Oakland mambo king Pete Escovedo may have relocated to Southern California a decade ago, but his heart remains in the Bay. He and his dynamite ten-piece orchestra appear in the area so frequently that it seems as if they never left. It’s still a family affair, with Escovedo on timbales and sons Juan and Peter Michael on congas and trap drums, respectively. Daughter Sheila E. sometimes augments the deliciously syncopated rhythm section, as she did on congas for one song during the ensemble’s high-energy performance at the Stern Grove Festival in San Francisco on July 22 of this year, where this album was recorded. Other guest soloists include trumpeter Arturo Sandoval, tenor saxophonist Dave Koz, and guitarist Ray Obiebo.
The set opens with a hard-charging treatment of “Picadillo Jam,” a tune by Escovedo’s hero, Tito Puente, on which the brass section riffs mightily over the three percussionists’ churning grooves before Melecio Magdaluyo rips into a molten-toned alto sax solo and one of the band’s two trumpeters drops some John Coltrane licks into his fiery improvisation. Other numbers were penned by Bay Area musicians, Obiedo, Wayne Wallace, and Al Bent, all longtime contributors to the orchestra’s repertoire. And for a swinging rendition of the standard “Fly Me to the Moon,” Escovedo takes a turn at the vocal mic. His tenor pipes have become a bit rusty, but his relaxed phrasing retains a Tony Bennett-like glow. (Concord Picante)