Never has contemporary jazz guitarist Ray Obiedo’s genuine lifelong affection for the San Francisco Bay Area’s unique musical personality been more clearly evident or remarkably celebrated than in his newest CD Latin Jazz Project Vol 1, released nationwide on the Rhythmus Records label.
Even as a child growing up in the East Bay, Obiedo recognized his own profoundly soulful musical connection to the Northern California region and its eclectic blend of exotic multi-ethnic rhythms. Small wonder indeed, many years and successful albums later. Ray has steadily emerged as one the most originally expressive and exciting contemporary jazz talents of the decade with a delightfully distinct Bay Area flavor thoroughly marinating his personal jazz signature and nationwide festival performances.
Among my favorite childhood memories,” Obiedo recalls while relaxing at his self-owned Werewolf Recording Studios in the Oakland Hills, were those numerous trips across the bay to places like the Fillmore Auditorium and Winterland Auditorium to hear some of the greatest rock bands in the world. Everyone from Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, Janis Joplin, to the great Isaac Hayes and Sly Stone. It was exciting, inspirational and vibrantly alive. For musicians interested in exploring and creating new sounds, it was absolutely the place to be.
Although Obiedo didn’t begin seriously studying guitar until his last year in high school, the deep jazz influences of artist like Miles Davis, Wes Montgomery, and Antonio Carlos Jobin had already been intricately woven into his musical soul. Even the raw soul of the great James Brown became an indelible component of Obiedo’s musical signature.
As Obiedo became totally focused on mastering his instrument and learning the craft of songwriting throughout the '70s and '80s, brightly promising career as a professional jazz artist began taking form. His reputation for musical excellence and creative performance was quickly becoming acknowledged and respected throughout his beloved Bay Area music community.
Obiedo was soon performing with many of the jazz community’s most celebrated stars, including legendary jazz organist Johnny “Hammond” Smith, trombonist Julian Priester, Azteca featuring Pete and Sheila Escovedo, and Fourplay’s Harvey Mason. A world tour in 1978-79 with jazz superstar Herbie Hancock is still one of Ray’s most treasured musical memories.
Ray found time in between his stints as side man to lead such popular local bands as the fusion ensemble Kick (featuring a very young Sheila E. on drums and longtime Sonny Rollins pianist Mark Soskin) and the funk-rock group Rhythmus 21 which showcased many of the Bay Area’s leading singers.
As a session player, Ray’s guitar work has been nicely presented on albums by artists as diverse as Lou Rawls, George Duke, Brenda Russell, Herbie Hancock, Sheila E. & the E Train, Freda Payne, The Whispers, The Delfonics as well as solo albums by jazz trumpeter Eddie Henderson, former Yellowjackets’ saxophonist Marc Russo and Meters drummer Zigaboo Modeliste. It was also Obiedo’s memorable guitar solo that so sweetly highlighted sax star Grover Washington Jr’s last hit cover of the classic single “Soulful Strut.”
Eventually launching his own solo recording career on the Windham Hill Jazz label, Obiedo recorded and released no less than five contemporary jazz albums over the following few years to steadily increasing levels of critical praise and commercial success.
Beginning with his debut CD Perfect Crime, through Iguana, Sticks & Stones, Zulaya and Sweet Summer Days, Obiedo has consistently remained loyal to his rhythm and blues roots while also sharpening his Afro-funk instincts and highlighting his natural flair for utterly infectious pop and Latin/Brasilian grooves. As a result, he has both discovered and cultivated a fiercely devoted international following.
Typical of Obiedo’s album successes was his Sticks & Stones CD which peaked at No. 7 on Billboard’s contemporary jazz chart and remained in the top 25 for more than 10 weeks. It also scored as high as No. 5 on the Radio & Records NAC chart and the Gavin Report adult alternative chart in addition to placing in the Top 20 on the Gavin Report.
Currently appearing with Obiedo on his latest release Latin Jazz Project Vol 1 are a number of all-star jazz luminaries including the Yellowjackets’ Bob Mintzer, percussionist Sheila E., flautist Elena Pinderhughes, master timbalero Orestes Vilato, trumpeter Ray Vega, and current Santana members percussionist Karl Perazzo and keyboardist David K Mathews.
Like one of his idols Henry Mancini, Obiedo’s music has found its way to the silver screen. Ray has contributed source music to major motion pictures Internal Affairs starring Richard Gere and A Shock to the System starring Michael Caine. Ray also collaborated with singer/songwriter Teresa Trull for the soundtrack to Nicloe Conn’s Claire of the Moon. Obiedo further established and solidified his compositional credentials by writing successful songs for other musical performers, The Whispers, Tower of Power, Andy Narell, Sheila E., Pete Escovedo Orquestra, Marion Meadows, Linda Tillery, guitarist Bruce Forman, master funk drummer David Garibaldi, and percussionist Bill Summers.
In recent years, Ray has concentrated heavily on his production and engineering skills. In addition to producing his own album projects, he has produced and or engineered a variety of major and independently released CDs. Obiedo co-produced guitarist Joyce Cooling’s 1997’s highly successful release Playing it Cool for Heads Up Records, keyboardist Tom Grant’s Tune It In for Windham Jazz Records and saxophonist Marion Meadows’ Next To You. His most recent co-production and engineering credit includes Amikaeyla’s Being in Love, featuring bass superstar Esperanza Spalding.
Recent tours as a sideman included a 2012 U.S. run with Still Black, Still Proud “An African Tribute to James Brown” featuring Maceo Parker, Pee Wee Ellis, Vusi Mahasela, and Cheikh Lo.
Time is absolutely one of the most precious and valuable luxuries in the recording industry,” Obiedo explains, “and without question, the greatest advantage of owning my own studio is having all the time I need to make sure each and every track is as close to perfection as possible. That’s simply not possible under other circumstances, when time spent in a studio can very quickly and easily become prohibitively expensive. Unfortunately, creative decisions are made based on economic considerations rather than musical ones. Albums produced in that fashion may be fiscally expedient, but they’re not necessarily an accurate reflection of the artist’s musical vision.
His last four CDs, Sweet Summer Days, Modern World, There Goes That and Latin Jazz Project Vol 1 were recorded at Obiedo’s Werewolf Recording facilities in the Oakland Hills. It’s the primary reason Ray feels more excited than ever about his recording future.
Indeed, the world of contemporary jazz guitarist Ray Obiedo is a highly energized and hypnotically rhythmic soundscape revealing all the passion, flavor, color, and style of the Northern California region which conceived, nourished, and inspired the musical soul of this fascinating and prolific jazz artist.