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Alex Wilson

Salsa Con Soul


by Ian Mann

November 28, 2008


Wilson's blend of Latin, soul and gospel influences is clearly aimed at the dance floor with tight arrangements, strong vocal performances and some sparkling playing

This own label release by pianist Alex Wilson continues his mission to explore the Latin idiom and to see how it can be merged with other musical forms. In this sense “Salsa Con Soul” is a continuation of Wilson’s work on such albums as “Afro Saxon”, “Anglo Cubana” “R & B Latino”,
“Aventuras” and “Inglaterra”. The titles are a reasonably accurate reflection of Wilson’s cross- cultural methods and the soul and gospel leanings he had introduced on previous records find full voice on “Salsa Con Soul”.

Wilson was born of mixed British and Sierra Leone parentage and as a child learnt both piano and classical guitar. He has a deep love of Latin music and cut his teeth as member of timbalero Roberto Pla’s Latin Ensemble before taking the plunge and embarking on a solo career. He has also been a long term associate of the leading saxophonist Courtney Pine and appeared on the recent Jazz Warriors release “Afropeans”, an excellent record which is reviewed elsewhere on this site. He has excellent credentials as a jazz pianist even though much of his work takes place in other fields.

For “Salsa Con Soul” Wilson has assembled a twelve piece band including vocalists Aquilla Fearon, Naomi Phillips, Elpidio Caicedo and Wayne Ellington. The material mainly consists of original compositions by Wilson and his band with notable outside items being arrangements of Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together” and Randy Crawford’s “Rio De Janeiro Blue”.

The album starts explosively with “You’re Fine” a dance floor filler written by Wilson and soul diva Aquilla Fearon who also handles the lead vocal. The song has been reprised from the “Inglaterra” album and is a good introduction to the band which also comprises of Emeris Solis (congas), Dave Pattman (timbales/bongos/hand percussion), Javier Fioramonti (bass) plus the horns of Steve Dawson and Annette Brown (trumpets) with Trevor Miles and Alistair White (trombones). Collectively they make an impressively propulsive wall of sound, full of punchy brass and bubbling percussion. 

“Sabroson” maintains the energy levels with the Spanish language lyrics delivered by Columbian vocalist Elpidio Caceido. There is a chance for Wilson to show his undoubted abilities on an extended piano break. Steve Dawson’s stunning high register trumpet coda also impresses.

“Rhythm And Life” unveils yet another vocalist in the form of Naomi Phillips. This is the most obviously soul/gospel item thus far with Phillips’ hugely powerful voice but the rhythm is pure Latin, punctuated by guest keyboardist and co-writer Nicky Brown’s stabbing Hammond. 

Wilson’s “Antonio” is the albums only instrumental and gives him another opportunity to stretch out on piano . Of equal importance are the contributions of the percussionists Solis (another Columbian) and Pattman who both enjoy lengthy and spectacular solos.

“Mi Buenaventura” is a dedication to the Columbian city of that name and vocal duties are again undertaken by Caicedo, appropriately a native of that city. He is given great support by an exuberant band in which the trombone section is particularly prominent.

“Stronger” marks the return of vocalist Naomi Phillips who also wrote the words for this life affirming soul ballad set above a percolating Latin undertow.

Fearon is welcomed back for the Cuban flavoured “This Time” which features an unusual arrangement mixing strident horns with charanga style violins.
It’s back to Phillips for a gutsy rendition of the Al Green classic “Lets Stay Together”. Wilson takes his inspiration from Tina Turner’s 80’s version of the song and in salsa terms takes it at medium tempo.

“Memories” is a collaboration with guest keyboard player Jason Thompson. Like “Stronger” it is a Latin flavoured soul ballad with the warm voiced Wayne Ellington handling the vocals. Thompson appears on Rhodes piano and there is a strong contribution from the percussionists.

Finally comes Wilson’s take on “Rio De Janeiro Blue”, a song that first appeared on Randy Crawford’s “Secret Combination”. Aquilla Fearon more than pays justice to the song in this it’s Latin incarnation.

“Salsa Con Soul” is a record clearly aimed at the dance floor. Nonetheless the tight arrangements, strong vocal performances and sparkling playing offer something of interest to the home listener. Like most dance orientated records it falls into the category of “enjoyable but hardly essential”.

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