Things I Wanted to Do (Chemboro Records)

Chembo Corniel

Released June 29, 2009

Grammy Nominee for Best Latin Jazz Album 2010




Rare is the percussionist who can play with the authoritative control illustrated by this young giant. His masterful technique and skill as a leader have been greatly emphasized by his three previous productions, while his credits as a stable and reliable sideman are a virtual encyclopedia. Staying very much in the here and now, Chembo (the leader) once again comes to the fore, as he takes pride in presenting his latest musical endeavor, “Things I Wanted To Do” (a great title by the way, for a recording by someone that has practically done it all). Even the slower paced tunes have that certain edge; a certain soulfulness and dedication to the art form and an ineffable, enchanting quality that is quite present throughout this production, and which might best be encapsulated in a single word, duende.
For those of us who have witnessed any of his past performances, well, all the more impressed we are, for Chembo is not one to sit back and rest on his laurels, opting instead to build upon that which he has already created, actively pursuing a lifelong dream in bridging the musically rich past with the new and uncharted future. At this point in his career, Chembo (the recording artist) is totally in control of his art (not to mention his financial affairs), and is quite intent on staying in the game, pushing his limits each and every time he steps up to the plate, meeting the many challenges of a constantly changing market, and making a new statement with every project that he gets involved with. To some, this type of high stakes diversity can be suicidal, but for Chembo (the warrior), it’s par for the course. Win some, lose some, but play the game he will, and what he ultimately brings to the table is an all encompassing view of what modern Latin jazz should be. The days of simple jazz overtones floating over the old ballroom dance rhythms are over, and Chembo (the visionary) knows this all too well.
As he has so often illustrated in the past, Chembo (the innovator) unequivocally refuses to allow any restrictions to infringe upon the complete and total offertory of candid and exhilarating jazz, issuing forth his craft with great determination, with a complete and definite brilliance that is his alone. My first encounter with him in the studio was when we both recorded with Andrea Brachfeld, and I’ve admired his zeal ever since. He is one of those talented artists whose skills by far surpass his fame, and as a result he is quite modest for it. As a percussionist, he is able to fluctuate between the many distinct Caribbean folkloric styles, the very modal and strictly-for-dancing Cuban salsa groove, plus the bluesy and very up-swinging jazz tinged styles that are available in most modern American music; all without losing site of the African element in each, which is why all of these elements, collectively or individually are so dominant in his music. In his tuning, Chembo prefers a peculiarly dry sound, while showing a remarkable ability in transforming harmonical structures and melodic lines into rhythmic patterns and riffs. To be sure, Chembo is first and foremost a drummer, and one helluva soloist at that; yet rock-steady when he has to be. Personal prowess notwithstanding, here is someone who is undeniably a team member, and in such a good understanding with his mates that the result is a most enjoyable combination of moods and sounds, all locked into the whole. A carefully woven tapestry of sounds that can delight the listener as well as the dancer in all of us.
“Things I Wanted To Do” would have certainly been less than perfect if drummer Vince Cherico, bassist Carlo Derosa and pianist Elio Villafranca had not all marked the rhythm as assertively and inventively as they did. Saxophonist Ivan Renta is in top form throughout this recording, and no session would be complete without at least a few invited guests. John Dimartino, Frank Fontaine, Ludovic Beier, Octavio Kotan, Gennaro Tedesco, Ruben Rodriguez, Dave Samuels, Jimmy Bosch, David Oquendo, Junior Rivera, Marvin Diz, Pedro Martinez, Roman Diaz and Ileana Santamaria all add the extra spark that ignites and ultimately kindles the fire, turning eleven original compositions and a forgotten oldie into future classics.
The opener on this CD is “Buena Gente” (Good Folks), written by Chembo in collaboration with Fontaine, and a real eye opener in terms of varying the mood. Rhythmic changes permeate, and Renta, Derosa and Chembo are right on target with their respective solos on this one. 
As far as preserving tradition is concerned, you can’t get anymore Afro-Cuban than “Habana”, composed by the group’s pianist Elio Villafranca. It starts off as a straight-ahead guaguancó and quickly meshes into a total mosaic of sounds and styles, with Cherico’s drum kit cutting loose right smack in the groove of it, quite representative of the metropolis for which the piece was named.
“September Cha” is a tasty cha cha chá that was written by pianist Hector Martignon. It adheres to the popular fifties dance beat while opening itself up to some excellent jazz solos by Renta and Villafranca (heard here on Fender Rhodes). David Oquendo is also heard on guitar. As the excitement builds we are treated to some very nice percussion solos; first by Chembo himself, who takes the drum back to the motherland, then by Marvin Diz soloing on his timbales, culminating with a beautiful 6/8 abakwá incantation by Roman Diaz. 
Next up is a beautiful bolero titled”Tenia Que Ser Asi”, the only selection which could probably not be considered an original, as originals go. It was written by the great Bobby Collazo. Here, it is given a very unique treatment by Chembo and the band, sans the lyrics. Vibist Dave Samuels compliments Renta’s sax, sharing the spotlight with him, bringing to (my) mind the Cal Tjader – Chombo Silva collaborations recorded at San Francisco’s Blackhawk over forty years ago. Strangely enough, one would think that this haunting piece was written just recently. Bassist Ruben Rodriguez also gives it a touch of nostalgia with his short but classy solo.
As descargas go, Chembo’s “Descarga Patato” is the ultimate montuno jam, with the composer acknowledging one of the major influences on his instrument. Fine trading of solos here by Bosch and Renta, with Fontaine and Rivera lending support on the flute and tres guitar respectively; Villafranca putting much more of a Cuban feel into his ostinato, and of course, Chembo, who dabs the proverbial icing on the cake, showing us that Cachao’s descarga format is alive and well. 
Then there is “The Sultan”, penned by none other than Marty Sheller. The introduction here is by Chembo, and the opening bars evoke the “golden” era of Latin jazz, when it was a highly specialized music, dominated by a few select icons who were ale to leap tall buildings at a single bound. Great jazz solos on this one by Renta on soprano sax, with vocalist Pedrito Martinez adding that much needed africanía to the piece. The mood here is pure Mongo, with an unmistakeable touch of Trane. 
Trumpeter John Walsh contributes the climactic “Things I Wanted To Do”, done nicely in a fast-paced straight-ahead Latin jazz style, with plenty of room for blowing, and with just the right touch of down home electrifying blues. Octavio Kotan & Gennaro Tedesco beckons the spirit of Muddy Waters to join the overall mix as Villafranca meets the challenge head on with an exhilarating solo that almost breaks into a furious montuno, inciting the drummer that is Chembo, edging him on as he feeds off the frenzy of the moment, climaxing the tune with some hard riffs on the skins. If this tune were a spicy stew it would have boiled over with flavor to spare.
Although Zacai Curtis’ “Isla Verde” savours less of a “Latin jazz” mood, it’s purely rhythmic undercurrent actually leans more toward a carnivalesque feel, giving the listener a strong sense of both calypso and bomba, while on the surface it’s all jazz. Villafranca and Renta both swing in a seemingly contradictory and laid back manner, but in a way that works, especially towards the end.
Hector Martignon’s arrangement of Ludovic Beier’s “Swing Street” is a smoker from start to finish, quite reminiscent of New York’s famed 52nd Street, with plenty of bop lines and even a hint of tango in its make-up. Beier himself is featured, slipping into accordion mode for this one. Effortlessly, the now-historical collaborations between Piazzola and Mulligan are re-revisited.
“Fantasma” is by John Dimartino, who is featured here on Fender Rhodes, comping and soloing to his heart’s delight. To say that this piece is melancholic would be an understatement; in truth it is mystical, fecund as the dense tropic woods, evoking passages from Lydia Cabrera’s literary works, Langston Hughes’ essays and Nicolás Guillen’s masterful poetry. One need not see, nor hear the actual words, but rather feel the intellectual spirit which is entwined within the music. Yes, music does speak, it speaks to your soul. DiMartino, who dedicated this tune to the Mexican film maker Guillermo Del Toro, describes it as being mysterious, in much the same way that Del Toro’s films have a mysterious quality to them. 
The second original by Chembo is “Oru Pa’ Tommy Lopez”; a cryptically heart wrenching prayer, dedicated to yet another of our lost giants who recently crossed over. With nothing but love in his heart, Chembo respectfully brings together a collective of minds and hearts that beautifully round out a most ambitious project. Their rhythms confound, their vocals are emphatic and their drumming bare witness to a legacy; a worthy tribute that can only burst forth with the respect that such a master deserves. 
“Things I Wanted To Do” is on its way to being one of the great classics of our times. The music expressed throughout this CD is more than just the combination of sounds and beats, for it travels into another dimension, a dimension of the soul, which only a handful of dedicated musicians can navigate through. This particular group, “Chaworó”, led by Chembo (the “gúru”) is without a doubt, very much at home with these sounds. 
Finally, a word about the sound quality. Listening to such a fine recording as this, one quickly gets an idea as to the dedication and work which must have gone into the final mixing. When both artist and sound engineer work long and hard on something they ultimately wind up enhancing the original sound, but they also have to be careful that it doesn’t lose what was good about the actual performance. Here, you can tell that a lot of time was spend on replicating all the important elements from the rough mix, and one of the things that really stood out was the way the percussion interacted with the other instruments, it gave me the impression of a live setting. I not only hear every musical note, but I can actually feel the energy bursting forth. Working together, they create that certain element that really makes you want to get up and dance, or, just appreciate it for what it is, good music. To keep that live feeling while enhancing the overall sound is crucial to a recording, and all the engineers involved came through with flying colors. There were some vocal tracks included, and you can tell that they worked hard on making them sound as good, up-front and present as possible. The singers sound like they are sitting right next to you. Sound wise, “Things I Wanted To Do” is very formidable production. 
Chico Alvarez Peraza, musician, bandleader and journalist (October, 2008)

Track Listing:

1. Buena Gente 5:42

2. Habana 7:23

3. September Cha 6:19

4. Tenia Que Ser Asi 5:28

5. Descarga Patato 4:54

6. The Sultan 7:06

7. Things I Wanted to Do 6:02

8. Isla Verde 6:43

9. Swing Street 5:18

10. Fantasma 7:00

11. Oru Pa’ Tommy Lopez 4:31


Chembo Corniel: tumbadoras, Batá (Okónkolo), all percussion

Ivan Renta: tenor, soprano sax

Vince Cherico: drums

Carlo DeRosa: acoustic bass

Elio Villafranca: piano, Fender Rhodes


Dave Samuels: vibes (4)

Ludovic Beier: accordion (9)

Jimmy Bosch: trombone (5)

David Oquendo: guitar (3)

John Di Martino: Fender Rhodes (10)

Ruben Rodríguez: acoustic bass (4, 10)

Tino Derado: piano (4)

Gennaro Tedesco: lead guitar (7)

Octavio Kotan: rhythm guitar (7)

Junior Rivera: tres (5)

Frank Fontaine: flute (5)

Marvin Diz: timbales (3, 5, 10)

Nelson Jaime (Gazu): string arr. and player (4)

Pedro Martinez: Batá {Itótele} (1, 2, 6, 11), vocals (2, 5, 6, 11)

Ogduardo Roman Diaz: Batá {Iyá} (1,2, 6, 11), vocals (2, 3, 5, 6)

Iliana Santamaria: vocals (2, 5, 6)


There is nothing like a swinging, stomping Latin-Jazz record laden with sensuous clave and robust horns and relentless, driving percussion to stir the senses. And this is exactly what Wilson Chembo Corniel brings to life with Things I Wanted To Do. And this is also one more step in the journey for Corniel on his way to join the rarified space occupied by the likes of Tata Güines, Pancho Quinto, Long John Oliva and many others. Much of this has to do not just with Corniel’s wonderful abilities as percussionist, but also because of his ability to make music with his cohorts which is new and memorable.

Chembo Corniel is a mature artist and a fine, tasteful percussionist. His style may not be flamboyant, but he has this great depth as a musician. And as a punisher of the skins he is extremely intelligent. Corniel also understands not just clave, but pulse and dynamics. His work is inspired by living color and myriad timbral texture – as much as the mind can imagine. He often shows controlled passion and he certainly has a deep understanding of the metaphors and phrasing of music – no matter what dialect he sings in – Afro-Cuban or jazz. This is what makes his percussion work almost vocal. He rides his congas like a master who can tame even the wildest skins. His work on the smallest Batá (Okónkolo) together with Pedro Martinez and Ogduardo Roman Diaz, who play (Itótele and Iyá Batás, respectively) is highly spiritual and authentic. Together these percussionists – especially on “Oru Pa Tommy Lopez” is especially heartwarming as Corniel, Martinez and Diaz return the drum to its deep sacred voicing.

On Things I Wanted To Do Chembo Corniel makes short work of the exuberance of Latin American music. He swings from flamboyant to thoughtful and extreme virtuosity on “The Sultan,” a track that the great Marty Sheller wrote with him in mind. The restraint here is admirable. And this stands him in good stead as he leads from the front. And this is a powerful quintet that he leads. The group includes Iván Renta on tenor and soprano saxophones who is especially memorable on “Tenia Que Ser Asi.” Then there is Vince Cherico, who brings that hard edge and filigreed drumming approach to the music. Pianist Elio Villafranca is outstanding throughout this recording. Villafranca, not only a soloist with a voice of his own is fast becoming a first-call sessions pianist and he is highly adept at eschewing the flash and showmanship that comes so easily to many pianists these days, replacing this with feeling and emotion instead. There is ample evidence of this especially on the extraordinary “Isla Verde.” And bassist, Carlos DeRosa is solid as a rock!

Things I Wanted To Do showcases all of the group’s formal rhythmic structures from cha-cha to classic son and rumba, with “Oru Pa Tommy Lopez” being a beautifully pure ritualistic percussion ensemble conversation with God. But there is also a spectacular array of music here. For instance Chembo Corniel stretches wonderfully on Ludovic Beier’s “Swing Street,” a track on which Beier’s accordion adds a superb harmonic twist to the ensemble sound. “Descarga Patato” and “The Sultan” are also tremendous vehicles for Corniel. “Fantasma,” although somewhat dark in tone is bewitching and beguiling and is riveting as it progresses languorously towards its denouement.

This record is also marked by several fine performances by its guest musicians. Frank Fontaine, who guests on “Descarga Patato”, is superb on flute alongside Jimmy Bosch, who growls his way on trombone. This may not be a typically rocking Latin record, but it is thoughtful and majestic and marks another giant step for Chembo Corniel in the world of Latin music.

Raul da Gama (Latin Jazz Network)