Bill Ortiz 

Winter in America

Named for a 1973 song by the late poet and singer Gil Scott-Heron, Winter in America is a fascinating departure for Santana trumpeter Bill Ortiz. It features several of the most venerable musicians in the Bay Area, among them Linda Tillery (whose talents seem squandered, given that she recites part of a Martin Luther King Jr. speech rather than contributing her own material), rapper Zumbi of the group Zion-I, and singer Tony Lindsey. Ortiz plays trumpet throughout much of the album, creating jazz licks that, for the most part, sound improvised, usually on a two-chord vamp. He uses a mute on "Word Play" to add a bit of retro varnish. In short, it's a valiant experiment to see if the hip-hop band thing can actually work in the hands of a superlative musician. Which is why I feel bad saying I don't like it that much. The songs all hover on one or two chords, so there's not a ton to grab onto in terms of melody or harmony. The rappers -- three of them, all told -- seem a little out of their element, as though someone ordered them to only talk about civil rights in language riddled with homilies and platitudes. The Gil Scott-Heron homage makes for a lovely framework, but fans of the real Scott-Heron will only mourn for his world-weary tenor. That said, Ortiz did bill this EP as a precursor to a larger project. Perhaps it'll sound richer in that context. (Left Angle Records)

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