-For Your Consideration-
Latin Jazz Album
Arrangement, Instrumental or A Cappella - Bolero
Engineered Album, Non-Classical
In his career, Ken Wiley has shown that, in the right hands, the French horn (which is usually heard backing other instruments) can be quite effective as a solo instrument in a wide variety of settings, from bebop to crossover, free explorations to World Music. Cuerno Exotica, a set of atmospheric originals and transformations of three standards, features Wiley’s French horn as the lead voice.
Wiley shares the spotlight with acoustic guitarist Mark Leggett and Dan Higgins who is mostly heard on flute. They are joined by a subtle and quiet rhythm section that includes the supportive and tasteful bassist Rene Camacho, drummer Bernie Dresel, and both Luis Conte and Kevin Ricard on Latin percussion plus the background riffing and harmonies of the Bolero Horns.
The music is relaxing, moving, and full of beautiful moments. A Latin-tinged version of Ravel’s famous “Bolero” is given fresh life. Cal Tjader’s “Black Orchid” has a light catchy rhythm that inspires excellent French horn and flute solos while McCoy Tyner’s modal piece “Sama Layuca” adapts well to this setting and has a spot for Higgins on tenor.
The other five selections are Ken Wiley originals with two of the songs being co-written by Leggett. Ranging from the easy-listening “Carilo” and the relaxed yet bluesy “Cubano Blue” to the mysterious melody of “Gato Magico,” the music casts a spell on listeners, drawing them into the subtle improvising, hypnotic rhythms, and quietly passionate themes. “Cuerno Exotica” and “El Gorrion” set moods that are both soothing and stimulating. This is music that is inviting and rewards close listening.
While the French horn has been heard as a solo instrument in jazz ever since Julius Watkins’ emergence in the mid-1950s, the number of great French horn soloists through the years can be counted on just two hands. Ken Wiley, who graduated from the Manhattan School of Music, has been one of the top studio musicians in Los Angeles for some time. In addition to performing on the soundtracks of television productions and movies, he has worked with Charlie Haden’s Liberation Music Orchestra, tenor-saxophonist Charlie Rouse, guitarists Grant Geissman and Mike Miller, and bassists John Patitucci and Jimmy Johnson among others. Wiley has also led several albums of his own including Visage, Highbridge Park (which blended his French horn with Afro-Cuban and South American rhythms), jamming a set of standards on Jazz Horn Redux, and most recently the soulful Urban Horn Project.
Ken Wiley does not believe in repeating himself or staying in one musical genre for long. Cuerno Exotica is unlike any of his previous recordings. The memorable performances are quite haunting yet instantly likable, uncategorizable as anything but beautiful music.