Berkeley’s Bursting with Ray Obiedo’s Latin Jazz

Article & Photos by Walter Atkins

Ray Obiedo & Guests
Latin Jazz Project Volume 1
CD Release Party
Freight & Salvage
Berkeley California
February 22, 2017

The San Francisco Bay Area music fans that braved   seriously nippy Wednesday night weather   for Ray Obiedo’s Latin Jazz Volume 1 cd release party were well rewarded for their efforts. The prominent Richmond CA native and his hi octane band provided a full evening of Latin flavored jazz bursting with percussive polyrhythms and special guest performances. This lethal group included: guitarist Obiedo, steel panist Phil Hawkins, saxophonist/flutist Alex Murzyn, pianist Bob Crawford, bassist David Belove, percussionist Derek Rolando, and drummer Colin Douglas. Very Special Guests included percussionist Peter Michael Escovedo (Patti Labelle, Sheila E, Kenny G), keyboardist Dave K. Mathews (Santana), and soulful vocalists Sandy Griffith and Leah Tysse.

After launching the set with “Southern Side” and “Cubo Azul” from the new album with contributions by Crawford, Obiedo jokingly suggested taking a break. The patron sitting next to me with his daughter commented, “It has been a long week and this is the best music to relax with.” He worked in a Berkeley ski shop and this was the height of the busy season. Obiedo went into Milton Nascimento’s Brazilian standard   “Vera Cruz.” He heartily dug in here along with Douglas’ fiery drum solo. After finishing the song, the bandleader asked if Roger Glenn was in the house. “We’re going to do “Santa Cruz.” It goes exactly like this.” This track featured Murzyn’s fine flute performance. Obiedo coached Matthews from the audience while casually asking if he played with Santana for 20 years.“25 years”-Mathews quickly asserted on his way to the stage.

After doing two additional songs featuring Mathews, Obiedo asked him not to leave. “We’re going to change the set list. He added “Brasileiro“. This one had a slow beginning with fan clapping. It included Belove’s strong bass flowing with killer drums and percussive play emphatically ending with Escovedo  exclaiming, “JungleBoogie!” The F&S crowd devoured it.

Asking if there were any dancers, Obiedo noted there were, “lots of stares in the second row.” Hawkins said he’s taking notes. An elderly couple was quietly dancing in a corner near the stage. A listener requested “True/False”, an older song. Obiedo responded, “We don’t play that song anymore.” “Must be Earl,” Escovedo added with a smile. They played  “Criss Cross” with Obiedo’s distinctive guitar lead and Escovedo contributed an intensely satisfying percussion solo. Their output garnered a long ovation. Obiedo slyly commented, “We have to stick to the list because it throws everyone off.”

Family friend Escovedo asked if anyone had introduced Obiedo. He mentioned as a kid, he watched Leave It To Beaver at 10:30 am with him. The love  and easy admiration between the two musicians was fun to see. Escovedo, a member of the East Bay’s famous Escovedo Family, said, “He was my favorite guitar player and he’s a dope songwriter.” Then Obiedo talked about how a drummer didn’t show up for a scheduled session. He asked a young Escovedo, already in on percussion for the date, to play drums. He was impressed with his skill on the drum kit.

Obiedo referred to Hawkins’ steel pan as a “punch bowl.” Hawkins calmly replied, “A $4,000 punch bowl.” He then discussed the creator and development of steel pans and how it originated in Trinidad and Tabago. “Born out of necessity since the British outlawed drums,” according to Hawkins. He asked if they were going to play something and Escovedo said, “Good idea-you play by yourself so they can hear.” Hawkins liked the suggestion and complied with a contemplative solo steel pan interlude to healthy house applause.


Later in the energetic evening, the bandleader introduced his guest singers, local Bay Area favorites Tysse and Griffith sang lead on “I Can’t Help It” and “Love Again” respectively. The soulful ladies also provided beautiful background work. Obiedo mentioned Tysse had a CD and regularly performed at the well-known Glide Memorial Church in San Francisco.

Obiedo also talked about the two Tower Of Power musician friends recently hit by a train on their way to a gig at Yoshi’s. In response to this terrible event, Escovedo organized and recorded Raise the Marc VW Benefit album. The eleven-track cd was completed within days of the accident. The group did more songs from the album throughout the engaging session.

For the encore, Obiedo brought Matthews back on stage for “Werewolf”. He played it in  his “funky Richmond style” and coyly asked bassist Matthews, not keyboardist Mathews, to follow the changes. After the show, Obiedo commented, “I can’t believe we played this many tunes.” His supporters were definitely glad he did.

Ray Obiedo and his special guests served up a searing blend of fresh Latin rhythms, jazz and rock from his current album Latin Jazz Volume 1  for the appreciative Freight & Salvage venue. This was an appealing  night of new music performed passionately with good friends and family. We’re already looking forward to Volume 2.


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