Latin twist... At first glance, Calvin Owens and Norma Zenteno might seem an unlikely musical match. But they use their world of differences to distinct advantage on the just-released Es Tu Booty CD, a full-bodied offering of Latinized big-band blues and jazz.
Owens, back in town after a 12-year sojourn in Brussels, may be the closest thing to blues royalty we've had in our midst for some time. A onetime musical director for B.B. King who worked as an arranger at both the legendary Duke/Peacock label and A&M studios in Los Angeles, the Houston-bred trumpeter epitomizes well-heeled, technically accomplished cool. Owens's talents as a bandleader are obvious on Es Tu Booty. And his 12-piece ensemble, Big Blue Sound, produces a whopping, modern-day version of the big-band blues of his Fifth Ward youth.
Zenteno has done her share of living, as well -- though in a different musical and geographical context. Her Norma Zenteno Band has been a solid draw along the Gulf Coast for more than 15 years now. With her signature spunk and sexy, full-throated delivery, Zenteno can move from salsa diva to classic-rock chanteuse without so much as a strained breath. Of late, Zenteno has been working to make her mark on the region's burgeoning rock en Espanol movement with her rootsy outfit, Raised by Wolves.
As the story goes, it was just that mix of slick versatility and raw enthusiasm Owens was after when he contacted Zenteno more than a year ago. He'd become increasingly encouraged by how well B.B. King's releases were selling in Spanish-speaking countries, and that inspired him to refashion his then-current disc That's Your Booty for a south-of-the-border audience.
"I read in Billboard a couple years ago that B.B. King had sold more albums in Spanish-speaking countries than any other MCA artist," says Owens. "And I said to myself, 'And [B.B.] is in English.' Why not go to the masses and sing in Spanish?"
One visit to Zenteno's home was all it took; Owens had the woman he needed for his project. In assembling the music for Es Tu Booty (a Spanish translation of That's Your Booty), he suggested a list of potential tracks to Zenteno, then allowed her to make the final selection. Owens was still living in Brussels when Es Tu Booty was recorded, and he flew back to Houston for short periods to oversee the project.
Basically, Zenteno's Spanish vocals were dubbed over a handful of instrumental tracks from Owens's original That's Your Booty, which is available locally on Owens's own Sawdust Alley Records. He then combined those cuts with two tunes from his previous Sawdust Alley release, True Blue (which features guest appearances by Johnny Copeland and David "Fat Head" Newman), and a few new tunes done in a more Latin vein.
Incorporating both English and Spanish lyrics, Es Tu Booty is a dynamic bilingual summit presided over by Zenteno, Owens and a capable supporting cast, including local Latino rapper Valdemar and Walter Suhr of Mango Punch! fame. Then there's the powerhouse contribution from members of Owens's Blues Orchestra (a.k.a. Big Blue Sound), who outdo themselves on big-brass numbers such as "Desperte Gritando" and the title track. As for Zenteno's quality pipes, they had little problem accommodating Owens's vision, although the singer does attest to feeling uneasy with him in the studio.
"I was a little nervous," Zenteno laughs. "Of course, he liked everything."
The phenomenal reception a lot of American-made jazz and blues has received in foreign markets over the years never ceases to amaze Owens. The way he sees it, Es Tu Booty simply takes the booming international appeal of the music he loves to the next logical level. The idea seemed so obvious that, quite frankly, he's surprised projects like his aren't more common.
"It's never really been done like this before -- to my knowledge," Owens says. "That's the secret of the success of this thing. It was just an idea in the beginning, and it just started growing and growing. I just can't wait to see what the end result will be. We might have a hell of a thing going here."
Death to the Jinkies... Sadly, the Jinkies' lengthy reign as the best unsigned band in Houston has come to a close, and it has nothing to do with the major-label signing many of us believed was just around the corner. Alas, bandleader Carlos DeLeon, who's been working as a roadie for Austin's Sixteen Deluxe in recent months, is moving to New York, effectively breaking up one of the local scene's most treasured groups. The Jinkies play their farewell gig at Rudyard's British Pub Friday, with the Sperlings opening. Reality sucks.
Etc.... It may have been hard getting there, but Kelly Dean can finally say he's a published author. The Houston saxophonist's new book, Jazz Essentials -- "Nuts and Bolts" Instruction for the Jazz and Pop Musician, should be in stores any day now, and it's about time; the initial draft was finished way back in May 1994.
Dean -- who plays with TkOH! and the Solango Trio and is a private instructor at San Jacinto College -- had originally dubbed his book Instant Jazz Theory -- Just Add Water and Stir. But that title went by the wayside when music publishing giant Hal Leonard's people got hold of the original, touching off a long and arduous revision process that eventually led to the current version. Jazz Essentials' striking illustrations, by the way, come courtesy of another Houston player, Todd Harrison.
"The whole thing started out as some notes I had written to my students," says Dean of his book, which, he says, takes a "somewhat sarcastic," "tongue-in-cheek" approach to teaching people the basics of music composition. "I tried to make it so that people would have fun reading it and then accidentally learn something."
Dean and Harrison are already planning a second volume of Jazz Essentials. But in light of their previous timetable, don't expect to see it before the millennium.
-- Hobart Rowland
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