"There's so much talent in the Bay Area, I wanted to represent the guys in town, their compositions and playing," says Andres, an Ohio native who relocated to the area in 1999. "It's a world-class city with world-class musicians, and I want to let people hear that."
After debuting on Andres's highly regarded 2007 CD Drummers Speak, the Afro-Cuban Jazz Cartel became a 9-piece working band whose members were expected to possess "a deep understanding of Caribbean rhythms and musical forms," Andres explains in his notes to San Francisco, as well as "the ability to create, improvise, and groove."
Cartel pianist Christian Tumalan contributes several outstanding arrangements on the new CD, including the lead track "Sand Castles," composed by the Bay Area jazz pianist Eric Muhler, and an Afro-Cuban reimagining of "Black Market," the Weather Report classic. And in-demand bassist Aaron Germain is particularly well represented with three tunes, among them "Higashi Nakano," a contemporary take on cha cha cha, and "Nothing But Trouble," a showcase for trumpeter Henry Hung (a key member of the Asian American Orchestra, another Bay Area institution).
In fact, the collaborative nature of the Bay Area scene is further exemplified by the contributions of trumpeter Steffen Kuehn, who with Tumalan co-leads the acclaimed Pacific Mambo Orchestra. Rather than exhibiting a sense of competition, they have "both been very helpful as musicians and friends and fellow bandleaders," says Andres.
"We've been fortunate enough to create something that guys really want to be involved in," he adds, "with challenging music that's a good space for them to showcase their art."
Born (in 1968) and raised in Cincinnati, Ohio, the son of professional musicians, Brian Andres started playing drums in the fourth grade. After high school, he took classes at the Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music but abandoned formal studies once he landed a full-time gig with veteran bluesman Cincinnati Slim and the Headhunters.
Andres was in the midst of a thriving career playing rock, funk, R&B, and blues when he experienced his clave epiphany, courtesy of the Cleveland salsa band Impacto Nuevo. "It changed my trajectory of where I wanted to go," Andres recalls. "I've often likened it to the first time I kissed a girl. I just wanted to do it over and over again. The first time I heard it done well live, it had me."
He put together a Latin jazz band of his own, and started buying up whatever albums he could find, which introduced him to leading Bay Area artists such as John Santos's Machete Ensemble, Andy Narell, and Pete Escovedo. It was Bay Area Latin jazz stalwart, the late Dutch-born drummer Paul van Wageningen, who convinced him to make the move to San Francisco rather than New York or L.A. by offering real encouragement when Andres came through town on a visit.
"He was absolute class," Andres says. "We hung out and played, and he showed me some things. He said he'd recommend me for gigs, and he was as good as his word."
Landing in the Bay Area in early 1999 at the height of the high-tech boom, Andres quickly found work in an array of Latin settings, playing salsa, Latin funk, and Latin jazz. He undertook his first recording under his own name in 2007, motivated by his love of the multidimensional writing of Latin jazz pioneers Tito Puente and Eddie Palmieri. The result was Drummers Speak.
Andres has maintained ties with his home state and frequently returns there to work. Next month he'll perform as part of Cincinnati Slim & the Headhunters at the Dayton Blues Festival (7/21) and in Springboro OH (7/23), as well as with his own Latin Jazz Quintet at Washington Platform in Cincinnati 7/19. Come August, he'll play three hometown dates with the Afro-Cuban Jazz Cartel-Fountain Square 8/22 and the Blue Wisp 8/23-24.
"Regardless of our land of origin," Andres observes in his CD notes of the far-flung starting points of his band members, "all of us reside here [in the Bay Area] now, drawn to the rich heritage and continuing dynasty of Latin Jazz in San Francisco and feel the intense desire to contribute to it." Brian Andres, the Afro-Cuban Jazz Cartel, and San Francisco can each claim a spot in that deeply influential musical lineage.