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Review: Spotlight On: The Estrada Brothers

by Alfredo Cruz

Like a breath of fresh air, the new recording by the Estrada Brothers has finally emerged from southern California, and it's About Time.

After close to three years in the making, this aptly titled and well crafted recording is a portrait of a well established and respected family musical dynasty which, up until now, has remained relatively unknown to the general public outside of California.

About Time is the third Estrada release in recent years, and without a doubt, their finest. This ten-tune collection of straight-ahead Latin jazz, boleros, guajiras, and cha-chas, includes standards like George Shearing's "Lullaby of Birdland," Dizzy Gillespie & Chano Pozo's "Guachi Guara," original compositions, and more.

Steeped in the 'school of Tjader,' the Estradas exhibit a great respect and understanding of how the vibraphone should function as the lead instrument in a jazz setting. According to the liner notes, leader and vibraphonist Ruben Estrada systematically followed the legendary Cal Tjader all around California for decades soaking up his mentor's music like a "thirsty sponge." Ruben's vibe work throughout the recording is impeccably lyrical, innovative and swings with all the energy and vibrancy of the '90s - without ever losing sight of, or respect for, tradition.

About Time is a very well performed recording by a tight working band whose familiarity with each other and with the music comes through on every tune. From the very first notes of "Mr. Ray," to the closing bars of the funky finale, About Time is an excellent example of no-hype, jump outta the box swingin', straight-ahead Latin jazz. And while Ruben's vibraphone remains consistently out front, this is as much an ensemble effort as anything else.

Exceptional performances are contributed throughout from pianist - Joe Rotondi, bassist - Ian Peters, saxophonist - Henry Estrada, percussionists - Cougar Estrada and Raul Rico (special smoke alert on "Two Friends"). Overall, this is a great record, it grooves, it grinds, it smokes, it cha-chas and leaves you wanting more.

While they have been a California treasure up 'til now, The Estrada Brothers are finally out for all of us to enjoy, and it's "About Time."

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