I was not a jazz fan before I moved to Mexico. Well, maybe Dixieland jazz, but certainly not improv experimental jazz. But it turns out there is a lot of jazz in Mexico of all kinds (not so much Dixieland) so I got sucked in – quite happily. I gradually began to go to the local jazz clubs just to check the bands out and discovered not only another branch of music that I had ignored for decades, but a community that has become part of my Mexican la familia.
So here I am, three years after moving here, serving as an executive producer of the next album of an improvisational jazz quartet, sitting in the front row of their preview concert.
The band is Triálogo, and readers of this column will recall that I wrote about going to the Teatro Maria Teresa in Guadalajara for the live recording of the music for the album. The album – as yet unnamed – will be ready to release in December and this past Friday night I got a preview plus a set by the renowned improv jazz band the Chocolate Smoke Gang.
Triálogo is well known in Lakeside for its high level of talent and its constant search for innovation. Each of the four members of Triálogo comes with different background, including traditional jazz, free jazz, classical music, contemporary music, Afro-American rhythms, electronic rhythms, flamenco, and Latin. They bring these influences together in jazz performances and in composing original songs.
Triálogo consists of saxophonist and multi-instrumentalist Eleazar Soto, bassist Gilberto Ríos, keyboardist and singer Sofía Ramírez, and drummer Miguel Soto. I have seen them in many venues, but last Friday they were at La Cochera Cultura, a residential art center in Ajijic.
The doors opened at 5 pm. Dinner was served a little later – three tacos and beans and salad for 150 pesos ($7.50). And of course, the bar was open with beer and wine and tequila and margaritas and more. It was a shirtsleeve night; the rainy season is over and the temperatures at night are mild. The mountains, a lush green from the recent rains, sparkled behind the bands as they played on a low stage shaded by a gnarled fruit tree strung with lights.
The concert was sold out with people standing against the back wall of the outdoor venue. Almost everyone had a drink in their hand, or at their feet so they could applaud.
And applaud they did, sometimes standing up to give Triálogo proper recognition for pulling off the very difficult feat of making music that does not follow expected patterns, relies on sound and sight signals from the band members to each other, often eschews harmony and rhythm, yet is a whole, easily followed and smoothly enjoyable. Triálogo gave the audience exactly what they came for – musicians with world-class technical precision, perfect flow among the four members, and an instrumental sound that was both surprising and comfortable at the same time, leavened and brightened by Sofia’s angelic vocals and equally angelic piano notes.
Triálogo finished their set, accepted enthusiastic applause and headed backstage as the crowd stretched, filled up on tacos and tequila, reacquainted themselves with friends, and cruised the art on the walls (La Cochera is the studio of one of the region’s top artists as well as a music venue and art gallery).
The sun was just starting go down behind the trees when the Chocolate Smoke Gang strolled onstage, hooked up their instrument and let loose.
The Chocolate Smoke Gang, is a widely-known and sought after experimental jazz group founded in 2008 by band director Carlos Maldonado Cisnero, or “Malcisne” . The quartet is composed of world-class musicians from different aspects of modern creative music: Remi Alvarez on the tenor saxophone, Santiago Von on the alto saxophone and Gabriel Puentes on the drums, along with Malaise who plays bass and double bass.
They took off like a rocket – high energy, high tempo, with the harmony (and sometimes disharmony) of two saxophones, a drummer with a light touch that moved at the speed of light – or at least of the speed of sound who built a constant backdrop of drumbeats, always moving but never intruding. The two sax players went high, low, together and apart but always telling the same story. And anchoring everything was Malcisne on the bass, usually grinning as he guided the wild energy around him into a song that kept the audience head bobbing and happy.
As night fell and the lights twinkled above the Chocolate Smoke Gang, the magic of Mexico took over, a magic that after many years, taught me to appreciate experimental jazz.
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