Sea Of Cortez






I have to admit something upfront: I have a love-hate relationship with Yavaz‘s one and only studio album, even though it has a massive cult following on the internet up to this day and was put together by highly skilled musicians like Nelson Ortiz and Mark Riddle, the latter of DigiTiki fame. These days, love-hate relationships are simply called marriages, so this is by no means a bad thing. What bewilders me about Sea Of Cortez is the surprising amount of synthesizer melodies and backing chords, its hot Latino rhythms and the general focus on Jazz … coupled with one too many Mexican clichés, so I cannot listen to this album in one go. This is my own problem entirely, and I‘m sure there are Exotica institutions that can help me with medications and carefully executed occiput bashes.


What I lack in taste, the seven band members deliver with hot-tempered passion, and each song truly shines. The band approaches the concept of a Mexican album twofoldly, by staying true to the spirit of Folk music with the help of brass interludes, Latin pianos and acoustic guitars on the one hand, and the aforementioned use of synthesizers in songs that are dispensed from the Latin corset on the other hand. Most of these songs are counter-intuitively long, quite a novelty for a Latin Jazz record that evokes an upbeat mood and tries to include many Latin music styles. Thus, in order to not feeling saturated, I prefer to spread its songs in my playlists where they are equally able to rock my heart.


The title track Sea Of Cortez is already a bomb! It starts with ocean waves, an echoey and super-schmaltzy acoustic guitar played by Barry Bedore and a carefully accompanying piano by Philip Lim. While the percussion is fading in slowly, a majestic synthesizer melody is introduced, bringing pictures of deep blue water and oystercatchers to mind. Other great additions are an electric guitar, a piano melody played in typical Latin style, deeply rumbling drums and a short shift in rhythm similar to a military march. Yep, all of these things are found in this 7+ minute song, and they don‘t seem to fit on paper, but Yavaz make them work flawlessly on the album. A curiously unique song, and a fervid one, too.


The following tune So What is brim-full of Latino rhythms and an easy-going atmosphere with piano and acoustic guitar battles and a few opportunities for solo plays. Later on, Drew Yantis beats the drums staccato-like, causing a quick-tempered intermezzo. So What works so well because it is loaded with different ideas, not different instruments like the title track, and is especially entertaining due to its sections and surprises being short and skillfully performed. A Latin song by the numbers with no distinctive melody but a freely flowing piece with a focus on improvisation. Muñeca (Spanish for doll) is the fourth track, and this is another Latin-flavored song, but with great lyrics by Ortiz and a prominent melody with sunset brass sections and afterglow piano soli. This song stays so true to the Mexican origin it is painting aurally that it seems to come right from a mountain village. There is many a song called Muñeca, but Yavaz‘s creation is an original piece.


The middle of the album consists of another two synthesizer pieces: Betty‘s Bossa is a favorite of mine with beautifully ethereal background synths (in a Latin Jazz song!), gentle percussion and an acoustic guitar on the forefront which is the only hint to the Latin approach. The rhythm changes in the last 70 seconds, now focusing on a more upbeat percussion and sprinkled piano notes. The following Island Fever is an overly clichéd but well-working overjoyed piece with a dominant sax, bongos, synthesized steel drums and background strings. This is definitely showcase music for holiday trailers or harmless cartoon series. The former majestic mood of the first song is gone completely, and I cannot believe that this song is on the same album as all the others before it; this is the theme of a bustling technicolored island with friendly natives and celebratory cocktail consumption.


Larry‘s Stinkin‘ Lincoln is the following tune and moves back to the endemic formula of Latin goodness, and of all the Latin tracks, this is the standout one with a gorgeous sax melody and mean piano chords. Of course, the integration of the acoustic guitar is mandatory, but it is Bill Shreeve‘s saxophone that outguns every other element on there. A Latin-encapsulating classic for me. The last two tracks, Para Los Rumberos and Rumberos Jam both focus one last time on that certain Latin spirit, the former track being a true-hearted rendition of Santana‘s classic interpretation with a gorgeous bongo section in the middle. A swinging song that really heats things up. Rumberos Jam is a song that is entirely driven on percussion and only with the slightest hint of a melody played on a bass guitar. This is Latin music with an exotic attitude, not unlike The Waitiki 7‘s Voodoo Fever tune that consists of a very similar percussive section. Definitely the fastest song on the album, and the silence that ensues after this stormer is all the more deafening.


No music for a luau, but applicable for a piñata, that‘s Sea Of Cortez. Even though this is the band‘s only studio album, Yavaz still perform occasionally up to this day. Don‘t let my introductory comment put you off: if you like Latin Jazz (as I do) and if you can handle large doses of el fuego mexicano (which I cannot), this is a great offering that often strives areas of tropical Exotica styles, especially on Betty‘s Bossa, Island Fever and Rumberos Jam. Most songs are quick and invite you to dance. It is also worth owning the album for the curious inclusion of electronic sounds that are not often found in the Latin Jazz genre, with the exception of a few songs similar in style by Fourplay or the Pat Metheny Group. As it goes with love-hate relationships and socially accepted drugs of all kinds: once you consume too much, you are fed up, but keep coming back, craving for more. That‘s my approach in terms of Sea Of Cortez: playing two or three songs in a row, and then moving on to other Exotica sounds. When it comes down to it, I recommend Sea Of Cortez to Jazz listeners and Exotica lovers who don‘t mind the Latin sound and a bold bit of cliché.


Exotica Review 040: Yavaz – Sea Of Cortez (1997). Originally published on Jan. 14, 2012 at AmbientExotica.com.