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Spiritual balancing act

Surya Botofasina, Nate Mercereau and Carlos Niño invite you to a journey into other spheres.

Surya Botofasina, Nate Mercereau, Carlos Niño

Find a balance between the sound and your ego – this is how Surya Botofasina describes his rule for improvisation. As tangible as this advice is, the California-born jazz pianist and synthesizer player usually speaks in flowery terms. When he talks about music, it is often about the idea of universal love, OneLove, which is expressed and spread in life and in music. It is also about sounds that are just waiting to be discovered in the cosmos. And it’s about pianos whose destiny is to be played at some point. The earthly and supernatural course, the physics of sound production and the metaphysics of a “hidden” actual melody, exotericism and esotericism – always the son of the Afro-Cuban harpist Radha Renee Reyes-Botofasina finds himself between the extremes.

Don’t think … play!

You can’t really hear that in his music, you have to realize pretty quickly. Especially on his latest album “Everyone’s Children” everything seems to be in flux; one hears little of conflicting approaches or philosophies, but rather his origins and the contexts in which Surya Botofasina grew up. In 1977, he was born at the Sai Anantam Ashram in Northern California. His mother was – one would say today – spiritually inclined. In the early 1980s, the family moved to Agoura Hills to the ashram that Alice Coltrane had just formed and built. There, first Radha Renee Reyes-Botofasina became a disciple of Coltrane, who in the meantime had risen to medium and guru, and who from then on was only called Swamini Turiyasangitananda, and some time later also her son Surya. However, one cannot really speak of teacher-disciple relationship, because Swamini Turiyasangitananda does not teach, instead she inoculates a feeling: “While I was rehearsing, she just dropped the chords. A major, G minor … She told me not to think, but to play.” Not the only lesson that resonates to this day. Likewise, people regularly sang bhajans, Vedic verses in chant form. Of course, one was in an ashram.

The contact with these mostly simple, spiritual and transcendent songs can be heard sometimes even now. “Everyone’s Children” has been released these days by Spiritmuse: There are eight tracks on the double LP. The shortest ones last a little more than four minutes, the longest track “Surya Meditation” lasts almost 30 minutes and exhausts the technical possibilities of the vinyl production.

As delicate as possible

The music, on the other hand, is more restrained. Instead of bombast, meditative journeys to the center of the earth and to one’s own self await: Botofasina mostly plays naive, spontaneous melodies, intuitive tone sequences and arpeggios. Underneath lies a carpet of organic organ sounds – sailing weightlessly between Vangelis and Laraaji. Carlos Niño appears here as co-producer and constant companion. The Californian with Hispanic roots made his name as a radio DJ in the 1990s, then later began studying percussion instruments. Niño is currently considered one of the most sought-after percussionists on the American and international jazz scene and is a welcome guest on European (festival) stages, where he has been omnipresent in recent years, and quite rightly so. His art is to play as little percussion as possible. Delicately stroked, careful chimes then meet slow-flowing rainmakers; echoed bells meet shakers – especially on “Everyone’s Children” it’s never really about a beat, but about sonic underpinnings for the bell-like piano runs.

Enriching sounds

More classical jazz sounds can be found as well: Especially in the piece “Beloved California Temple”, which seems very modern with its strong use of reverb, but still follows old ideas of Pharoah Sanders. In addition to Pablo Calogero on saxophone, Nate Mercereau will also shine here – the third in the group at the concert in King George on November 17, 2022.
Mercereau is a truly gifted guitarist and songwriter who, in addition to his own projects, performs primarily as a sideman: his credits now range from American pop superstars Lizzo and The Weeknd to jazz starlet John Baptiste.
With them, but also with Surya Botofasina, he performs regularly. For “Everyone’s Children” he devoted himself to the spiritual journey and plays only a few necessary, enriching sounds, noises. On this album, everyone has committed themselves to balance and put their egos aside. Just as the bandleader exemplifies.

Text: Lars Fleischmann