The Escovedo family consists of patriarch Pete Escovedo, daughter Sheila “Sheila E” Escovedo and sons Peter Michael and Juan Escovedo. Fans of Latin Jazz, rock and funk are familiar with the Escovedos – pops and daughter especially. Pete Escovedo joined forces with Carlos Santana after years in a Latin jazz band with his brothers. Sheila E gave us the tune “Glamorous Life,” a piece of Minneapolis soul and one of the best jams of the 1980s. That tune might be best remembered for Sheila E’s percussion work.
One can debate whether the Escovedos are the first family of Latin Jazz, but one certainty is that The E Family – the name that the unit uses on their new recording Now & Forever – will make listeners understand the pivotal role that percussion plays in Afro-Latin music. Perhaps we can call them the first family of percussion? The guest performers on Now & Forever only serve to reinforce that message: George Duke, Earth, Wind & Fire, Gloria Estefan, Raphael Saadiq, Israel Houghton and Joss Stone – to name a few - join the E Family on this project. These are artists who like to make the drums talk. EW&F incorporated the sounds of Africa, Brazil and the Caribbean into their music back in the 1970s. People focus on EW&F’s horns, but don’t forget that founder Maurice White played drums for Chess Records and Ramsey Lewis. Houghton cut a live album in Africa and he also expresses his interest for Caribbean rhythms in his music. You get the picture. True to form, percussion instruments propel Now & Forever. The timbales, bongos, congas, shakers, cowbell and other instruments are the constants on an album that contains many variables in terms of tempo and topics.
Now & Forever contains some bona fide party anthems such as “It’s Gonna Make You Dance” and “Do What It Do.” Joss Stone contributes her vocals to the dreamy mid-tempo ballad “The Other Half of Me,” the best song of a very strong lot. The E Family opens Now & Forever with a trio of tracks that may remind some of Santana’s 2000 chart monster Supernatural. The first is the salsa-influenced track “Take It Back,” featuring vocalist Wes Quave doing his best to beg his way back into his woman’s good graces. Peter Michael provides the vocals on the funky “I Like It,” which features a rap by Sheila E. Sheila’s flow is decent, but her singing voice proves to be in fine form on the next track – an up-tempo Latin pop torch song titled “Nothing Without You.”
Now & Forever even features two gospel songs, “Praise His Name,” and “All Around.” Houghton included the latter track on his Live From Another Level CD. These songs don’t feel out of place in part because the record’s other tracks are the type that can be played in mixed company. The tunes also work because neither varies from the percussion base established by the other cuts on Now & Forever.
There are a lot of guests on Now & Forever, and that is always a risky proposition. People are bound to ask why these guests are on the record, but that really ought to be apparent simply by listening to the music. Knowing the history of the contributors, it’s clear that this is not one of those projects concocted in some corporate boardroom. The E Family put some thought into what they wanted to do here, and that effort pays dividends on Now & Forever. Recommended
By Howard Dukes