Thursday, August 25, 2016

Opaluna Spans Cultures, Styles and Sounds on Vibrant Self-Titled Debut

Bridging continents, cultures, languages, and musics, Opaluna weaves together a rich variety of influences and impressions to craft a vivid and decidedly modern spectrum of sound. On their self-titled debut, due out August 26 via Ridgeway Records' Rising Star series, versatile vocalist Susana Pineda and inventive guitarist Lu Salcedo freely explore Latin rhythms, electronic textures, rock grooves, folk expressiveness and genre-spanning jazz freedom in a distinctive and entrancing duo setting.
"Opaluna" combines the name of a multicolored gemstone with the Spanish word for "moon," capturing the duo's hybrid identity in a single word: two languages combining to form one meaning, a combination of vibrant colors and bold luminescence. Like their name, Opaluna's sound is also a portmanteau, bringing together two singular voices into one harmonious sound. Pineda melds the sounds and traditions of her native Colombia with a passion for modern jazz, while Bay Area native Salcedo brings his rock background and penchant for experimentalism together on the frontiers of Latin-inflected jazz.

"Our music is a blend of two cultures, two stories, two backgrounds and two languages creating one," says Pineda. Salcedo continues, "We didn't want to do something that had been done before. Working together, we got very excited about how much we could do."

The pair met while both were students at Berkeley's California Jazz Conservatory. Pineda began studying jazz in her hometown of Medellín but decided to move to the States in 2013 at the encouragement of her mentor, singer Claudia Gómez. She chose CJC due to the program's emphasis on a range of Latin traditions supplementing its core jazz focus. Salcedo came to the school with a more straight-ahead jazz interest, but his partial Mexican heritage led him to begin exploring Latin music. He and Pineda came together in a class on Afro-Venezuelan music and soon recognized their shared passions.

Soon the duo embarked on a journey of sonic experimentation, at first playing music for one another, then arranging jazz standards together to determine a common ground, and finally improvising together in an effort to discover a unified voice. "We would start from scratch, just improvising out of nowhere and seeing what happens," Pineda recalls. "We knew that we didn't want to do the traditional swing thing or play bolero normally. We wanted to blend everything we are, and we wanted to do it in a modern way."

A professor at CJC, Ridgeway Arts founder Jeff Denson heard the burgeoning duo during a lesson and immediately sensed a special chemistry in the nascent pairing. He invited them to record for the San Francisco-based non-profit's Ridgeway Records label, mentoring them through the process from a crowd-funding campaign through recording and post-production, producing the album at the legendary Fantasy Studios and also contributing his remarkable bass sound to three tracks. Fellow CJC faculty member and Bay Area percussion legend John Santos also guests on two cuts.
"I was drawn to Opaluna's music and wanted to produce them because of their creativity and passion," Denson says. "They inhabit a colorful world of sound, beauty and social consciousness that crosses cultural and musical boundaries and really draws you in. Working with Susana and Lu at the California Jazz Conservatory, I found them to be sincere, motivated young artists that care deeply about their craft. I wanted to mentor them further with the creation of their debut recording because I believe in their vision and see their great potential. Now more than ever, the world desperately needs art and music that inspires creative thought, generosity and compassion and Ridgeway Arts seeks to promote artists and projects with this same goal in any way that we can!"

Both members of Opaluna give Denson ample credit for helping to hone their sound and teach them invaluable lessons. "Jeff is an amazing musician, and having the opportunity to engage in a back and forth with him about musical aesthetics was extremely helpful," says Salcedo. To which Pineda adds,  "He always wanted to keep Opaluna and not change who we are. He just wanted to take our music and our sound to another level."

Opening track "Bridges" sums up Opaluna's approach while paying homage to the multi-cultural diversity of their Bay Area home. "It's pretty startling to be able to walk down one street and travel the world at the same time," Salcedo says. "The song is a metaphorical journey form one side of a bridge to the other, and during that trip across the bridge it changes feels and tempos from one cultural subject to another, which is something that really resonates with us because we're trying to bridge all these different stories and backgrounds."

The album is itself a journey, beginning with the chirping samba-funk of the co-written "Bridges" and continuing through the intoxicating sway of "Instinto Ornitológico," with Denson on bass and backing vocals. The Cuban classic "Dos Gardenias" is rendered with a swirling romantic atmosphere, cut through by Salcedo's incisive solo, while Wayne Shorter's "Mahjong" starts as a folk tune with a supple wordless vocal and percussive acoustic guitar before being subsumed in a psychedelic haze.

Salcedo wrote the intense "Does It Rain on the Moon?" with lyrics taken in part from the immortal children's tale "The Little Prince." A fluid Afro-Caribbean groove fuels "Champeterapia," while both the wistful "Young Bonds" and the ethereal "Once We're Gone" were built around Pineda's evocative poetry. Pineda's "Pétalos" is an intimate take on modern jazz, while "Baile de Opuestos" reimagines the childlike standard "Inchworm" as a Colombian joropo.

After spending three weeks touring Colombia this summer, Pineda and Salcedo's collaboration has truly bridged the duo's respective cultures. Their musical partnership has been an ongoing voyage of discovery, resulting in an uncategorizable sound that finds them meeting somewhere in the middle - or, perhaps, some other, completely unexplored new territory. "After all this time playing together," Salcedo says, "everything morphs into what we both need it to be."

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