Brian Andres Trio Latino
“...an exciting collection of Latin Jazz filled with authenticity and undeniable sense of personality….a powerhouse Latin Jazz trio making a serious statement.”
— Chip Boaz. The Latin Jazz Corner
"A TRIO is a much more intimate, yet demanding musical setting for musicians to explore. There is no place to hide, no weak link allowed. In such a small setting, the dynamics must become more acute, the musical idea that much more clear, the technique that much more precise." - Brian Andres
After years of leading the acclaimed octet Brian Andres & the Afro-Cuban Jazz Cartel, the drummer felt the time was ripe to liberate the rhythm section. More than a spinoff, Andres’s Trio Latino is a powerhouse ensemble that has forged its own identity with high-octane performances and a repertoire bristling with ambitious, jaw-dropping tunes. The trio’s debut album Mayan Suite introduces a thrilling new combo to the creatively roiling Latin jazz scene.
Featuring pianist Christian Tumalan, co-leader of the Grammy Award-winning Pacific Mambo Orchestra, and electric and acoustic bassist Aaron Germain, one of the busiest accompanists on the Bay Area music scene, Andres’s Trio Latino is clearly inspired by Chick Corea and Michel Camilo’s virtuosic flights. For Andres, the trio offers a welcome opportunity to “strip everything away from the larger ensemble, down to essentials. There’s much more space to explore, for creative expression, and with that freedom there’s greater responsibilities for all three of us.”
The album opens with a bravura version of Corea’s “Got a Match?,” an Elektric Band burner arranged by Tumalan. The rip-snorting performance captures all the flashing drama and romantic intrigue suggested by the titular query. Corea’s Akoustic Band’s repertoire is also well-represented with the pianist’s “Morning Sprite,” a dancing, buoyantly optimistic piece that features some particularly sparkling trio interplay. Rather than trying to channel Corea’s widely influential drummer Dave Weckl, Andres brings his own kinetic approach to interacting with his bandmates, providing a thick, bouncing rhythmic lattice.
Corea’s influence is also evident in some of Tumalan’s excellent work, particularly “Viento Solar,” a tune that echoes the flashing drama of “Spain.” He’s also responsible for the album’s centerpiece and title track “Mayan Suite,” a five-movement piece that explores several persuasive grooves while evoking the fierce grandeur of the Mesoamerican civilization.
Germain brings two impressive pieces to the party, the lithe and fleet “Escucha” and the luscious ballad (and bass feature) “Higashi Nakano.” Germain is also front and center on Mike Mainieri’s “Islands,” a tune from the treasure-laden book of the great fusion band Steps Ahead. “I’ve always loved fusion, and Steps Ahead was arguably my favorite band,” Andres says. “I thought ‘Islands’ would be a great bass feature. The original groove was more of a samba feel. It was a challenge to play that stripped down with no sax or vibes and make it sound like an appropriate trio recording.”
Rounding off the album are two lovely standards, a Cubanized version of “Someday My Prince Will Come” and a swinging jaunt down “On Green Dolphin Street.” They’re more grist for the trio’s Afro-Caribbean rhythmic mill as a trio that stakes out a broad swath of territory in the ever-evolving realm of Latin jazz. “Whether it’s bomba or mambo, whether there’s a hand drummer or not, those rhythms are represented,” Andres says. “Aaron and Christian are steeped in those traditions. One of the things about this trio, I wanted us individually to have a voice of our own.”
Each member of the powerhouse triumvirate comes to Trio Latino with a broad and deep well of experience. Drawn to the Bay Area in 2000 by the presence of master Afro-Caribbean percussionists Michael Spiro and Jesus Diaz, Aaron Germain quickly became a first-call player, sometimes working two or three gigs a day. Honing his knowledge of Afro-Cuban grooves, he became a fixture in several salsa ensembles. Known for his expansive stylistic palette, he gets called to play various Brazilian styles and Caribbean steel pan music, Indian kathak dancers and veteran calypso singers from Trinidad. And he’s was always ready to tackle harmonically dense, odd-meter jazz compositions, like in the power trio Charged Particles, which has collaborated widely with Oregon multi-reed master Paul McCandless.
Christian Tumalan is best known as the co-leader of the Pacific Mambo Orchestra, which won the 2014 best tropical album Grammy Award with its eponymous debut album. Born in Celaya in the central Mexican state of Guanajuato, he studied classical piano at Mexico City’s prestigious Escuela Superior de Musica. When he turned his interests toward jazz, he immersed himself in the tradition, earning degrees in performance, arranging, and composition. A mainstay on the Bay Area’s thriving Latin music scene, he’s collaborated with artists such as Wayne Wallace, John Santos, Giovanni Hidalgo, Pete Escovedo, Sheila E, Tommy Igoe, La India, Johnny Rivera, Johnny Polanco, Ruben Blades, Orestes Vilató, Benny Velarde, and Poncho Sanchez, among many others.
Born in Cincinnati, Ohio on Nov. 7, 1968, Brian Andres was weaned on music. His father is a working woodwind player who often brought his son to recording sessions, and his mother was a professional vocalist and pianist who performed in chamber music and liturgical settings. Andres started playing drums in fourth grade, and after high school took classes at the Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music. But his formal musical studies quickly concluded at 19, when he landed a full-time gig with veteran bluesman Cincinnati Slim and the Headhunters.
Andres was in the midst of a thriving career playing rock, funk, R&B, and blues when he experienced his clave epiphany, courtesy of the Cleveland salsa band Impacto Nuevo. As the owner of a couple of Tito Puente albums, he wasn’t completely unfamiliar with great Latin dance music. But it’s one thing to spin an album and another to experience a well-greased Latin percussion section live. “It changed my trajectory of where I wanted to go,” Andres recalls. “I just wanted to do it over and over again. The first time I heard it done well live, it had me.”
He put together a Latin jazz band of his own, and started buying up whatever albums he could find, which introduced him to leading Bay Area artists such as John Santos’s Machete Ensemble, Andy Narell, and Pete Escovedo. The Greg Landau-produced album Ritmo y Candela was a particular revelation, featuring an array of Bay Area stars such as Orestes Vilató, Rebeca Mauleón, and Michael Spiro. Not long afterwards, Andres had a chance to meet Spiro and Jesus Diaz when they conducted a Talking Drum workshop in Ohio. But it was another Bay Area Latin jazz stalwart, the late Dutch-born drummer Paul van Wageningen, who convinced him to make the move to San Francisco rather than New York or L.A. by offering real encouragement when Andres came through town on a visit.
“He was absolute class,” Andres says. “We hung out and played, and he showed me some things. It wasn’t just a lesson, though; it was the start of a friendship. He said he’d recommend me for gigs, and he was as good as his word.”
Landing in the Bay Area in early 1999 at the height of the first high-tech boom he quickly found work in an array of Latin settings, playing salsa, Latin funk and Latin jazz. In 2000, he joined San Francisco Bay Area icon Dr. Loco and his Rockin’ Jalapeno Band, an ongoing relationship. Motivated by his love of the multi-dimensional writing of Latin jazz pioneers Tito Puente and Eddie Palmieri, Andres undertook his first recording under his own name in 2007, resulting in Drummers Speak.
In addition to showcasing stellar musicians, the album immediately stood apart as a celebration of the compositional contributions of percussionists, focusing on both Latin masters Tito Puente, Chano Pozo, Armando Peraza, and Francisco Aguabella and jazz giants such as Jack DeJohnette, Tony Williams, and Art Blakey. What started off as a concept turned into a bona fide band after the album, and the Cartel has continued to flourish, enriching an already luxuriant scene.
Andres followed up with the Afro-Cuban Jazz Cartel’s 2013 album San Francisco, a critically hailed project that showcases the composing, arranging, and performing talent of the Bay Area Latin jazz scene. In 2016, the Cartel’s third album This Could Be That added a dazzling cast of guests to the core octet, including Cuban-American vocalist Venissa Santi, Fania All-Stars timbalero Louie Romero, bata master Michael Spiro, Peruvian percussion star Alex Acuña, and percussion maestro John Santos.
At the Cartel’s core was the rhythm section that steps forward in its own right as Trio Latino. The group forged its independent identity working regularly at an intimate Half Moon Bay music spot about 30 miles south of San Francisco, Café Society. “The crowd is extremely jazz-knowledgeable and appreciative and so is the owner, Harpo Marx,” Andres says (and yes, that’s the proprietor’s real name). “We wanted to create a sound and a unit, and it’s much easier to rehearse with three players than eight.”
Breaking out of the Cartel, Trio Latino makes a brilliant first impression with Mayan Suite, a riveting calling card for a group bristling with rhythmic energy. •