Spotlight: Camino al Barrio, Nelson Riveros

by chip on October 29, 2010

The Spotlight Series highlights upcoming Latin Jazz musicians that have yet to reach national recognition. Many of these musicians thrive in local scenes and some tour in support of releases. All these musicians contribute greatly to the overall Latin Jazz scene, and they deserve our “spotlighted” attention.


Camino Al Barrio
Nelson Riveros
NelSongo Music

The repertoire that an artist chooses to include on a recording says a lot about their own musical identity. Preferences for certain songs come from specific exposures within an artist’s life, and when they are all gathered in one place, we are presented with a compelling picture. In terms of revealing an artist’s inner personality, original material hits home with the most accuracy. Here the artist draws upon familiar musical conventions, they reference stylistic norms through their melodic composition, and they make cultural connection through rhythmic foundations. When writing a tune, the artist makes every choice personally, and every association leads back to their own life. The inclusion of standards tells a story about an artist’s background, both culturally and musically. Each genre has its standards, and musicians generally draw upon this collection of classic music when they have a deep connection to the overall style. The addition of compositions from their peers tells a story about their personal associations and their playing experiences. There’s so much inherent here – a great collection of music exists as more than simply a pleasurable listening experience, it stands as a revealing picture of the artist as a human being. Guitarist Nelson Riveros paints wonderful picture of his experiences on Camino Al Barrio with a stirring Latin Jazz album that draw upon many worlds.

A Modern Spin On Afro-Cuban Rhythms
Riveros puts a modern spin on Afro-Cuban rhythms with several pieces that show the guitarist’s connection to the style. Syncopated chords open the door for a greasy melody from Riveros and vibraphonist Christos Rafalides over a driving rhythm section groove on “Blue Cha-Cha.” Pianist Hector Martignon leaps into his improvisation with an enthusiastic zeal, running long lines straight into a wonderfully understated solo from Riveros. Vibraphonist Christos Rafalides carefully constructs thoughtful ideas that move through the harmony with a percussive edge, and after a return to the melody, the group sets up a vamp for a strong solo from percussionist Samuel Torres. Riveros builds a beautifully lush unaccompanied introduction on Luis Demetrio’s “La Puerta,” adding his ear capturing vocals over his solo guitar. The rhythm section joins Riveros with a steady bolero, pushing his vocal into a flowing improvisation full of harmonic colors from Martignon. Riveros creates an expressive improvisation on acoustic guitar that reflects the vibe of the soulful vocal that he uses the end the tune. The rhythm section provides an understated cha cha cha groove on “Song For Marta” while Riveros floats over the top with a lyrical theme. Bassist Armando Gola leaps into an attention grabbing solo, mixing bluesy appeal with virtuosic technique, until Riveros skillfully develops a strong theme into a larger statement. Martignon runs rapid lines over the mid-tempo groove, landing in a propulsive montuno, allowing Torres an opportunity to show off his prodigious technique and artful phrasing. These tunes show Riveros’ comfort with Afro-Cuban settings, as he smartly reinterprets them through a modern lens while holding onto their integrity.

Dipping Into Other Musical Influences From South America And The Caribbean
Riveros balances out his repertoire with tunes that dip into other musical influences from South America and the Caribbean. Drummer Ernesto Simpson charges into an up-tempo samba with percussive effects from the whole rhythm section on “Caipirinha,” leading into a memorable melody from Riveros. The guitarist enthusiastically leaps into his improvisation, spinning lyrical lines over the churning rhythm section that wind through the chord changes with ease. Martignon plows into his solo, putting an edge on the mellow sound of his Fender Rhodes with twisting lines and an aggressive attack. Rich harmonic colors flow over the rhythm section’s jazzified bomba groove on “Camino al Barrio,” leading into an angular melody from Riveros. Rafalides takes his time working into his improvisation, starting with sparse lines that extend into large flourishes of harmonic color. Riveros takes a more active approach, flying right into assertive lines that burn a searing line through the harmony. A sudden unison band hit leads into the familiar melody of Jimmy Van Huesen’s “Darn That Dream” over a lively bossa nova. Riveros tears through the classic changes on acoustic guitar with clever sequences and engaging melodies that draw avid response from Simpson. Gola displays a skill for melodic ingenuity on a smartly crafted improvisation, while Martignon mixes melodic and rhythmic tension on his solo. These pieces reveal some diversity to Riveros’ Latin Jazz approach, reflecting the scope of his background.

A Broad Array Of Settings
A number of other songs place Riveros in a broad array of settings, ranging from Latin Jazz to funky fusion. Martignon and Gola establish a lumbering groove that falls into a 6/8 feel on “Los Primos,” providing the foundation for a sparse melody from Riveros. The guitarist reveals a deep seated ability to create logically structured melodies through creative thematic development with a memorable improvisation. A return to the uplifting melody pushes the song into high gear, and once the rhythm section revisits the original groove, Simpson explodes into an exciting display of drum pyrotechnics. Delicately intertwining melodies from Riveros and Rafalides introduce a singable theme on “Mis Amores,” which shimmers off the smart harmonic basis. Riveros improvises with a subtle rhythmic momentum while Rafalides outlines the chords before jumping into his own statement. The two musicians continue trading ideas throughout the track, finding an engaging conversational style that leads to a powerful duo performance. An aggressively funky groove from Martignon, Gola, and Riveros opens “Second Chance,” leading into singable melody from the guitarist. Riveros adds an edgy element to his improvisation with a distorted tone, ripping through the song with bluesy lines and rapid streams of notes. Martignon’s Fender Rhodes bounces through the bubbly groove with a joyful momentum, leading into an energetic improvisation full of running line from Gola on acoustic bass. These pieces prove Riveros to be a musician with a wide range of interests and the ability to artfully move between different musical worlds.

An Interesting Artist With A Broad Background
Riveros gives us a good look at a piece of his life on Camino Al Barrio, revealing a defined artist with a broad musical background. His guitar playing leaps off the recording, revealing an insightful improviser with a firm grasp on melodic construction and artistic finesse. Riveros’ improvisations flow through the recording with the thematic fluidity of Metheny while maintaining a traditional jazz approach to playing through the changes. As a composer, Riveros displays a firm grasp on harmony and a bluesy melodic sense that links him to the great hard bop and soul jazz writers. He places these ideas in a Latin Jazz context, but balances the two worlds evenly; South American and Caribbean rhythms support the songs, but they never overwhelm them or get lost. Martignon consistently appears as a strong voice, contributing inspired improvisations, solid support, and an experienced attitude. Rafalides provides a sympathetic voice that blends beautifully with Riveros’ guitar, providing tonal variation and harmonic variation. Simpson, Torres, and Gola drive the album with a smart combination of Latin rhythms and jazz spontaneity, playing with solid groove and interactive commentary. The revealing choice of repertoire on Camino Al Barrio paints Riveros as an interesting artist with a broad background, leaving us excited to hear about the next chapter in his life.

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Check Out These Related Posts:
Album Of The Week: Yaounde, Samuel Torres
Weekly Latin Jazz Video Fix: Hector Martignon
Latin Jazz Photo Album: Sofia Rei Koutsovitis
Album Of The Week: Second Chance, Hector Martignon

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