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Louie Vega, Elements of Life (Vega)
Best known as one half of house DJ/remix/production duo Masters at Work, "Little" Louie Vega likes to delve heavily into Latin jazz on his original material, and his official artist debut album is no exception. There are plenty of danceable grooves on Elements of Life, but nary a four-on-the-floor beat to be heard -- instead it's all salsa, samba, cumbia, even a little tango. This would be good news if Vega's songs were as solid as his grooves, but unfortunately, this is an album riddled with trite lyrics and derivative melodies. The highlights come when Vega steps aside as a producer and songwriter and just lets his gifted studio musicians jam, which they do to wonderful effect on "Mozalounge" and "Quimbombo", a cover of the Willie Colon salsa classic. Especially noteworthy are the contributions of Albert "Sterling" Menendez, a virtuoso of piano and organ who gives tracks like "Brand New Day" way more heft than their easy listening, jazz-house vocals and arrangements ought to have. Vega's wife, the Cape Verdian singer Anané, makes some nice contributions as well on breezy numbers like "Nos Vida" and summer samba of "Ma Mi Mama". But compared to Vega's solo outings and his work with Kenny "Dope" Gonzalez on Masters at Work and Nuyorican Soul, this is a disappointingly shallow set.