Laying the groundwork powerfully for jazz fusion circa the 2010s, the longtime Santana trumpeter's Highest Wish for his second full-length solo set was to create a socially conscious hybrid of jazz, pop, classic R&B, and deep hip-hop textures -- topped with topical and relevant social commentary passionately expressed by MCs like Casual, "The Grouch," Zumbi (of Zion I), and K-Maxx. The fact that Ortiz engages in such hypnotic, poetic optimism as "I Still Believe" (trading off trumpet and spoken passages by Zumbi spiced with a Martin Luther King, Jr. reading by Linda Tillery) shouldn't surprise those who know his pre-Santana hip-hop/R&B résumé. He played trumpet with Souls of Mischief and has recorded with everyone from Tony! Toni! Tone! to En Vogue, Sheila E., TLC, and others. Beyond the social commentary and slick, seductive grooves, the production is loaded with dreamy retro elements that subtly connect past social turmoil and hopes with the present day. The brief opening track "Ha-Ya (Means Life)" sets a hopeful tone with Ortiz's wailing trumpet echoing a female chorus -- all underscored by Mike Aaburg's Wurlitzer piano and organ. Zumbi leads the charge toward the "Highest Wish" of love over war, dueting sweetly with Ortiz's muted trumpet over Mike Clark's Fender Rhodes harmony. That one has a Santana-like guitar line showing up here and there. Another way Ortiz bridges past and present is by doing a booming cover of Gil Scott-Heron and Brian Jackson's 1973 call to arms "Winter in America," whose video was featured on mainstream hip-hop websites. The main vocal is taken by Santana vocalist Tony Lindsey, while "The Grouch"'s rap is punctuated by the cry of "No jobs, no justice, no peace." These tracks scratch the surface on a truly groundbreaking set that blends timelessness with up-to-the-minute relevancy.
Highest Wish Review
by Jonathan Widran