sideman with Leroy Vinnegar on Leroy Walks! (OJC-160/C3542); with Bob Cooper on Coop! (OJC-161/C3544, stereo S7012); with Shelly Manne on a Peter Gunn album (OJC-946/M3560). He is featured on piano on the four volumes of Shelly Manne & His Men at the Black Hawk (OJC-656/657/658/659/660, S7577/78/79/80).

—LEONARD FEATHER, May 17, 1960”

[These notes appeared on the original album liner.]

The following video features the Cuban Pete track from Latinsville.

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