I am blessed! Last night I shared the stage at Vitello's with Rique Pantoja and friends. A wonderful opportunity to play with a group of inspired and true music monsters. Rique Pantoja, Ernie Watts, Alex Acuna and Abraham Laboriel. Of course they need no introduction to any fan of music, student of jazz, Latin, Brazilian, Pop or really any other style of music. These guys have not only dedicated their lives to their craft but they have in many ways shaped music around the world with their vast contributions in all music genres, recordings, concerts and or film soundtracks etc. I would like to introduce you to them a little, review their impact on me, share some of the experience and what I got from it. And speaking of being blessed, their faith is an inspiration to me. Hallelujah! 

Rique Pantoja. First of all for over twenty years now I have admired Rique for his compositions, fierce talent as a pianist, improviser and obvious dedication to the craft. I must salute his hard work as a leader - making sure that everything is taken care of, no matter how hard he must work to achieve that. His compositions are well received and draw on many influences yet always include his own original brand of Brazilian jazz infused into each tune. Along with a stellar career working as musician and arranger with many Brazilian icons, many of his tunes have become "standards" of the Brazilian instrumental jazz repertoire recorded by and played by Chet Baker, Ernie Watts, Raphael Rabello, Romero Lumbambo, Helio Delmiro and others. Each tune tells a story which he presents well while giving the simple introduction or inspiration of the songs. Los Angeles is lucky to have such a great Brazilian jazz master. The fact that he has such a dear heart and caring personality just rounds out the experience of working with him perfectly. It has been wonderful to make music with him and because of Rique I have had the opportunity to play with musicians I never dreamed I would play with. (previous concerts with Rique also included musical giants like John Pena and Justo Almario) At times I question what I am doing there in the company of these "monsters" but I know that Rique not only welcomes my addition with open heart, he understands my love of Brazilian music, jazz and believes in me. It was a fun moment last night when someone from the audience came up and said to me; "now your a monster too" Hahaha, entao, obrigado Rique! It is really an honor to work with you and be your friend. I loved digging into his compositions over the past few weeks and as they linger in my soul the next day after our performance I find myself wanting to re-visit the music much more. I look forward to record with Rique and present some recordings someday of his compositions with my own guitar oriented touch.

Ernie Watts. A modern day John Coltrane but pure Ernie Watts. Normally I don't like to make comparisons or take away at all from each and every musicians unique voice but in fact Ernie talked a lot about Coltrane's influence on him and there is nothing wrong with John Coltrane as a mentor right? Ernie is a soft spoken, well educated and graceful man with a genuine musical soul. He comes 100% prepared to play - even in rehearsal. His invention, improvising and technique is enthralling and really beyond words. He can use many notes to express his message but yet he retains the subtleties and gut wrenching heartfelt storytelling and thematic development in his playing. It is impressive to hear someone use what I would call "a John Coltrane language" in such a musical way. There are many that play with this kind of music vocabulary but it often misses the truly musical mark and your soul is not stirred and left only impressed with the sheer technique. Ernie makes music, tells a story and emotes with dynamics - also a kind of lesson in the sheets of sound concept maybe. The same way that someone like BB King can tell a story with three notes that hits your soul - Ernie does it with incredible complexity, speed and harmonic movement all related to the tune or melodic framework of the composition being played. Ernie can stop me in my tracks, enthrall me and I am left in awe. There was some nice interplay last night but I hope one day to "trade fours" with him or play a duo to try and ride the musical wave of this giant one on one. Call me a thrill seeker but I welcome such mastery in my life with confidence and open arms. Thank you Ernie for sharing your genius, ideas and musical majesty! I recall a funny comment by Ernie's wife Patricia in rehearsal after everyone being in awe of his solo on a ballad or up tempo (paraphrasing) "Ernie just has one constant setting - he likes to burn"

Abraham Laboriel. The heart of this man is huge and he wears it on his sleeve and shares it completely with the whole room. I am so impressed with his musicality and technical wizardry but equally impressive is his friendly and sincere heart. Note: He remembered everything we spoke of once before when playing together over a year ago as if we just had the conversation. Here is a man who is transparent, not jiving anyone in any way, he is there with you and he is giving his Abraham Laboriel heart to you and listening with his blessed and humble soul. I admit I found myself saying in the past that this must be what has made him such a popular working musician and possibly the most recorded bassist in history. But no, it is not only his personality and grace, he is a virtuoso on his instrument of seemingly endless energy, fantastic originality, spontaneous invention and uncanny ability. He matches musically whatever power and energy he is fed. I had a little epiphany in sound check while I started playing a few choruses of Jobim's "Triste" with him and Alex. Abrahams groove and note choice in that little moment blew me away - such a delicate and deeply musical touch on each note and adding alternate tones without ever interfering with what I played. Genius is so clear and evident when it is revealed clearly in front of you. At one point during his solo on Rique's powerhouse and fast samba tune "Melancia" he starts playing flamenco tremolo technique weaving melodies and substitution harmonies through the changes effortlessly while the band is backing him up full throttle, I am sorry but that's just crazy! To end the night Abraham spoke on the mic to give his heartfelt thanks. Again wearing his heart on his sleeve with his emotional sincerity actually getting choked up as he thanked everyone in the band and audience for such an amazing night and how blessed we all were for it to come together.You just want to hug this man and his soul! Thank you Abraham! My wife Dilma who was so illuminated by the music in this concert and thrilled with everyone's performance, she even gave Abraham a new name: "Bass Tiger"

Alex Acuna. Well just to say his name for me is intense. There has been so much music that enthralled me completely in recordings where he is the rhythmic force of nature driving from top to bottom. I recall a recording of him doing a sort of Brazilian Batucada but with odd instruments and Cajon at the forefront that belied description or category except that it is a rhythmic freight train of super groove and sonic magic. I recall reveling in that recording every day and feeling that it was just pure rhythmic power. This is a good example of his genius. Alex has a unique and original rhythmic voice that is all his own. He is Peruvian but has embraced the world of rhythm, mastered it and developed his own sound. I found him obviously musically dedicated and apparently a very good sight reader in rehearsal as well but he adds the magical savant thing where it sounds like he is just making it up as he goes and discovering what he does as it happens. I tried to talk to him about it and he explained to me by calling it playfully yet serious; "open heart surgery" on the drums. That's indeed what he does, he just opens his heart and lays it all out on the drums. He is very funny guy with a childlike energy that makes him look like he is in his mid 30's but in fact he has been around longer than anyone in the group! He never lets go of that youthful energy, its always there discovering and inventing and enjoying but he also has the solid commanding presence and experience that comes with great musical wisdom. I sat close to him in the group and I had the audacity to play Brazilian agogo bell at one point along with him on a batucada, it was a thrill to really lock into and play along with that huge muscular groove of his. Thanks to Alex for the humor, high energy and musical mastery.

One thing for sure about all of these guys is that you cant put them in a box or specific genre of music. They all have such vast experience in so many styles, if you think you have them pegged they will immediately pull something out from a place outside that box you tried to put them in. Well that's a little about my experience and encounter with the music monsters! I must also thank the sold out crowd for both performances and Vitellos for hosting us.



PS: There is also a review of this concert posted in my web site reviews section.



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