Mingo LewisThree decades ago, San Francisco Bay Area–based drummer/percussionist James “Mingo” Lewis was light-years ahead of the curve when he applied rudiments to congas in performances with Santana, Al Di Meola, Return To Forever, Billy Joel, and the Tubes. “I’ve always applied the rhythmic patterns I’ve learned over the years to whatever instrument I’m playing,” Lewis says. “The funk stuff I apply to congas, the Latin stuff to the drumset. It’s all just rhythm to me.”

Thirty years later, Lewis is again ahead of the competition, this time with his latest band project, Vortex Tribe. Mingo dubs the group, which he formed with classically trained flautist Deborah Yates, crossover fusion. On their new CD, Hall Of Souls, Vortex Tribe seamlessly weaves together reggae, Arabic grooves, Afro-Cuban songo rhythms, and phat old-school funk while maintaining musical continuity. “You never know where the song will end up,” Lewis says. “I want this stuff to remain fresh.”

By Will Romano