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Walter Ramos, Tim Williams, Pete Giroux

Dave Gleason

Tim Williams

photos by Rudy Lu

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A Place for Jazz
Schenectady , NY
October 28, 2011

by Jeff Nania

“The next tune we're going to play is from the album we're releasing tonight, and it's by Walter Ramos...A lot of the music on the album is by Walter Ramos,” said Dave Gleason, Sensemaya's Pianist, and bandleader. While the album features tunes by Ramos, Gleason, and Ryan Lukas, the show also featured two classic Duke Ellington tunes that were given facelifts. “Caravan” was one of the most exciting pieces of the night, and featured the impressive bongo work of Tony Garcia Sr. He was not flashy, but rather placed his groove and counter-rhythms prominently at the top of the texture.

Sensemaya's extended percussion section featuring Tony Garcia Jr. on Congas, and Tony Garcia Sr. on Bongos in addition to Pete Sweeney on drum set, and Walter Ramos on Guiro is one of the things that makes this group so powerful, and appealing. This group stretches out and does the “Latin Jazz” thing wholeheartedly with everybody having their time to shine, but the roots of the repetitive afro-latino rhythms are always present in a big way. Sweeney was able to stretch out in the second set with bare hands and eventually mallets, even muting the snare drum with his foot while both hands slammed mallets around the set.

Gleason and saxophonist Tim Williams would frequently sing backup vocals on tunes that Walter Ramos sang lead on like “Un Jibarito Cantando Son.” This is Ramos' story of the migration of salsa music from its origins in Cuba to Puerto Rico which happened in the 60's. After singing the story with the full group, Ramos let out a hearty laugh, and there was a breakdown to the piano, and the congero (Garcia Jr.) began clapping and then the whole audience was clapping.

Continuing their theme of traveling around the world through music, Gleason said “we'd like to continue with one that takes us to Brazil.” “Duas Caipirinhas” starts out with a low pedal bass note that thunks at the top of each measure. The melody is slightly reminiscent of John Coltrane's “Naima” albeit faster. This one was performed as a quintet without the auxiliary percussion, or vocals.

Another Gleason composition called “La United Fruit Co.” is based on a poem by Pablo Neruda about the corporate capitalist exploits of Central America. It is a juicy tropical melody which a jazzy II V II V turn around. Williams wailed out a tenor solo, and then the group played the melody again in between soloists, and everybody took a turn. The congero, Tony Garcia Jr. got the greatest rise out of the audience with people cheering as he vigorously smacked and popped the congas.

While Lukas didn't play at the show, his tune “Ya Se Fue” made the perfect close to the evening. It starts out slowly without drums and with a sparse line that leaves lots of space and ends fast with a unison line from the whole group.

JEFF NANIA is a contributing writer for the capital region's alternative newsweekly, Metroland, as well as local arts news blog Nania is also a musician currently playing with his award winning fusion group The Chronicles, as well as local area big bands like The Joey Thomas Big Band, and Brass-O-Mania Big Band. He is a 2010 graduate of SUNY Albany's Journalism, and Music programs.