1. Shake It!
2. Mantanzas 1958
3. A Favela
4. Cha Cha Sensemaya
5. Shark Fin Soup
7. Mi Bomba E'
9. Sao Paulo
10. Peaches and Pairs On the Bassment Stairs
11. Descarga De La Habana
David Gleason (Keyboards, Vocals)
(Saxes, Flute, Vocals)
Wlater Ramos (Lead Vocals, Percussion)
Pete Sweeney (Drum Set)
Tony Garcia Jr. (Congas)
Benjamin Acrish (Trumpet, Percussion)
Steve Lambert (Trumpet)
Tony Garcia Sr. (Bongos)
Ryan Lukas (Bass)
Erik Johnson (Bass)
Mike Lawrence (Bass)
Jim Wilson (Guitar)
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SENSEMAYA - Shake It
by Randy Treece
Sensemayá has reigned over the Capital District Region for nearly a decade, becoming a virtual household name. Few would know that the name was derived from a poem written by Cuban poet Nicholás Guillén, which is based upon a Cuban-African religious cult, Santeria, and was later made into an orchestral piece. But I digress.
One of our local Latin musical heroes, Sensemayá has played in virtually every type of venue - from coffee houses to jazz clubs to parks and small theaters - and in various configurations - ranging from duets, trios to small big bands. Surprisingly, after garnering such regional notoriety, the group has only just recorded their debut recording, Shake It. And, they brought out the heavy artillery - twelve musicians playing in a variety of ensembles. The members of this musical conclave are: David Gleason, keys, vocals, and percussion; Tim Williams, saxes, vocal, and percussion; Pete Sweeney on drums; Tony Garcia on congas; Walter Ramos, lead vocals and percussion; Steve Lambert and Ben Acrish on trumpet; Ryan Lukas, Erik Johnson and Mike Lawrence on bass; and Jim Wilson on guitar. To the Capital Region’s benefit, we are fortunate to have several of these local musicians teaching in our schools.
On Shake It, Sensemayá accomplishes what it does best with panache - recording original compositions that sweep over the broad-breadth of hot Latin music found in South America, the Caribbean, and elsewhere, while recognizing the confluence of other musical genres, especially jazz. I suppose you cannot identify one person as the leader, but David Gleason is multi-tasking on the recording as producer as well principal composer on all of the songs. This recognition is not mentioned to dismiss the other members’ contributions because they as well impart their writing talents. There is something for every listener and all musical idioms are well represented on this recording. Overall, this is a respectable collaboration by a coterie of the area’s finest musicians.
The recording starts off with a blast with the title cut, “Shake It,” a sassy salsa-jazz number with a strong piano and base line introduction, vigorous horn line, and groovy vocal refrain certain to grab your attention. The rhythmic anchor is aptly rendered by Pete Sweeney and Erik Johnson. Tim Williams’s alto sax sound is reminiscent of the jazz-fusion band Spyro Gyra’s saxophonist and leader Jay Beckenstein and he is heard predominately throughout the entire recording. Speaking of dance-able numbers, Sensemayá leans on their standard bearer and best-known song, “Cha Cha Sensemayá,” with lead singer Walter Ramos taking charge of the message. It has an infectious rhythm and intoxicating horn tag. Staying with the Latin meets Caribbean dance scene, “Mi Bomba E” is equal to the task in driving listeners to vacate their seats and shuffle their feet.
The mood shifts with an African adscripted piece entitled “Mantanzas 1958.” This song is an emphatic nod to the sixty’s jazz sensibility - a piece that could have been aptly scribed by Randy Weston or Abdullah Ibrahim (a.k.a. Dollar Brand). Once again a great horn line with interesting solos on the tenor sax and trumpet as well as an exceptional piano solo by David Gleason, all hovering over a roving African beat. This is an exceptional and enjoyable cut and if I had to claim a favorite, “Mantanzas” would be it. “Shark Fin Soup” remains within the jazz format and is redolent of so many horn fronted groups of the sixties - Art Blakey, Horace Silver, possibly Dizzy. On this cut, Sensemayá displays that it can swing as well as it can salsa. Both songs are befittingly presented.
The band’s visit to the Brazil musical scene has remarkable results. First, we are treated to a sensual Brazilian groove with “A Favelá,” which is well played by all of the participants. Tim Williams on flute and Gleason on piano deliver the song’s signature statements. Later in the recording, we hear “Sao Paulo,” a slower bossa nova number with a fine solo from Steve Lambert on the flugelhorn. It would not be a stretch to suggest that an unexpected Brazilian listener would have concluded that these are home-grown compositions. What would this musical tour be without a tip of the hat to reggae? “Herbie” serves up the goods with a catchy, jazzy horn line and admirable bottom groove supplied by Mike Lawrence. Steve Lambert on trumpet and Tim Williams on tenor sax interject well-conceived solos. And, listeners will be thankful that the ensemble did not forget while making this musical tour to enlist a jazz-tinged blues entitled “Peaches and Pairs on the Bassment Stairs.” The introduction has that recognizable blues-gospel connotation and that down-home stagger.
But, as expected, the ensemble hews close to what they do best - good ole Latin jazz music. “Cu-Bird” and “Descarga De La Habana” are exemplary in this vain. Rich horn lines and solid Latin rhythm. Once again, while listening to “Cu-Bird,” I am struck by Williams’s uncanny alto sax sound conjuring up Jay Beckenstein’s, and, on “Descarga De La Habana,” his versatility on the baritone sax. “Descarga” is contagious and capable of compelling an audience to erupt into spontaneous dancing and glee. On the final number, the Group simmers the themes down to an attractive Latin ballad entitled “Puertas.”
Shake It is an earnest production with well-considered compositions that is adroitly and marvelously played. This is one of those CDs that, like fine wine sitting to develop its bouquet, gets better with every listening. My only lament is that I don’t speak Spanish and therefore could not appreciate the scintillation and profundity of the lyrics. Sorry Walter. If you accept this review as an endorsement, this recording is a gift worth opening.
Randy Treece is an avid and ubiquitous fan of jazz music, especially on the local scene. For many years he has contributed jazz artist reviews for "A Place For Jazz" and has written album reviews on request by jazz artists. Randy resides in Albany