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Wavelength: New Jazz, Smooth and Delicious
By Mark Kirby
(more articles from this author)
2006-03-06
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Jazz comes in many flavors. Whether we're talking about straight ahead jazz, avant garde jazz, or jazz rock fusion, each type has its own rules and a fervent audience, including critics, that thinks that they hold the holy grail, the "one true jazz." At the same time, each type of jazz has absorbed a myriad of influences and constantly revitalizes and reinvents itself. This truth has not stopped virtually all jazz writers and critics, and many of the music's fans, from uniting in their disdain for what is called smooth jazz. And yet this music gets more airplay and sells more records than most forms of jazz and is loved by audiences.

Smooth jazz, as far as radio and the media are concerned, is like the traditional or avant garde strains of this music - new artists face difficulty when they want to break through. This lack of exposure is equal to starving the goose that lays the golden eggs. Without fresh new talent, the music will fossilize and become an endless play list of old records.

In response to this we are proud to put you, dear readers, on the same wavelength with Wavelength and their new release, Masarap (delicious). This group creates smooth jazz that incorporates pop, Latin music, funk and soul. Unlike some artists, they also avoid being so smooth as to be lifeless and covered with a lacquer sheen. Too much sugar can, after all, make you sick.

Originally formed in 1980, with a lineup that has changed over the years, the gravitas of Wavelength's smooth sounds come, not surprisingly, from their individual musical backgrounds. Keyboardist and leader Ferdinand Magallanes began his foray into music listening to rock (Cream, Hendrix). While in college, he got into funk, R&B, Latin music, Brazilian music, and jazz. He later became influenced by the jazz rock fusion movement of Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock and the Mahavishnu Orchestra.

Musicians are influenced by their playing experiences even more than what they listen to. Guitarist Ron Smith, for example, is extensively influenced by Wes Montgomery and George Benson. His love of soul and R&B comes from working with soul diva Pattie Labelle, George Howard, and the most slept on funk and R&B group ever, Frankie Beverly and Maze. Second Guitarist Jason Stewart has roots in blues and rock. He has played extensively with numerous bands within the Bay Area. Drummer Bobby Gaviola has been a San Francisco Bay Area staple for years and has roots in the Latin rock scene in San Francisco's Mission District.

Bassist Jeff Cox is also a San Francisco native who had extensive rock influences throughout high school (Hendrix, Yardbirds, Cream, etc.). Later on, he started playing jazz, R&B, Latin music and funk. Trumpet Player and horn arranger Michael Galisatus has roots in jazz and funk, interest in Zydeco, and training in classical music. He has played and recorded with the legendary percussionist and band leader Pete Escovedo. After breaking up in the late '80s to attend to their families, Wavelength decided to reform in the new millennium. Clearly, this band has paid their dues, and it is their vast experience and knowledge that give their music its variety and spunky, funky energy.

Though quite varied, the songs have a signature quality. The cut "Dream Come True" is mellow jazz at its best. A strong but laid back drum beat starts off and is answered by keyboard, bass and guitar. The saxophone picks up the evocative tune, then defers to the guitar, which weaves a solo around the melody. These songs are not background music, although "My One and Only Love" is a slow jam that sounds fresh, yet could be on a collection of classics. The tune evokes a feeling of sweetness, hope, and nostalgia, yet has enough grit to avoid cloying sentimentalism. Though very much in the vein of pop music, it is nicely arranged and intelligently played. Pop music, it should be remembered, doesn't have to be stupid, crass or smell like teen spirit.    

The cuts "Bliss," with its funky groove and hum-along melody played by the saxophone and chime-tinged keyboard, and "Sweet Remembrance," a nostalgia-producing piano and synthesizer dominated song, are also in this vein of instrumental jazz. The Latin-tinged "Bailar Finale" could be the theme song to a long forgotten French or Italian romantic comedy. The warm flugelhorn of Mike Galisatus and the percussion of Victor Nolasco remind one of the music of Herb Alpert or the film scores of Francis Lai. Once again, this song shows what is almost always missing from these days: a strong melody. It also shows what jazz could use more of: simplicity of expression and melodies one can hum.

Don't think you'll be falling asleep or constantly wanting to make out to this record. The fire is present on "La Noche," a salsa-spiced song. The melody is carried by synthesizer, which is then handed off to a barrio chorus of male voices. The highlight of the piece is the blazing Santana-style guitar solo by Jason Stewart. The fire gets even hotter on the title track, "Masarap." This number blends Latin, funk, and a soulful melody, backed by the bass work of Jeff Cox, which is solid throughout the CD, lead guitarist Ron Smith and the lively percussion of Victor Nolasco. Sax player Bobby Rawlings, who has played with such musicians as Dizzy Gillespie, The Inkspots and Martha Reeves and regularly shares the stage with Wavelength, is featured throughout the CD, including Dream Come True, Bliss, Trash Talk, and Two of Us Together.

Wavelength is a strong presence in the strong Bay Area jazz scene, playing at festivals and other venues. They don't play clubs, however. "We seldom play at clubs due to the size of our group, 11 pieces for the full band," said Mr. Magallanes. "We have not performed as a group outside of the US, although our music is heard all over the world through online stations, cable channels, and terrestrial radio. I know we are aired in the UK, the Netherlands, Belgium, Portugal, France, Switzerland, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, South Korea and Guam." All they need is Africa, China and South America and Wavelength will have conquered the world.

On their CD Masarap (delicious), Wavelength represents smooth, soulful jazz to the fullest. Buy it, and if someone wants to borrow it, tell 'em "No, my brother, you gotsta get your own."


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