I have not been much a jazz fan, although there is so much good jazz here in Mexico. Last night I became a jazz fan. I was treated to world-class jazz in my little town of Ajijic. The concert was by Gerry Lopez, a Mexican now living in Switzerland. He was joined by a very popular and talented local band, Trialogo.
I was also treated to the Auditorio de Ribera Lago Chapala, a mouthful of a name for a wonderful venue perfect for this concert. I had driven past it but had no idea that it was a great popular music venue. Most of the posters on its fence line signboard were for ballet and classical music – not my thing – so it was a treat to see a hot jazz band there.
The Auditorio is a little outside of the downtown Ajijic area in a neighborhood known as La Floresca. It is on the Carretera, main highway, but set back behind green lawn, trees and a flagstone courtyard – very pleasant. As always in Mexico, there was a bar set up, empanadas were being served, and a growing crowd congregated, drank and chatted while they waited for the doors to open.
The Auditorio has a colorful history. Construction began with much fanfare in 1971 on land donated by a major residential development across the highway, using funds from government agencies and the local Mexican and ex-pat communities. It took six years to complete, but after it was finished and dedicated to the fine arts, there were years of conflict over it and eventually, it was abandoned, boarded up and vandalized. It wasn’t until 1989 when the Municipal Council for Educational and Cultural Development of Chapala joined with the local community to bring this 400-seat venue back from oblivion. Now it is one of the largest music venues in the area with a beautifully refurbished auditorium, new seats, great lighting and sound, a dance studio, and practice rooms. Truly a community treasure.
It was also the perfect venue for Trialogo and Gerry Lopez.
Lopez is a native-born Mexican who has honed his saxophone craft in Europe and toured the Continent extensively since 2010. A graduate of Conservatoire de Paris, he has won numerous prizes in both Europe and Mexico, including the 1st prize in the Pan-American Jazz Saxophone Competition in 2011. He studied at the Haute Ecole de Musique in Lausanne, Switzerland, and has been called one of the most important young jazz musicians of his generation by Radio France International. And no wonder, in addition to top prizes around the world, he is a founder of the National Jazz Orchestra of Mexico, has played the Montreux Jazz Festival and other major jazz fests, written music for symphonic orchestra, Big Band, string and saxophone quartet, and other ensembles. In fact, he has so many other accomplishments I could barely finish reading about them before we met over dinner the night before he concerts.
Playing with him was an equally talented local group, Trialogo. Comprised of saxophonist Eleazar Soto, bassist Gilberto Ríos, drummer Ángel Madrigal and pianist, keyboardist and singer Sofía Ramírez, they had less than an hour to practice with Lopez but tracked with him flawlessly. I had seen all of the band members except Sofia in local clubs, but this was my first time seeing them stepping up to a world-class performance with a global jazz star. They were more than up to the task despite the truncated practice time.
With the exception of two songs in Spanish by Sofia, the program was entirely instrumental. Lopez almost blew the roof off the Auditoria, filling it like no saxophonist should be able to do. Soto was right there with him, playing together or in call-and-answer or in solos. Later in the program, Soto told us in Spanish (the audience conversation was English and Spanish) that he met Lopez when he had entered a saxophone competition and Lopez was a judge (Soto did not win), but they talked afterward and have been friends ever since. The opportunity to play with Soto and Trialogo was one of the reasons Lopez added Ajijic to his national tour of Mexico, which includes Mexico City, Toluca, Monterrey, Guadalajara among other cities and may include a US stop.
The music itself ranged from classic, high energy jazz, to classic progressive jazz, to some experimental songs that employed distortion and dissonance. Lopez opened with Nate Smith’s “Spinning Down” and the drum-driven “Dance Joint”, then moved on to Herbie Hancock’s “Butterfly”, Mahoney’s “Copy Cats”, Robert Walter’s “Adelita” and then his own composition, “Just Try”. He then turned over the stage to Trialogo who gave us an experimental “Música para un cortometraje” before the band and Lopez returned to classics “Bounce” by Nate Smith, “Timeline” by Michael Breker and wrapped up with another Lopez original, “Rue de la Riponne”.
Something that I noticed and greatly appreciated was how generous Lopez was in all of the songs, allowing plenty of solo time for the various band members, giving them shout outs from the stage, and in general treating them like the fellow band members they were, rather than a local backup. The stage was a community of music, and we all benefitted from it.
For me in particular, I was able to see saxophonist Eleazar Soto step forward and really, really wail. I had seen him in much more subdued venues (and will tonight at Casa Domenech) where he also soloed — but lightly, never unleashing the power and creativity that filled the stage of the Auditorio last night. My appreciation of him rose mightily.
S Sofia Ramírez was also a surprise to me. Her control of the Yamaha 88 and the grand piano was so surefooted it was almost like she was leading the band at times. Quiet, focused, perfect. Despite being barricaded by the piano and the keyboard, her presence was powerful, made even more so when she sang.
So now I dig jazz, love the Auditorio and a big fan of Gerry Lopez. He has a new album coming out soon, recorded in the US so maybe his next tour will thrill audiences from New York to Los Angeles. Even if you are not a jazz fan, check out the album when it is released, stream his current music on Spotify, and if he comes to a city near you, catch a concert. Gerry Lopez converted me…maybe he can do the same for you too.
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