Photo: Danny Kirsic

Bassist Damian Erskine mixes Latin, fusion and funk with a mid-sized group on So To Speak, his third CD as a leader. The core of the ensemble is Erskine, drummer Reinhardt Melz, pianist Ramsey Embick and guitarist Chris Mosley; behind them, a three-piece horn section (trumpet, tenor sax and soprano sax) and three percussionists add accents. The instrumental interplay is airtight and based on complex polyrhythms, like a cross between Return to Forever and the Fania All-Stars, particularly the latter group’s Latin-Soul-Rock LP, on which they were joined by guests including guitarist Jorge Santana, saxophonist Manu Dibango, drummer Billy Cobham and keyboardist Jan Hammer.

The album kicks off with the uptempo, funky “Inside Out,” followed by the thick groove of “Fif,” which features solos from Mosley and Erskine, along with plenty of space for Melz to subdivide the beat, while maintaining compositional cohesion. “Kaluanui,” as its exotica-minded title suggests, is a little smoother, a little more cruise-ship; the guitar solo has the kind of artfully modulated distortion normally only found on Steely Dan albums. “American Gyro” strikes a balance between Erskine’s thudding, popping bass line and Mosley’s atmospheric slide guitar. In the album’s second half, the group begins to swing a little more loosely on tracks like “Aslant” and the closing “Creep” (not a version of the Radiohead song).

While the guitar-bass-keyboards-drums axis that dominates So To Speak was all fine, once the album was over, I found myself wishing the horns had been more present. Only the album’s lone ballad, “Light,” offered any horn solo space, and it was the (hated) soprano saxophone, in full Kenny G mode. Some of these Latin funk tracks could have really benefited from a blazing Arturo Sandoval-style trumpet solo. Oh, well.

Phil Freeman

1. Do I foresee myself listening to this record again? Eh, maybe.

2. Should you buy this record? If you like Latin jazz, funk or fusion, sure.

Link to purchase, if you’re so inclined…

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