Sweet Summer Days
It was a hot summer day when I purchased Ray Obiedo’s new CD “Sweet Summer Days. I have been hip to Ray’s cool style since his work with Andy Narell on the 1989 Windham Hill release of “Perfect Crime” four CDs ago. Both he and Andy Narell love the Latin samba and four albums later, Ray brings forth fruit in the days of summer, 1998. Musically well traveled, Ray is into world rhythms and “Sweet Summer Days” transports us above and below the equator.
As before, I bought this CD right before a road trip, only this time, instead of a back road run of about 100 miles or so, we struck off for Pittsburgh. Needing something to sample that would sit right with the lady ‘G’ and the rest my traveling mates, I chose the 1997 “Sweet Summer Days“ release based upon a few summers wait since his 1995 “Zulaya” CD. I based the decision on the smooth, all encompassing sounds Ray usually produces. I mentioned my dad and his affection for jazz in prior reviews, so his involvement in what was about to happen went without saying. It was mom and my daughter, Sequoia that I had to pre-vibe for. Instead of cruising in T/A as ‘G’ and I usually do, we packed dad’s Crown Vic’ to the gills and rolled out.
According to your age, you might already know what a Q-ship is. Besides being a verbal appendage dad likes to use for the types of vehicles he chooses to own, a Q-ship is a WWII term used to describe war laden vessels that were sleek, fast, quiet, and heavily powered. Because of their unsuspecting guise, they could often pass by the enemy at speed and untouched, something I would not attempt in our Trans Am. 10 hours and the 75 mph allowed speed limit can be dangerous to me and profitable to the offended States we’d be passing through. My driving record can attest to that.
Let’s also label Ray Obiedo’s “Sweet Summer Days” a “Q” too because not too many people have heard of Ray either. We all have been ghosted by his velvet guitar jazz radar, for he has been on the scene for quite some time now. It’s just that his music has passed by the ear of many a discriminating jazz fan, unsuspecting, but full of the lyrical powder it takes to ignite in the bowels of the listener. Read further and run through his bio to see why.
After settling into the large part of our journey, I decided to dispatch Ray as we traversed the Allegheny Mountains. The first cut, “Casserra” got things floating when dad started patting his leg, counter beat as he does. “Casserra” also made the posted 70mph speed limit more buoyant. It’s a medium paced tune that spurs on the body rock. The nylon plucking by Ray brings about happy thought and laughter as he bridges the gap from chorus to chorus. He has sat session with many superstars over the years and has invited them to play with him on his musicals. On all his albums, Ray is adept at affording the accompanying instruments, vocal or not, an opportunity to add their own seasoning to the sound play salad. Sprinkling a little here, a little there, just a few bars at a time, it is his unselfish writing that sets him apart from other artists who compose their own music for friends to accompany. This is trademark Obiedo.
Track two showcases the south of the boarder side of Obiedo. “Blue Cactus” samba swings it’s way from the digital converter like Speedy does the Gonzalez around his hat. Ray, as he always does, includes string imitation instrumentation for effect and here is no exception, only this time it’s more pronounced. Like a blanket over the back , the strings stitch a weave so tight as that no air gets through. The piano work of Peter Horvath is subdued but plays a big part in giving “Blue Cactus” it’s Brazilian fabric. Slide lovers will also enjoy the bone blow by Jeff Cressman at the tag. A silky sway.
Peabo Bryson vocalizes what the title is all about on Track Three. “Sweet Summer Days” is a true to life pictogram of what love in the summertime represents. A straight ahead R&B tune, this is the only sung song on the CD. It tells a tale of love on the beach, a touch of a gentle wind, watching the salsa fade into the night. “These are the sweet summer days”. By this time mom’s got her bop boogying, either that, or the gaps in the cement is what's got her hoppin’ about.
Track four is the song that caught my ear and beckoned me to purchase the CD. On a recent jaunt to the Norfolk area, I heard a familiar style being broadcast by CD 105. “That’s Obiedo”, (Oh-by-ee-do) I said to Gina. Knowing we were going on a Q-ship ride soon and trying to figure out what would be appropriate for the passengers, Ray’s amicable lead guitar came to mind.
“Cha La Island” is reminiscent of cockatoos, banyon trees and other tropical flora and fauna found in South America. On track four, you're whisked away to a far off hole in the water with palms, sand, and blue surf toe tickling. This time, the string section reminds me of something Barry White would have put together. Remember the Love Unlimited Orchestra? Nelson Braxton takes the bass by his hand and leads the group up to the bridge, while Ray maneuvers the keyboard synthesizer into a sky full of stars, twinkling. Norbert Stachel, otherwise, smoothes the sax like pudding in Key Lime pie.
This song, dad’s Crown Vic’, and the CD as a whole is tons better than anything Ray Obiedo or Ford has done in the past. Reading what he wrote about the album, Ray Obiedo savored the time he had in putting the finishing touches on the CD. Ray says,
This is the first album I have recorded making full use of my new home studio, and I found that the great luxury of recording at home is having the time to be a bit of a perfectionist. Without the extra expense of outside studio time, I re-recorded and re-mixed tracks many times, working out the subtleties so as to achieve the perfect sound and flow. The result is a much more polished production than ever before.Chevy, watch out. From assembly line to the tag line, Quality is job one.
Once in Pittsburgh and after a cool down from the throw down the Interstate demands of you, I took my lady ‘G’ on a tour of the old hometown. Our second run through the CD and with no folks in the forecastle, we were able to roll down the windows and glide with ease. Me, acting as Romeo and ‘G’, my Juliet, the night time vehicular stroll was quite nice. Ray gave me a hand in my serenade on track five. “Juliet” , nice, slow and easy, filled the humid night’s air with flutes, fretless basses, pianos and shakers. At end of the tune is where you can really tell the difference between the older Obiedo’s and his most recent. A lot of contemporary jazz deals with sequencing and overdubs. While not sitting right with some purists, I listen for the effect it gives and when Ray talks about sitting at home and looking for said perfection, this is where for art thou. He goes on to say,
Previous albums have reflected a complete potpourri of every style my band plays out in a live setting, but this time, I wanted the sequencing to reflect more of a gentler diversity, a focused mood which would hit the listener more emotionally.Hit? Knocked over!
LA has their Mulholland Drive, New York has its Central Park, but here in Pittsburgh, we have Mount Washington. Much written about and described as being the only city in the world with it’s own view, Pittsburgh’s Mt. Washington is where lovers and tourists alike come to take in the sights of the city. The daylight shot here is nowhere as romantic as it is at night. This is my hometown in its current state.
Speaking of which, track six “Current State” is the epitome of the happy, playful mood of the CD. The finger popping and toe tapping is even audible. On the other four Obiedo offerings, it seemed as if he was content in playing a background role. On “Current State”, Ray comes out of the dark and into the summertime light. The cover of his 1989 release entitled “Perfect Crime” has his guitar chalklined on it as if it's been shot, but when I listened to what was inside, I wondered who was perpetrating the fraud, and which was suppose to be the lead instrument. The current state of “Sweet Summer Days” lays that thought to rest. The flute, sax, and ax work are like kid’s lemonade. Damn if you won’t pucker up and blow.
Track seven takes us back to the Latin side of things. My favorite song on the CD, “Macondo” , asks for a salsa conga line to jump off. In train’s refrain, Curtis Olson does a nice job milking the bass. Dave Matthews of the Band, keys in politely and Marc Van Wageningin’s bass solo pops one off for us. Ray really blended this right. You can pick up the congas and cow’s bell massaged by Peter Michael and the vocals Ester Gadinez stirs in is jaaazzzzz right. Chocolate, stirred by Nestle, quick.
“Coco” is the quarter note of the mix. The guitar and flutes come together and also beg you to whistle while you work. More so than any other CD Ray has cut, background vocals are used to their full extent. Here, Jenny Melzter and Sandy Cressman remind me of the big girls on stage whose hips swing back and forth while they blow their blow. Probably not so, but the high heeled sister sorority singing in the mike has got that bunny thing down, they keep going and going. Nothing but Oooo, Ooo, Ooo, but the effect works. Solid, fluid, and filled with milk honey inside, “CoCo” is a hard note to crack. As an attempt, the whole group drops it on its end, wiping up anything that might have spilled.
“What In The World” ? I must be hungry cause I skipped one. Track 8, “What in the World” is a throwback to Ray’s James Brown and Motown years. It’s a funk ‘em up, jazz em’ down tune where Ray on pluck and Peter Michael on drums start the block spinning with the question. Marc Van Wageningen answers with the bass while Norbert places the punctuation point! Bridging the gap, Ray speaks soft George Bensonish, but Peter’s piano pipes up to exaggeration. Running it home, all JB busts out. (no you didn’t Norbert!)
This eclecticism is the reason Ray has entered the top ten of the Gavin charts on each of his successive outings. The Hill of Windham says,
Whether he's expressing his great love for Latin and Brazilian-styled rhythms or going for a pure funk vibe, for Bay Area guitarist Ray Obiedo, it's always been a groove thing. His previous four Windham Hill releases-- Perfect Crime (1989), Iguana (1991), Sticks and Stones (1993) and African influenced Zulaya (1995), have globe-trotted gracefully from one percussive texture to the next, incorporating his great love of world beat sounds with home grown R&B overtones and distinctive pop instrumental melodies.
“One wish” , our last rub on the bottle, has the genie granting gratuities of the scenes from the African plains. This Serengeti solitude carried ‘G’ and me back through asphalt jungle. Riding low in dad’s Q-ship, the buildings stood like long necked giraffes backlit by the caramel colors of streetlight's glare. We watched people as they moved in migration for one corner to another, herded by the white stripes and the green man on the pole. Although I love Pittsburgh and the city life, my one wish was to be back where time moved not in cheetah like fashion. Shoot! Now I remember why I left. The jungle is beautiful by day, even lovelier at night, but the nocturnal can also be dangerous to the hunted.
Back home and settled, listening to the rain do it's ratamacue and Ray's wide-minded Bose bouncing, memories of our cruise in the “Q” and the reason why I purchased “Sweet Summer Days" in the first place jumps to forefront. If you’re like me and want something contemporary with sounds to do the park with, I’d suggest you take a world voyage with Mr. Obiedo yourself. Take his own, personal invitation,
The music on “Sweet Summer Days” is very rhythmic, but is more a cool counterpoint to the kind of ‘out there’, fiery jazz I play with my band in a live setting. It’s perfect for the gentler moods I was trying to set, and most importantly, the melodies are accessible yet ring true to who I am as an artist.Your ship awaits.