Amigos Todos, trumpeter Al Molina's third recording for his Jazzer label, is a highly enjoyable Latin jazz set that pays tribute both to his roots in Latin music and his love of jazz. Born and raised in San Francisco, Molina remembers hearing Latin music from an early age. "I grew up in a Latin family and, since my father and uncle were musicians, they would have rehearsals in the house. I took one year of piano lessons when I was eight and then did not pursue music at all until the seventh grade. At that time I auditioned for the school band and the teacher asked me to try a trumpet. I was able to get a sound out of it so I started learning that instrument. By the time I was 16, I was rehearsing with a group that sounded like the Gerry Mulligan Quartet. We were booked into a nightclub on Sunday afternoons at the Hilltop Lounge. It was illegal since we were underage and they were serving booze, so they put the bandstand by the fire exit so we could make a quick escape if we needed to!"
After years of free-lancing and leading his own groups in the San Francisco Bay area, in 1991 Molina started the Jazzer label to document both his playing and that of other top local musicians. Its first release, Straight From The Heart (with Larry Vuckovich, Monty Budwig and Vince Lateano), is mostly in the 1950s straight ahead bop/swing style while The Gift has a trumpet-trombone frontline and primarily features originals. Amigos Todos came about partly because Molina remembered how much fun he had playing with the Escovedo Brothers in the 1960s when they had a quintet that featured conga and timbales on bebop tunes rather than drums. "This CD is a reflection of the music that I played during that period and the bands I listened to such as Johnny Rae, Willie Bobo and Mongo Santamaria."
Of his side men, Molina says: "Matthew Clark brings a hot bebop New York piano style to the music. Fred Randolph is a talented bassist who, in addition to his work in jazz settings, has a lot of experience playing with salsa bands. Tod Dickow plays tenor and soprano. A long time ago he and I worked in a quintet playing Horace Silver tunes and I always liked his sound. Drummer Curt Moore, who leads a Cal Tjader-type band called Soul Sauce, helped me put this project together. And Michael Spiro, who was in my first Latin jazz band, Banditos, has become a first call conga player in San Francisco."
From the first notes of Molina's original "Amigos Todos," it is obvious that this is an infectious session with catchy Latin rhythms, high-quality solos and an irresistible group spirit. "We don't use strict Cuban clave on this set, it's more of a jazz date with Latin elements." The trumpeter's arrangements turn such songs as "Strange" (which is based a bit on the George Shearing Quintet's early recording), Clifford Brown's "Brownie Speaks," "Out Of This World," Shearing's boppish "Conception" (recorded by Miles Davis in the early 1950s) and Wayne Shorter's "Pinocchio" into Afro-Cuban jazz. Of the originals, "Mayan Fantasy" is more of a contemporary tune (with Dickow on soprano and Clark on electric piano), "Refritos" is a celebration of the Mongo Santamaria/Willie Bobo grooves of the 1960s and "Menina Flor" (which features Molina utilizing a Harmon mute) has the group utilizing Brazilian rhythms, as does the standard "Spring Can Really Hang You Up The Most."
The interplay of the musicians, the blend of the two horns, the tightness of the rhythm section, the purposeful solos and the variety of material are five of the reasons why Amigos Todos is a strong success both as a jazz recording and as a set of Latin-influenced music. Al Molina, who plays regularly at clubs, concerts and regional festivals in Northern California, deserves to be much better known, particularly after the release of Amigos Todos, his most satisfying recording to date.
author of seven jazz books including
Trumpet Kings, Bebop and Afro-Cuban Jazz