"It's very hard to get a personal, identifiable sound when orchestrating for a Big Band, but - almost miraculously - Juan Andrés Ospina makes it happen. Bingo!" - Paquito D'Rivera
Powerful yet invisible, momentarily ferocious yet leaving behind idyllic, crystal clear skies; the Tramontana is a true force of nature, a gale force wind that lashes Spain's Catalan coastline. It serves as an apt inspiration for composer and bandleader Juan Andrés Ospina, who has experienced its strength and beauty firsthand and has translated the wind's stirring and awe-invoking qualities into music for Tramontana, the debut release by his phenomenal big band. Soul-stirring and vigorous, a family affair as well as a multinational congregation, the Juan Andrés Ospina Big Band embodies the contradictory essence of this formidable natural phenomenon.
Due out April 20, 2018 Tramontana is the extraordinary fulfillment of nearly a decade of dreaming and a lifetime's immersion in music. Born into a musical and artistic family in Bogotá, Colombia, Ospina chanced into his gift for big band composing and arranging while a student at Boston's Berklee College of Music. The album's realization follows a successful, inventive Kickstarter campaign and the enthusiastic encouragement of renowned bandleaders Paquito D'Rivera and Maria Schneider. It brings together a gifted ensemble of artists of ten different nationalities, performing Ospina's striking originals, one radically transformed standard, and a passionate song by Colombian singer Lucia Pulido.
"This is something that I've felt for a long time that I had to do," Ospina says. "I just needed to find the courage to finally do it."
One listen to the majestic and richly textured pieces that make up Tramontana and it's obvious why Ospina felt so compelled to pursue the daunting task of assembling a big band to record his music. He never set out to become a bandleader on this scale, however; his first piece for big band, in fact, was nothing more than a classroom assignment. It was under the tutelage of Greg Hopkins at Berklee that Ospina crafted the dramatic rendition of "Like Someone In Love" that appears on the album, reharmonized and with the well-known melody stretched to unrecognizable lengths, creating something that feels both familiar and fresh.
That description also applies to the ensemble itself, which combines longtime collaborators and new acquaintances. Several of them were on stage alongside him when Ospina premiered his original big band pieces at his Berklee graduation in 2007; others met for the first time in the studio when these tracks were recorded. The members of the band hail from such far-flung locales as the U.K., Cuba, Canada, Israel, Switzerland, Greece, Portugal and Argentina, as well as Ospina's native Colombia and his adopted home of New York (he splits his time between the two when not on tour).
"I thought it would be interesting to have so many different nationalities playing in this band, all bringing their influences to the music in some way," Ospina says. "It's something that might be very common in New York, but from a Colombian perspective it's pretty crazy."
Ospina's homeland is well represented on the album; aside from one turn by Ospina himself, the piano chair is filled either by Colombia native Carolina Calvache or by the composer's brother Nicolás Ospina, with whom he collaborates in a comedy-music duo that's found viral success online. Their sister Silvia designed the artwork for the album. Acclaimed Colombian singer Lucia Pulido's heart-wrenching vocals bring the album to a stirring close on her own "Ver Llover," one of three pieces in Ospina's repertoire commissioned by Bogotá's Jazz al Parque festival. The composition is based on the currulao rhythm from the Pacific coast of Colombia, for which Ospina invited Argentinean drummer Franco Pinna, a master of that tradition, to join the band.
The soaring wordless vocals on the opening title track are by the remarkable Portuguese singer Sofia Ribeiro. Ospina has been a key member of Ribeiro's band for seven years, serving as musical director and producer as well as pianist for her last two albums. Two other members of that ensemble also join Ospina for Tramontana: Greek bassist Petros Klampanis, who appears on "Recuerdos de un Reloj de Pared," and percussionist Marcelo Woloski. "She's an incredible singer and her music is amazing," Ospina says of Ribeiro. "Working with her has been one of my most important musical experiences."
"Todavía No," an Ospina composition based on the Pasillo rhythm found in Colombia's Andes Mountains, originally appeared in a small band arrangement on Ospina's 2009 debut, BBB: Barcelona, Bogotá, Boston. Christopher Lyndon of Radio Open Source called the album, "a landmark. It stands with authority as a milestone pointing back and forward [and marks] the 'arrival' of Juan Ospina as a young master already having a uniquely valuable impact on listeners, professional musicians and ambitious artists of all kinds." David Sumner of All About Jazz hailed BBB as "an absolutely welcome addition to the jazz landscape."
It was there - after discovering the pianist through one of the comic videos he made with his brother - that Cuban jazz great Paquito D'Rivera first heard the song and decided to add it to his own repertoire. Ospina expanded the tune with D'Rivera in mind, and the legendary saxophonist contributes a graceful yet fervent soprano solo for the occasion. "It's so inspiring for someone that has so much experience and has been on the music scene for more than 50 years is still so thirsty for new sounds," says Ospina, who seized the opportunity to put down his conductor's baton and take over the keyboard for one tune. "Paquito has a very strong personal identity that comes out in every single nuance that he adds to the melody, the small details or grace notes that add so much to the music."
The simmering tension of "102 Fahrenheit" was born from the arduous experience of its own composition. Ospina wrote the piece in an un-air conditioned apartment during a summer heatwave in New York City, with deadlines looming and technology refusing to cooperate. "It was a very stressful month," he recalls. "My computer was crashing all the time it was crazy hot. I couldn't open the windows because so much noise was coming from the street that I couldn't concentrate, but if I closed them it was like a sauna. The intensity of the tune came from the stress of having to meet a deadline and not being able to work in comfort." That personal experience of extreme weather led him to create a piece that comments on the more global issue of climate change and the urgently needed (but too widely neglected) response.
"Recuerdos de un Reloj de Pared," which translates as "Memories of a Grandfather Clock," was inspired by a timepiece that has stood watch in the house of the composer's grandmother for decades, a silent witness to generations of stories. The recording features the expressive accordion of Magda Giannikou, who also co-produced the album. The two have worked together since 2005, with Ospina playing in her ensemble Banda Magda. She, along with guitarist Nadav Remez and drummer Dan Pulgach (both from Israel), all played the same piece ten years ago at its Berklee premiere.
The recording of the album at New York City's iconic Sear Sound Studio was filmed by Grammy-winning director Andy LaViolette, who has produced a series of videos to accompany the release. Far from simple "music videos," these pieces combine candid interviews with the composer set against the backdrop of the city, interspersed with key moments from the studio. The videos reveal a picture of an emerging composer as he crafts his modern take on big band music, as well as what it takes to pull off an independent project on such a massive scale."
Juan Andrés Ospina
Currently living in between New York and Bogotá, Colombia, pianist, composer, arranger and producer Juan Andrés Ospina is one of the most active and prominent exponents of an outstanding generation of Colombian musicians. His debut album as a leader, BBB: Barcelona, Bogotá, Boston (Armored Records, 2009) was named one of the "best jazz albums of the year" by the prestigious All About Jazz website. In the past several years, Ospina has produced, arranged and played the piano for Colombian singer Marta Gómez' Este Instante (2015), which won a Latin Grammy; Portuguese singer Sofia Ribeiro's Mar Sonoro (2016) and Ar (2012) - which won the "Revelation" prize from the prestigious French magazine Jazzman; and Portuguese singer Luisa Sobral's debut CD, The Cherry on my Cake (2011), which went Platinum and garnered two Golden Globe nominations. He also co-leads the comedy/musical duo "Inténtalo Carito" with his brother Nicolás Ospina. Together they composed the famous song "Qué difícil es hablar el español," and their YouTube Channel has garnered more than 22 million views to date. Ospina started his musical studies at the Universidad Javeriana (Bogotá), then moved to Barcelona, Spain, where he continued his classical and jazz studies at the Escola D'Angel Soler and the Taller de Musics. In 2005 he received a scholarship to attend the prestigious Berklee College of Music, where he studied with = musicians such as Danilo Pérez, Maria Schneider, Greg Hopkins and Dave Samuels among many others.