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By Mark Towns

November 2017

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In addition to leading his own exciting Latin Jazz band, Enclave, his other gigs include his work with an impressive array of major artists, including Herb Alpert, Joe Sample, Alex Acuña, Jennifer Lopez, Willie Colón, Tito Puente, Steve Lukather, Tania Maria, Robbie Robertson, Steve Winwood, Arturo Sandoval, Regina Carter, Kirk Whalum, Randy Brecker, and many more.

Cartaya recently released a new album on CD, “Bajo Mundo,” featuring a total of over twenty different musicians across the album's 13 tracks, all of which were written, arranged, and produced by Cartaya. The musicians hail from across the globe, including from Cartaya's homeland of Puerto Rico, as well as from Cuba, Mexico, Spain, Brazil, Colombia, Venezuela, and exotic locales including Philadelphia, Detroit, and New York. Guest stars include Stanley Clarke (on tenor bass), Marcus Miller (on bass clarinet), and Giovanni Hidalgo (on congas), each of whom is featured on a track apiece, along with a plethora of L.A. based heavyweights including Chris Coleman (drums), Jonathan Montes (piano), Dayren Santamaria (violin), Frank Fontaine (sax), Arturo Solar (trumpet), Euro Zambrano (drums), Carlos Rodgarman (keys), Justo Almario (sax), Alex Carballo (trombone), Matt Rhode (keys), Ron DeJesus (guitar), Kevin Ricard (percussion), Richie Gajate-Garcia (percussion), Paul Gonzalez (percussion), among others. The music on “Bajo Mundo” is a hip mixture of flavors and textures, with elements of Jazz, Funk, Brazilian, Flamenco, and Salsa coming together to produce Cartaya's signature blend of sonic spice.

I spoke with Cartaya recently about his musical roots, Latin Jazz, and the ever-intriguing clave.

Mark Towns: How did you learn to play music?

Cartaya: I had a direct attraction to music since I was around three years old. There are photos of me playing little guitars and piano already at that age, so we can say the bug was there at a very early age.

L.A. Jazz Scene: What gigs or artists you've worked with stand out in your mind as being the most memorable or satisfying?

Cartaya: There are so many people that in one way or another have made an impact on my music. For me it's more than just the way you play the instrument or compose or arrange. It's the person itself, the human being that has an impact on me. From my early days in Puerto Rico working with Pedro Rivera Toledo, Mario Ortiz, and so many others, to going to school in L.A. and playing with (saxophonist) Justo Almario (my Musical Godfather), to (drummer) Alex Acuña, to moving to New York and playing with Tito Puente, Chico O'Farrill, Machito, Spyro Gyra, Tania Maria, Dave Valentin, Randy Brecker, to coming Back to L.A. and writing and producing for Herb Alpert, touring with Robbie Robertson, Steve Winwood, Jennifer Lopez--I have always found something in every situation to make it a learning experience.

L.A. Jazz Scene: Is there a particular artist, genre, or composer who inspires you to create new music, or to take your own playing to another level?

Photo of Oskar Cartaya

Cartaya: I have so many sources of inspiration--musicians, composers, but I also love painters and writers and anything that may spark an emotion. I think creativity inspires creativity. With that said, from Tito Puente to Cachao, Jaco Pastorius to Snarky Puppy, The Beatles to Stevie Wonder, there is always something to get you going.

L.A. Jazz Scene: How do you define Latin Jazz?

Cartaya: For me, it's the marriage of musical styles and cultures. The sophistication of Jazz and the passion of Latin rhythm creates one of the most exciting genres I know. It keeps evolving with every generation of players that join it, but continuing the format of bringing their roots (either from Latin background or Jazz) and creating a balance of both of them.

L.A. Jazz Scene: Do you see a need to balance tradition with innovation in your playing?

Cartaya: I believe there's a place and time for everything. I'm personally known for always pushing boundaries and trying to take the traditional and give it a new twist, but when it comes to playing straight (the real deal), I'm very aware of what I'm supposed to play.

L.A. Jazz Scene: What advice would you give someone just starting out who wants to learn to play bass?

Cartaya: Get your instrument and surround yourself with music. Every little thing helps. Today's technology makes it so accessible to find so much content and information.

L.A. Jazz Scene: Do you think there is an inverse relationship between musical complexity and music popularity?

Cartaya: I think as a society, we have been instructed or guided to believe that complex music is not popular. If you listen to the history of popular music in this country, it has always been about simple chord structure, catchy hooks, and sounds that people recognize. Now if you go to other parts of the world, their biggest selling artists play music in odd meter, with harmonic structures that are very sophisticated, and sounds that are very different. To what do you attribute this? Because people in these places grew up thinking “this is normal music,” so when they grow up and create, guess what they are gonna do?

L.A. Jazz Scene: Do Jazz artists have a responsibility to entertain, or should the music speak for itself?

Cartaya: Any artist should only have one purpose, and that is to be honest to to what they create. I truly believe that anything you create, if you mean it from your heart, people will sense it or feel it and get what you are trying to do. It could be Jazz, Pop, Reggae, Salsa--it doesn't matter. The only problem comes when people that are creating have something else in mind. It could be from wanting to be so complex that no one could get it, to wanting to just make money. They are both equally hollow.

L.A. Jazz Scene: How important is "clave" in Latin music?

Cartaya: This is an old dilemma. Originally, the clave was created to be the anchor of that was going on with the music--a two bar phrase that everyone will be aware of, and play patterns that will fit the clave played, which could be a 2-3 pattern or 3-2 pattern. Originally a song will begin in one clave (2-3 or 3-2) and continue that way until the end of the song. Nowadays, it could start one way and switch half way through--it doesn't matter. Clave, for Latin music, is an essential component that anyone that would like to seriously play Latin music should know.

Listen to good music. It's out there. Seek and ye shall find.

Photo of writer Mark Towns

Mark Towns is a staff writer and columnist you can contact him at http://marktowns.com/writer




By Mark Towns

October 2017

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Joyce Moreno is a Brazilian singer/songwriter, guitarist, and arranger. Known simply as Joyce, using only her first name for most of her career, in 2009 she started going by Joyce Moreno. Joyce Moreno is the world's top female artist in Jazz Fusion and Latin Jazz.

Although not well-known outside Brazilian Jazz connoisseurs, Joyce's artistry places her firmly in the upper echelon of the greatest musical artists of all time, along with living legends Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea, Wayne Shorter, Stevie Wonder, and Hermeto Pascoal.

The cognoscenti turned out in force for Joyce's recent show in L.A. at Zebulon on August 13. Her tight, red-hot band featured Joyce on guitar and vocal, electric bassist Rodolfo Stroeter, exquisitely flamboyant pianist Helio Alves, and her husband Tutty Moreno on drums. Many Brazilian drum experts proclaim that the two top Brazilian set drummers of all time are Tutty Moreno and Airto Moreira, who was in attendance enjoying the performance. Joyce's show was everything a great musical performance should be – inspiring, exhilarating, and mind-blowing.

I recently had a conversation with Joyce covering a range of topics including her formative years, Latin Jazz, her songwriting process, and more.

Mark Towns: How would you describe what you do to someone who has never heard you?

Joyce Silveira Moreno: Brazilian Jazz or Hard Bossa, as you wish to call it, written by a female artist (also an old-school feminist). Feel welcome to dance to it, or simply listen, if you wish. And enjoy the music.

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LA Jazz: How did you learn to play music?

Moreno: At the beginning I was self-taught. I started playing the guitar watching my older brother, who was then a semi-professional guitarist. He is 13 years my senior, and was friends with a lot of famous bossa-nova musicians, at that time. They would come to our house and play, and I just watched them and tried to reproduce what I heard. I was 14 when I started playing, then at 18 I took classical guitar classes and also started studying musical theory. From then on, that was it.

LA Jazz: Who are some of the artists you've worked with or gigs that you've done that stand out in your mind as being the most memorable or satisfying?

Moreno: In the artist's field, there are so many. I would mention my contemporaries Dori Caymmi, Milton Nascimento, Egberto Gismonti, Toninho Horta, Marcos Valle, and Elis Regina. And then, of course, the masters, like Tom Jobim and Vinicius de Moraes. On the international side, I can mention Claus Ogermann, Joe Lovano, Kenny Werner, Mulgrew Miller, Gil Goldstein, Renee Rosnes, and the list goes on.

As for the unforgettable concerts, there are also many of them, but some very special ones happened in London (my first time there, back in 1993) for a young audience of 2000 people. It was amazing. A steady relationship with the U.K. started from then on. Also, countless great times in Japan, Europe, the US and Canada. And in my country (Brazil), among many great occasions, my favorite one took place at Ipanema Beach, where I did a solo performance in 2010, with the audience singing along with me and applauding that beautiful sunset. That was just wonderful.

LA Jazz: Do you consider yourself to be a Jazz performer?

Moreno: That depends on how you would define Jazz. If you think of improvised music, creative freedom, a deep interest in harmonies... Then, maybe yes. But it's definitely Brazilian jazz, in any case.

LA Jazz: How do you define Latin Jazz?

Moreno: That also depends. That's just another label. “Latin” is a very broad concept. There are so many different countries and cultures in Latin America, and Brazilian music itself is subdivided into countless different music genres. That said, if you put these two magic words together - “Latin” and “Jazz,” you will probably get improvised, creative music (Jazz) with some twist of one (or more) of these rich cultures from Latin America. And you'll get Jazz with a special flavor. Dizzy Gillespie knew that.

LA Jazz: Do you see any need to balance tradition with innovation in your playing?

Moreno: : I don't think a lot about that, or about anything, for that matter, when I'm making music. I just go ahead and play.

LA Jazz: What advice would you give someone just starting out in music who wants to make a career of it?

Moreno: I would tell them to be brave, as it gets more and more difficult to make a living out of it, let alone a career. The culture of “music for free,” brought by the internet, is making some professions disappear. If you're not a touring artist, you're very likely to need another job to make ends meet. But if your love for the music is greater than any of your other needs, then go for it with your best skills, and fight for the music you believe in. And may The Force be with you.

LA Jazz: Do you think there is an inverse relationship between musical complexity and music popularity?

Moreno: Not necessarily. There are many examples of great music that may seem to be simple, but is, in reality, quite complex, like some jazz or bossa standards. And yet they're super popular. A song like “Chega de Saudade” (in the English version, “No More Blues”) for example, which is considered as the initial mark of the Bossa Nova movement, has a very complex melody line. And still, people sing it along, whenever it's played. The trick is to make it seem simple, actually.

LA Jazz: Do jazz artists have a responsibility to entertain, or should the music speak for itself?

Moreno: : I would say this is the artist's personal choice. Personally, I like it when the music speaks for itself. But that's just my personal opinion.

LA Jazz: Describe your songwriting process. How do you go about creating a new song?

Moreno: It all starts with the guitar. My guitar is my best music partner, it gives me the best ideas, and never lets me down. The melodies come from those chords and grooves, and then the words will follow, first as simple onomatopoeia, with the syllables suggested by the melody, and then transformed, to tell a story that will make sense. It's basically that.

Listen to good music. It's out there. Seek and ye shall find.

Photo of writer Mark Towns

Mark Towns is a staff writer and columnist you can contact him at http://marktowns.com/writer




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By Mark Towns

September 2017

Hollywood Bowl was the site of some great Jazz and World Music shows in August. Highlights include Angelique Kidjo's appearance on August 9 with her “Tribute to Salsa” featuring Kidjo singing many of the most well-known standard female-vocal salsa hits, including “Quimbara,” “Usted Abuso,” and “La Vida es un Carnaval.” Kidjo channels Celia Cruz when she does these songs, and sounds great doing so. Conga master Pedrito Martinez opened the show with a short set by his band featuring some outstanding fusion-inspired, timba-tinged Cuban Jazz.




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Pianist/composer Herbie Hancock's show at the Bowl on August 23 was earth shattering in its explosive creativity. A veritable musical genius, Hancock was like a man possessed, performing like someone on top of the world with nothing left to prove as he produced wave after wave of magical soundscapes from his fertile imagination which, at age 77, still shines as bright as ever, if not more so. On this night, the audience witnessed one of Hancock's greatest performances.


Opening the show for Hancock was hometown favorite, saxophonist Kamasi Washington, fronting an astounding orchestra with horns, strings, and even a choir. Washington's set was everything that is good about jazz – edgy, smart, unpredictable, heartwarming, dangerous, soulful, and cool. Unless someone is doing the kind of jazz Kamasi Washington is doing, jazz is dead.


More brilliance was in abundance at Zebulon on August 13 when Brazilian Jazz composer/vocalist/guitarist Joyce Moreno and her band hit the stage. One of the top legends of Brazilian music, Joyce wowed the crowd with her original masterpieces, as well as her hip Brazilian Jazz rearrangements of well-known Jazz standards including “Fever” and “Love For Sale.” Stay tuned for an in-depth interview with Joyce to appear in this column soon.


Photo of Vicente Amigo on stage

Latin Grammy Award-winning Flamenco composer and virtuoso guitarist Vicente Amigo performs in Los Angeles on Wednesday, September 20 at the Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center. Originally from Córdoba, Spain, Amigo is setting the world on fire with his fretboard histrionics as he does his part to keep the “flame” in Flamenco burning. None other than iconic Jazz guitarist Pat Metheny has called Amigo “the greatest guitarist alive.”


I recently spoke with Amigo about a range of topics, including Flamenco's relationship to Jazz, the live music scene in Spain, and his songwriting process.


Photo of guitar

Mark Towns: How would you describe what you do to someone who has never heard you?

Vicente Amigo: I would say that I interpret basic human feelings through my guitar.

LA Jazz: How did you learn to play music?

Amigo: Practicing a lot. All I can remember as a child was playing the guitar. Everywhere I went I brought along my guitar and I would spend hours every day playing and practicing. Technique-wise, I was fortunate to learn with some of the best "Maestros" around: with "El Tomate," "El Merengue" until I was 12 or so, and then with Manolo Sanlucar, until I decided to tour solo when I was 19.

LA Jazz: Do you see similarities between Flamenco music and Jazz music?

Amigo: They are very similar in many ways and very different in others. Flamenco has a much more strict structure, where one can improvise, but always within the "compas." Jazz has more freedom in that sense. In the end, I believe all music is related and has certain things in common. We are all descendants of the mother "Music." Some of us are more distant cousins than others, but all music is related in some way or another.

LA Jazz: What are your thoughts on Flamenco Jazz, Flamenco Fusion, and Nuevo Flamenco?

Amigo: I like everything that is good - that makes sense. I do not believe in rules when it comes to music. I believe in what is natural. Music must come to you naturally, and you should play what feels right to you.

LA Jazz: Do you see any need to balance tradition with innovation in your playing?

Amigo: No, as I said for me I do what is natural and what my heart says. I have the Flamenco tradition wired into my system, and I am unable to think or sound "unflamenco" due to this. However, I love to explore and mix myself with new music. I never want to stop learning.

LA Jazz: What advice would you give someone just starting out who wants to go into music full time?

Amigo: Follow the truth. Be true to oneself and to what is in your heart.

LA Jazz: Do you think there is an inverse relationship between musical complexity and music popularity?

Amigo: Yes, no doubt, with music, literature, film, and art. When something is a bit more complex, it takes time to appreciate it--to learn and really get what the artist is trying to transmit.

LA Jazz: Describe your songwriting process. How do you go about creating a new song?

Amigo: I like to sit at home on my couch and play for hours each day--searching. I usually look for the melody first--a short "Falsetta" on my guitar. I then explore and try to add parts to give it structure. Sometimes I end up with 15 minutes! I always try to tell a story or express a particular feeling in my playing. This will dictate the lyrics that I normally always write at the end. It does not always work this way--sometimes a lyric pops in my head, and I then try to express that lyric through my music.

LA Jazz: What is the live music scene in Spain like in 2017? Is the scene there supportive of live music?

Amigo: Very few places in the world are supportive of live music the way music should be supported. Spain is no different. There have been constant cuts in cultural budgets for a long time now, and I believe it is much more difficult for young musicians to play live, especially in something like Flamenco.

LA Jazz: In what part of the world do you find the most receptive audiences for Flamenco?

Amigo: I am fortunate to find my audiences very receptive everywhere. London, Los Angeles, Tokyo, Munich, Paris, Madrid, etc. In my hometown of Córdoba, they are always extra enthusiastic, as they are in most parts of Andalucia (Seville, Malaga, Granada, etc.). However, I find that audiences are receptive everywhere. Flamenco is universal. We talk about love, joy, sadness--very basic human emotions which everyone can identify with.

And the Ritmo Caliente goes on...

Listen to good music. It's out there. Seek and ye shall find.

Photo of writer Mark Towns

Mark Towns is a staff writer and columnist you can contact him at http://marktowns.com/writer