Bassist Brandon Lopez has emerged onto the New York scene over the past few years. A robust, fiery, articulate player, he has been building a reputation for himself in solo performances and via Xivaros, his trio with Alejandro Florez and Carlo Costa. He has also been an active sideman with Amirtha Kidambi’s Elder Ones, Weasel Walter Large Ensemble, various groups with Peter Evans, Tyshawn Sorey, and Joe Morris, and more recently as a member of the Nate Wooley Quartet. Lopez is releasing a solo record on July 3 titled Vitriol on his new label Nun-less, No-more. He has three performances coming up at Muchmore’s and Manhattan Inn in Brooklyn as well as five dates on a European tour.
Cisco Bradley: You have a solo record coming out. Could you discuss the project, including the ideas you generated for it?
Brandon Lopez: I do, in early July, its called Vitriol. It’s difficult to pin down what ideas I’ve been digesting over the years. I can tell you it’s an amalgamation of a shit-ton of musical/non-musical ideas. I might be able to tell you the processes, but I’d rather leave it there. Growing up, I did find myself playing by myself, there weren’t too many people to play with where I grew up.
Cisco Bradley: Where did you grow up?
Brandon Lopez: I grew up in a mountain town in northwestern New Jersey. I don’t think anyone was playing improvised music, at least no one I knew. I’d been lucky enough to get exposed to the mass due to the Internet.
Anyway, it was a pretty small town, so I played by myself a lot. That’s where it started. I’ve recorded a bunch of solo material over the years. There’s only one that I let out on the Freedom Garden’s label.
Cisco Bradley: It’s a tape label?
Brandon Lopez: It’s a tape label. I think only 25 have been made, I’d like to keep it that way.
I was listening to European improvisers then and the work was obviously inspired by it, which is hardly ever a good thing.
Recently, I’ve thrown myself down the Thelonious Monk hole. The way that he approaches melodic and harmonic structures and also timbre; the way he utilizes aesthetics and form is really, really interesting to me.
I’ve been trying to approach playing like him in an oblique sense; attempting harmonic and melodic material while keeping the edges rough.
Cisco Bradley: And what does that mean to you? Or, how do you put that into practice?
Brandon Lopez: Making sure my technique isn’t too clean. Making failure part of the practice. Mistakes make great opportunities. Attempting this while still having the control to work through ideas.
Cisco Bradley: Is it about something you’re expressing through that or just that’s the technical approach that you like?
Brandon Lopez: Probably. I like visual art. Some of my favorite stuff is rough around the edges.
Cisco Bradley: Is there specific visual art that you’ve seen that has inspired you or affected you?
Brandon Lopez: Well, there’s a ton of it. Paul Klee’s earlier works were pen and paper. The subjects were obvious to decipher. A man bowing to another wasn’t distorted in the way his later works were. I want distortion, messiness. There are so others who’ve done this for the last 120 + years, so excuse me for the dated reference.
Cisco Bradley: So you see an aesthetic that communicates across the art forms.
Brandon Lopez: Yes.
Cisco Bradley: So you mentioned previous solo records that you recorded. Why release this one?
Brandon Lopez: I’m happy with the work!
Cisco Bradley: Do you feel like this is sort of a maturing of ideas that you were working through at earlier stages?
Brandon Lopez: Yep.
Cisco Bradley: What other projects do you have going at the moment. There are things that you’re leading? Do you want to talk about Xivaros?
Brandon Lopez: That’s a trio. I’m working with Carlo Costa and Alejandro Florez. I initially called it Xivaros, which is archaic spelling of Jibaro. Puerto Rican’s get the vibe. But, now it’s just the trio.
The concept is based around guitar music I’ve been writing. I have been developing a socio-political-historical ideology based around the guitar as the working North and South American’s instrument. I can assure you its poorly researched and I believe in it fully.
Anyway, my mother and father are from Puerto Rico. I consider myself part of the Diaspora. The guitar is integral to a lot of Puerto Rican traditional music.
Cisco Bradley: So do you draw elements of that?
Brandon Lopez: Obliquely.
I didn’t necessarily learn that tradition aside from hearing it on nearly every family gathering. I ate a lot of it too.
Cisco Bradley: So I suppose, in a way, you’re consciously and unconsciously including elements of that?
Brandon Lopez: Yes. I have a piece, “Subjugation Non-Equivalent”. It’s about colonialism, don’t quote me on that.
Cisco Bradley: What is subjugation to you?
Brandon Lopez: Everywhere man goes. Chains. It’s a complex question, and I don’t like to offend in text, if the reader is interested, come to a gig and lets get into it.
Cisco Bradley: So back to Xivaros, you premiered your music at New Revolution Arts on January 16.
Brandon Lopez: I did. We had another gig at the Silent Barn on April 15th in Gravesend Studio.
Cisco Bradley: Do you have any plans maybe in the future to record?
Brandon Lopez: Sure do.
Cisco Bradley: Thank you so much for sharing your history and experiences with Jazz Right Now.
–Cisco Bradley, April 26, 2016