William Cepeda

My Roots and Beyond

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Trombonist William Cepeda has a firm grip on his Puerto Rican heritage and African roots; therefore, his Afrorican Jazz ensemble springs from those traditions. But this is not a Latin jazz or an Afro-Cuban band. Instead, there's a more progressive aesthetic happening, combining jazz, funk, fusion, and Puerto Rican bomba into a unified whole that is eminently danceable and musically electrifying. Cepeda uses a core octet, the most prominent players being saxophonist Donny McCaslin and drummer Mark Walker. Guests include percussionist Bobby Sanabria, trumpeter Tony Lujan, a four-piece vocal coro on half the disc, and cameos from trombonists Luis Bonilla and Slide Hampton, alto saxophonist Paquito d'Rivera, and cuatro master Yomo Toro. Cepeda himself gets around nicely on the trombone, never fluffing or slurring notes, and expressing his ideas clearly. He has written a definitive anthem for his homies, "Pa' Mi Gente" (For My People), a vocal chant/rallying cry that is as definitive a tune as you will hear in this genre. The bomba rhythm is most prevalent throughout, but mixed with straight jazz on "Bomba Swing"; with Toro and Edgardo Miranda's cuatro on "Ponte Pa'l Monte"; and with bop, funk, and fusion alongside d'Rivera on the straight-eight "Quasi Plena." Cepeda, like counterpart Steve Turre, also uses conch shells during the funkier "Toca Mi Caracol." A more involved chart provided by Michele Rosewoman on "For Now and Forever" puts the band through a complex series of tricky changes from the stop-start intro to a 6/8 groove, McCaslin's soprano sax all over the place. There's more 6/8 on the interesting piece "Waiting for Carmen," again with d'Rivera, and a darker groove with Cepeda and Hampton trading solos on a Spanish-inflected "Sara," while a descarga on "Afrorican Jam" concludes the CD in a feverish fashion. The Afrorican Jazz ensemble provides a fresh outlook to this music, which is hard to place in any one single bag. Cepeda's taste is broad-based and his execution of these tunes, the majority of which he has composed, is near flawless. He has played with Dizzy Gillespie, Eddie Palmieri, and Tito Puente, so lessons well learned translate into this exciting brand of world music. Highly recommended.

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