If broad-spectrum interests, collaborative enthusiasm and an appetite for improvisation are indicators of a jazz mindset, Chicago-based drummer Daniel Villarreal easily fits the bill. The classification of his work, though, is far more slippery: he’s a member of Dos Santos, who play a high-energy hybrid of cumbia, psychedelia and jazz, a Latine psychedelic-soul duo called The Los Sundowns and the Mexican folk band Ida y Vuelta. He’s also a familiar face on the DJ circuit of his local neighbourhood, spinning everything from Avelino Muñoz to Michael Jackson.
Last year Villarreal released his debut solo album, Panamá 77 (named after the place and date of his birth), an irresistibly groovy, instrumental set that threads psychedelic funk, soul and jazz through traditional Latin-American folk. It was recorded with a large cast including guitarist Jeff Parker, known for both his work in Tortoise and solo records, and LA-based Australian bassist Anna Butterss, who’s served with Phoebe Bridgers, Jenny Lewis and Ben Harper and in 2022 released her first solo album, Activities.
All Villarreal’s projects see him expanding on his folkloric roots (though in fact, he cut his teeth on Panama City’s punk/hardcore scene in the ’90s), but with his second album he’s stretching out in a different way, relaxing the rhythms of cumbia, salsa and Afrobeat into sparer and more silken freeform pieces that channel the spirits of Ray Barretto, the Fania All Stars and Tony Allen, while sharing a genre ambiguity with Chicago adventurers like Tortoise, Isotope 217, New Fracture Quartet and the solo Parker. Lados B – it translates as “B sides” – draws from the same improv sessions as Panamá 77, specifically recordings made over two afternoons in October of 2020. Due to pandemic restrictions, the “studio” was Chicali Outpost, a patio garden in the LA home of International Anthem’s co-founder Scottie McNiece. Earlier live sessions in both LA and Chicago, plus several Outpost sessions, provided Villarreal with a ton of material to choose from and a handful of the recordings with Parker and Butterss made it onto that first album. One “super magical” session, though, demanded a release of its own. As Villarreal told Uncut: “It felt organic and raw improvising as a trio, with very minimal vibe to add in post-production. That’s what characterises those tracks [and led me to] thinking this can be a whole other album.”
Right from the off, the simpático nature of the trio is striking, due in part to the fact that Butterss and Parker had played freeform together before, on the latter’s Mondays At The Enfield Tennis Academy, a live LP released last year, and before that, on Makaya McCraven’s Universal Beings. Throughout the nine-track set, Villarreal suggests structures and moods rather than dictates them, steering an intimate, conversational flow that ranges from inspired unfolding – the passage of Afrotropical percussion that ushers in Butterss’ soft-popping upright bass on set opener “Traveling With” – to the garrulous urgency of “Republic”, a terrific Afrobeat workout over which Parker’s taut guitar lines skate and twangle with effortless grace. First single “Sunset Cliffs” is anchored by a languid, descending bassline that gradually gives way to guitar of a slightly Spanish classical bent, then resurfaces to bring the track full circle, the whole dancing to Villarreal’s dazzling polyrhythms. Very different are the breezy, congas-heavy “Salute”, which introduces a Fender Rhodes shimmer, the psych prog-inclined “Chicali Outpost” with its underlay of gently whining synth and cascades of shaking shells, and “Things Can Be Calm”, a beatific symphony of marimba, drone, barely percolating bass and pellucid guitar scuds that runs to almost nine minutes. The trio make an energetic exit with “Rug Motif”, which whips through Nigeria, Colombia and New York before streaking off on a short tail of analogue electronic noise.
As home to not only Daniel Villarreal, Dos Santos and Jeff Parker but also Angel Bat Dawid, Irreversible Entanglements, Makaya McCraven and the late Jaimie Branch, International Anthem has become something of a byword for releases of a jazz-adjacent yet unbounded nature and though the drummer’s heritage and musical education distinguish him, he’s right at home there. In terms of ego and disposition, Lados B is a small, even unassuming record, but it’s also a giant of fine-tuned, free communication, full of spirit and intuitive elegance. In that light, the title seems like a sly joke.