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Camila Meza: Following what the music has to say

Friedrich Kunzmann By

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I’ve always followed what the music tells me...The story of the song, lyrically and musically, is the main focus, so I try to arrange in a way that the instrumentation serves the song
Since the success of her 2016 effort Traces, Chilean-raised and New York-based guitarist Camila Meza has been incresingly gaining more recognition in today's jazz-guitar demographics. In addition to the all-star cast comprised of the likes of Shai Maestro, Matt Penman and Kendrick Scott, it is also the sense of sophistication and singularity in composition that defined her last record and made it her most balanced outing to date. In light of the ongoing Pannonica-project, brought to life and led by Austrian double-bassist Gina Schwarz, Meza was invited to join the band for a most colorful evening filled with a diverse pallet of sounds and styles at the Porgy & Bess in Vienna, presenting original compositions by both.

In our interview, conducted in a bar in downtown Vienna the following evening, Meza pointed out how the collaboration came about and which challenges it posed.

Camila Meza: Gina is doing this project (The Pannonica-Project) once a month throughout the year. In addition to a fixed cast of musicians she invites a special guest; the focus is on women instrumentalists from anywhere around the world and I believe she chooses a different instrument every month.

All About Jazz: Gina goes all over the place in her compositions. She introduces a very experimental and atonal side to her compositions. Was it hard to get into that for you or are you often confronted with this style of jazz?

CM: Yeah, We covered such a big scope of music yesterday, it was fun that way! And yes, I would say that I am confronted with all types of jazz but only rarely go into free-improv, which I actually dig! But I have to be in the right situation to feel comfortable and free with it. That seems hypocritical, no? I need to feel free to play freely...(she laughs)

She most certainly had to have felt comfortable on the day of the concert. The entire group displayed great chemistry, culminating to tight and enticing grooves throughout and Meza shone on her own compositions as well as on the jazz-fusion and free-jazz tinged explorations by Gina Schwarz. Although placed at the center of the stage, Meza did not so much take the spotlight in every song as lend her knowledge and skillset to the general sound in democratic fashion. This notion of restraint was even more noticeable here than on her already reserved role on Traces. Most likely due to the slightly enhanced instrumentation: In addition to the quartet, comprised of herself, Gina Schwarz on bass, Judith Schwarz on drums and Philipp Nykrin on the piano, the band also featured sax/bass-clarinet, trumpet/Flugelhorn, Violin and Cello—forcing Meza to rearrange her pieces:

CM: Rearranging my songs was really fun! But I had to do it in a really short time due to my busy schedule just before this concert. So I basically only had a day and a half to do the rearranging on the computer.

Hard to imagine such little time was spent on the rearranging. Opening with the fresh breeze that is "Para Volar," which coincidentally is also the opener of Traces, the band demonstrated new rhythmical variations on a driving 6/8 beat, wonderfully ornamented by smoothly harmonizing strings and brass. "Greenfinch and Linnet Bird," "Away" as well as the melancholically haunting "Amazon Farewell" also made it into the set, each immersed in new light by means of reinterpretation, the latter profiting from the enhanced arrangement the most. While the studio version of "Amazon Farewell" already finds a cello widening the sound carpet, the further addition of Flugelhorn, bass-clarinet and violin made the composition bloom with unhinged solos by all involved.

In combination with the monthly Pannonica-Project concerts the special guests furthermore hold workshops at the ipop Jazz University in Vienna, a successful collaboration between the University and the Porgy & Bess. Meza had just returned from holding said workshop when we met for the interview.

AAJ: Do you often do workshops and do you enjoy doing them?

CM: Yes I do, and I've been increasingly doing more and more. The first one I held was at Stanford University and I was really nervous at the thought of having to teach so many people at once. While doing it though I realized it comes really naturally to me. I've been having so much fun holding workshops ever since and have more and more opportunities to do them as well. For example I've been invited to go to Singapore in March to do a workshop as well (for a second time).

AAJ: Growing up in a very musical family in Chile, you were exposed to classical music by your parents and to 70's fusion (Scofield and Metheny to name a few) by your siblings, leaving the question: What South American artists influenced your musical taste at an earlier stage in your career?

CM: First of all, I have always been very open to all kinds of music. I don't prefer any specific genre. So there are so many artists that have had an impact on my musical upbringing. The Brazillian classics, anything from Elis Regina to Milton Nascimento, were always omnipresent and of course the all-time classic Antonio Carlos Jobim, whom I've covered a couple of times in the past. When it comes to guitarists I'd say that Tonhinho Horta has had great influence on my early upbringing as well. Just today in the workshop I also talked about Mercedes Sosa, who was one of the biggest voices in Latin America. In Chile, there are these two artists that took the folklore to the next level: Victor Jara (who I also have covered a bunch) and Violetta Parra.

AAJ:In 2009, at the age of 23, you decided to move to New York and continue your jazz education in the Big Apple. What made you want to move to New York at that point in your life? What was your main motivation?

CM: At 21, 22, I was already looking for other things to do, outside of the given parameters. Chile was an amazing experience, developing there as a musician. But it's a small scene and therefore knows its limits. Before going to New York I first applied for a cruise ship, which I was on for 5 months. Then I decided to go to New York for a month, only to check it out, short-term. I had no intention of moving there, but that one month revealed itself so revelatory it felt like a big shift in my life. There was a sense of constant motivation by being confronted with so many new things, especially musically of course. Everyone there is so much at the top of their game, I felt I just wanted to practice every day and become better. Not really in a competitive way but the scene just makes you want to bring the best version of yourself out. If there is a sense of competition it surely isn't one against the other but a competition with oneself. So I went back to Chile and immediately applied for the New School and fortunately ended up getting a scholarship. I moved to New York five months later and that's that!
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