Bill Ortiz

Bay Area-based trumpet player Bill Ortiz has become something of a legend in his own right.  The musician has made a name for himself playing alongside the legendary Carlos Santana, as well as lending his skills to classic hip-hop albums like Souls of Mischief’s 93 til Infinity. 

Earlier this year, Ortiz released his EP Winter in America, a project that received stellar reviews for his collaboration with Tony Lindsay and The Grouch in the form of “Winter in America,” among other tracks from the project.  Now, the musician just released his new full-length player Highest Wish, a project that really will make people go away from the project feeing soulful, optimistic and fulfilled.

For the album, Ortiz hooks up with collaborators Casual, Zumbi of Zion I, Linda Tillery, The Grouch, and more.  The album revisits some of the tracks from the Winter in America EP, using that project as a starting point and adding depth as it goes. With this newer release, however, Ortiz is able to bridge the generation gap, giving music to the hip-hop loving people as well as those in love with jazz music, making a project both for musically conscious types of all ages.

The strengths of the album are evident early, in fact, from the first song on the album “Ha-Ya (Means Life).”  Ortiz recruits Luqman Frank and Omega Rae for the song, and the music used to accompany their vocals give life to a brilliant spirit of collaboration that runs throughout the album.  The production on “We Are What We Are,” aside from the incredible trumpet work--sounds a little dated, making this song appear to be from some time in the early 90’s when the Bay Area music scene was being dominated by E-40 and B-Legit.  The lyrics, however, espousing equality and positing the universal experience of social injustice, makes for a powerful message.  Aside from Casual, the track also features vocalist Luqman Frank again as well as Femi Andredes, and their combined efforts successfully bring the message home.

For the title track from the album, “Highest Wish (Phoenix Black Mix),” featuring Zumbi of Zion I, the song speaks to wishes for positive change.  In the song, Zumbi ranges from love and bliss to jobs and wishing for the younger generation not to be recruited to war, among other things.  This is a definite album highlight and the guitar solo at the end of the track makes for satisfying closure (the song gets a reprise in the form of DJ Sol Rising’s “Kush Remix,” also included on the album).  The track has some DJ cuts within the track; however, give Ortiz ample room to shine with his horn.  Both versions of the track are great – very different from one another, but each astounding nonetheless.

“In Every Breath (Left Coast Remix)” the production laid out on the track makes for a laid back vibe of hip-hop and jazz meshed seamlessly together.  Part of the song makes you want to do an obnoxious blend of a two-step and crip-walk, but at the same time two-step with the one you love.  The last definite highlight on the album comes in the form of “Don’t Make Me Wait,” featuring Cait La Dee.  The song samples the classic “Remind Me,” by Patrice Rushen, and makes for a flirty jam that could be a female anthem.  Dee sings, “Don’t make me wait too long, I might just give it to somebody else.  Don’t make me have to give it to somebody else.”  K-Maxx joins Dee to play her male counterpart.  The lyrics, and vibe of the song with Ortiz playing in the background makes for a great listen all around.

With Highest Wish, Ortiz has managed to create a well-balanced album complete with a great overall positive vibe, and great music.  With many of the collaborations on the album coming down on the optimistic side--unlike many albums of its kind--saves it from feeling preachy in any way.  It’s melodic, and is something you can listen to consistently start to finish without getting tired of it.  Also, with this album, Ortiz has given many artists that he collaborated with their time to shine, but still makes himself the clear focal point of all of the tracks.  The result is an album that could be listened to by a teenager, grandparent--or any serious  music lover.

- Erin Duncan