Review by Samuel Cottell
It has been almost ten years since latin/ jazz pianist Edsel Gómez released his Grammy nominated debut album, Cubist Music. In the much anticipated follow up, Edsel delivers his second release, Road to Udaipur. The philosophy of this album is the “All Inclusive Musical Brotherhood,” a concept he very much explores in many ways on this album. Jazz Australia caught up with Edsel Gomez discuss his new album, his life of travel and the importance of music and happiness.
Spending much of his life on the road as a working musician, often touring with Dee Dee Bridgewater and as a sideman for many other musicians, Edsel says this album is a reflection of his journey so far. “This [the album] came about as a statement of me reaching my 50th birthday. It made me think back and consider other things that I have been doing and I have tried to include the many different influences that I’ve had over my life and so many years dedicated to music. There have been so many ups and downs and lots of travel and being exposed to many different cultures,” Edsel says.
Edsel has performed with musicians all over the world and learned about their cultures, languages, music and way of playing, a concept that is presented on the album. “I lived in Brazil, when I was 23. At first I didn’t really understand their music or the language, but I had already started to perform and play with musicians there, so I would play the way I felt the music from my Latin jazz afro salsa, from where I was born, and I felt that I didn’t really fit well with them. I was trying, all of the time, to try and learn the way they played and I found that I was more open to adapt to the other cultures than the other cultures were to adapt to them,” Edsel says.
The album contains music ranging from Indian, latin, Spanish, Bebop and beyond. The title track, the Road to Udaipur includes an Indian flavoured melody. Having spent a period of time in Udaipur and other parts of India, Edsel studied Indian classical music and the tabla and learning about Indian music. “The tune includes the sounds of some of the Indian scales and melodies that I was exposed to. When I was learning how to play the tabla (an Indian drum) my teacher would explain how to play these melodies. Then I would practice the rhythms he had taught me, trying to get the sounds. I got myself a set of tablas and tried to get the right sound of it , because it’s very big thing to get the right sound, and it’s not easy at all,” Edsel says. “What came with that was that I got all those melodies that I was being taught and I would see them playing in the streets. These melodies started to stick in my mind. Then, when I get back to New York and sat at the piano I started to find a form and a melody that could resemble those that I had been exposed to,” Edesel says.
Born in Puerto Rica, Edsel left home at 17 to study at Berklee college of music. For most of his life he has been based in New York, (having lived in Brazil for a decade) and has spent a number of years on the road. “I have travelled for four years with musicians. I lived in Brazil for ten years and was placed within that culture. It has been quite a blessing for me to have been around so many different people that think and play music so differently to me. Even when we play the same things I learn a lot, and I get to understand and see how the music is connected to their language.”
Incorporating some extra musical happenings on the recording, Edsel plays the hand drill and a paint bucket full of bricks. These tools have associations with his hometown and his two brothers who are partners in hardware store in Puerto Rica. “My two brothers own a hardware store in Puerto Rica and from a very early age I would go to their store and help out selling drills and plumbing equipment and I would hear the sounds of all these things,” Edsel says. “I am thinking of music all the time and I am hearing all of these sounds around me so I thought this is part of my life too- I have to include a little of that- kind of like of a futuristic sound element to the track. I filled a bucket with stones and as the rhythm is going there is also this sound of the stones with the bucket. I tired to capture the mood of that environment.”
His love for the movies of Charlie Chaplin is also present in the track, “Charles Chaplin”, a tune that is a tribute to the spirit of Chaplin. “I just love (Charlie) Chaplin. His artistry is just so developed and strong. I can see a Charlie Chaplin movie that I have seen a thousand times and still laugh and feel happy every time I see it, which to me is, what I would like to do with my music, to make people happy. That is what art is, even if it is political, the way people relate to it is that you feel happy even if the music talks to you no matter what it a saying. The way that Charlie Chaplin did it was with such humility and sincerity and clarity. I just wanted to pay tribute to that.” This track also includes some interesting flute techniques, such as laughing and making throat noises into the flute. “Feel free to explore that and play here and here, then maybe you can do a little joke or something like that, like Chaplin would do, I said to Roberto (Vazquez) when he suggested these techniques.”
“Homesick Nostalgia” is about Edsel thinking of his friends and family back in Puerto Rica. “I miss my family and my friends and you get used to this, but over the years it becomes a rather lonely life- living on the road all the time. I thought about this when I wrote it. When we played it in the studio I noticed, because I had this in my mind, that I played a little quotation of a famous song from Puerto Rica (a nostalgic song). I also played a quote from a piece called Sabor A Mi – a bolero that most of the salsa bands back home play. I was just playing free and thinking about home and I ended up playing those two quotes,” Edsel says.
The track, “Search and Build” a play on the saying of search and destroy, is inspired by straight ahead bebop with a section of odd metres. “Straight ahead Latin jazz bebop influences track with a section of odd metres, which is the ‘building’ , bebop is the search and then I find something and then I oddly start to build. That was the conception of the structure of that piece. That comes from the influence of Eddie Palmieri, who has also been a big influence, who I pay tribute to in this album,” Edsel says.
Chick Corea has long been cited as one of Edsel’s biggest influences and inspirations. Having met Chick when he was a twenty year old student at Berklee College of Music in Boston, Edsel was blown away by the faith that Chick instilled in him to play some very complex music. Edsel pays homage to his mentor in the track “Span-Ished Cubes”, exploring Edsel’s cubist approach to composing, which he utilised on his first album, Cubist Music. (In essence, Gomez’s idea of Cubist music is a translation of Cubist art from visual to aural perception. “In very much the same way a Cubist painting portrays an image by combining cubes or building blocks, this concept consists of a search for melodies or patterns that are perceived to have a beginning and an end,” he explains. “I call these melodic motifs or complete unit patterns we search for ‘unitifs’). “This tune is based on Chick Corea’s “Spain”, perhaps one of his most well known pieces. I took Spain and wrote a cubist vibe on this. I have Spanish heritage and he has Spanish heritage and I thought it would be a good vehicle to utilise the cubist concept, as many people know this piece [Spain].” Chick Corea also invited Edsel to perform Cubist Music at the opening of the Jazz the Lincoln Centre and has often asked Edsel to arrange his music for various ensembles.
Edsel last visited Australia in 2011 when touring with Dee Dee Bridgewater and has also recorded a track on the album Tales to Tell with Australian musicians Alex Pertout and Nilusha Dassenaike. “I met them in Singapore and we organised for me to record on one of their tracks. I wanted to come to Australia and hang out when they launched the album, but this was not possible at the time.” An encounter with a bird at Adelaide Zoo cemented Edesel’s fondness for Australia, a place he would love to return to soon. The bird was whistling a tune that Edsel had composed as the first theme to a piece called “Coqui Serenade” from his first album, Cubist Music. I felt a special vibration in Adelaide. The whole area there. We spent a longer time there, about ten days or so. I had a little apartment and I life there just felt so right, when I was there. The connection I felt with the area. I could see the sea and I visited the zoo. I had actually composed a tune that is on my first album and I went and saw all these birds and all of a sudden I heard a bird singing a melody that I had written! The piece that I wrote was about Porta Rico, on my cubist music album. The first theme of that melody, there is this Australian bird that sings almost the same thing. I was so shocked. I started hearing this bird, I could not believe it. Maybe I was here in a past life or something. It was a mystical experience for me,” Edsel says in reflection of his time in Adelaide.
Edsel is just about to finish up a nine month residency at the Timber House, a music club and restaurant in the Park Hyatt Hotel in Seoul. “It has been a huge blessing for me. For the past 15 years or so I have been on the road constantly, mainly with Dee Dee Bridgewater and I haven’t stayed more than a week or ten days in one place. So, for me to be able to stay here for such a long time is a blessing.” After he leaves Seoul, Edsel has a few engagements in other parts of the world before he returns to New York before heading off to Amsterdam for performances. After all, he is a musician of the world.