Text & Interview: Alec Coiro
Photo: Todd Weaver
Indigo Poncho made for Carlos Niño
by Niki Tsukamoto of Lookout & Wonderland
There are few more steeped in contemporary music than Carlos Niño. And by contemporary music, I don’t mean music being made now, but rather music that is relevant to now. Niño is a true California native known for all things musical, DJing, producing, arranging, and generally being a font of musical awareness.
His latest project is Going Home. Its authorship is attributed (as is often the case) to Carlos Niño & Friends, and that aptly sums up the spirit of collaboration that Niño dives into on his musical journey. In our interview we discuss everything from combining eureka moments with deep listening, his ongoing learning process, and how to experience celestial music from down here on earth.
Part of what makes the record so amazing is the collection or artists you’ve assembled. Can you tell us about some of them and your relationship with them?
Iasos is my greatest living Mentor and Friend. We talk almost everyday. We help each other personally and professionally. I am a huge fan of his Music and feel honored every time he’s open to
contributing to my projects! We created the title song “Going Home” together and he made it’s accompanying video. Dexter Story and Miguel Atwood-Ferguson are also both very, very close to me in my life as Friends and collaborators. They’re on all of my & Friends records, and most everything I do. Their openness and dexterity is amazing! I’ve been working with Deantoni Parks since 2000. He’s a rare artist that I’m supremely stoked I have featured on Going Home! Josh Johnson is a multi-instrumentalist from Chicago currently based in Los Angeles. We met playing in The Miguel Atwood-Ferguson Ensemble. I had the honor of taking him and the great Jamire Williams on a European Tour with me in 2016. His contribution to this record is profound, layered and greatly appreciated! SK Kakraba is a master Gyil (xylophone) player, maker and educator from Ghana currently living, performing and recording in California. I had him along for a live & Friends set that the opening piece “Light-Codes 7” is sourced from. Rounding this new record out is the incredibly bright youngster Jamael Dean. He’s the future! Just 19 years old, living in New York, attending The New School, in Reggie Workman’s Band, another rising star Miguel introduced me to – since 16 years old he’s been called upon by Thundercat, Kamasi Washington and others to perform and tour as a keyboardist . . .
When recording improvised music, how do you know which takes you want to commit to wax (so to speak)? Is it a eureka moment when one take jumps out, or is it struggle choosing between different versions?
I’m all about “Eureka” and deep listening. With improvised Music there are so many possibilities, do I sample a section, excerpt, edit, effect, transform, combine, write from, or let something ride and remain whole? Yes, all of the above! “Eureka” comes from listening and being aware of what really touches, moves you. When you know, you know. I am a hound for “Eureka” moments from my live sessions the way I imagine DJ Premiere was with records in the 90s. I even catalog while they’re happening when
I hear them as we’re playing. Of course there are many surprises, but I tend to remember what I was most excited about, in the moment of a studio or live performance quite well and a lot. Sometimes not too . . .(I just came off of a European Tour playing improvisational duets with Laraaji, in support of his 2 new records Bring On The Sun and Sun Gong, that I Co-Produced and Co-Mixed, as well as Going Home. Listening back to the recordings I realize that I was so in the zone that I wasn’t taking many mental notes.) There’s a lot of excitement, enthusiasm, focus, and repeated plays in the car driving through Topanga Canyon tuning into the sound and emotion of the pieces.
I think that throughout your career you’ve probably had more interactions with a greater variety of musicians than anyone we’ve talked to. How does that experience and the breadth of knowledge that comes with it shape the music you make?
The variety of musicians I work with is amazing! I’m so grateful! It’s also essential considering that I have so many influences and Musical interests. The & Friends projects are a place for everything to come together. I have the trust of my Friends to make the Music I want to make that will represent our collaboration. Some of them hear the final creation before it’s released and some don’t. I take the privilege they’re giving me very seriously! I learn from every interaction, every session, every conversation, from all the energy exchanged throughout the process! That’s my Life!
There's a lot of excitement, enthusiasm, focus, and repeated plays in the car driving through Topanga Canyon tuning into the sound and emotion of the pieces.
Would it be fair to fit this album into the jazz tradition?
The & Friends Music is a real hybrid. It has many elements. I consider it Space Music from the point of view of the Human Being Incarnate on Earth. I know that Space Music from Space and other realms is quite different. Mine deals with a lot of Terrestrial inspiration and vision beyond, into and through the vast cosmos, as well as within, deep and open to “far-in” explorations and reflection. Fitting into a Tradition, I’d say my Music is most directly connected to the Collage Tradition.
The music on this album was described to us as a musical odyssey, and as a listener, it definitely transports you somewhere. Did you have a place in mind or a state of mind that you wanted to take listeners to?
Musically, vibrationally, Going Home is an document of communication with Friends who have passed on from their Earthly incarnations. There are many sounds and experiences in Life here, coming into it, living it, and transitioning out of it. This record is a journey through some of the most resonant examples of that, from my awareness / perspective. It is a vibrant, energetic, depth representation of Life in various stages, including the grand trip from this density to higher frequencies of existence. In that, we’re Leaving Records . . .