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Ocote Soul Sounds: The Ocote Way

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Ocote Soul Sound is the brainchild of two incredibly accomplished musicians, who continue to operate just under the radar;one more project to occupy the diminishingly available time of guitarist Adrian Quesada and flautist Martin Perna. With roots in the otherworldly grooves of label mates and benefactors Thievery Corporation, Ocote Soul Sounds' Coconut Rock (ESL, 2009), builds on the band's "Chicanos in Outer Space" groove by adding a cinematic quality reminiscent of David Axelrod, Weather Report and other fusion era powerhouses.

Ocote Soul Sounds From left: Martin Perna, Adrian QuesadaM



Adrian Quesada is the man behind the bombastic funk of Grupo Fantasma and its alter ego, Brownout. When not leading those groups, performing at Super Bowl parties thrown by iconic genius Prince, and occasionally doubling as The Purple One's backing band at impromptu gigs in Austin, TX and Las Vegas, NV, the Austin, TX-based Quesada somehow finds time to share song ideas digitally with the never-stationary Perna. A founding member of the Afrobeat orchestra Antibalas, Perna has added his flute and saxophone to recordings from the likes of TV on the Radio, Scarlett Johansson and DJ Logic.

Coconut Rock is, by far, Ocote's best record to date, showcasing the growth of the band as, well, a band. Whereas 2007's The Alchemist Manifesto (ESL) was smoke-filled rooms and psilocybin dreams, Coconut Rock is dense layers of horns and percussion, Axelrod on vacation in Tijuana or Mandrill in the bomb shelter with Madlib. "Vampires" recalls the proto-raps of Gil Scott-Heron, "The Return of the Freak" shadows the pimp walk of {{Curtis Mayfield}'s "Superfly."

Both Quesada and Perna were kind enough to answer some questions for All About Jazz: Quesada in person at a coffee shop just minutes from the home-turned-studio where Grupo Fantasma is currently writing their next record; and Perna, true to form, via email.

The History

Ocote Soul Sounds' roots go back to Perna's days working with the Antibalas Afrobeat Orchestra, as they were called at the time, the name since shortened to Antibalas, in New York City.

"[Ocote Soul Sounds] was a name I came up with in 2001 when I started writing songs that didn't really fit in the rest of the Antibalas repertoire," Perna explains. "It sort of became the umbrella name for little random stuff I did, from a 45 on Bobbito Garcia's Fruitmeat label to a digital folk EP that I made 100 copies of called Electric Tides. I would do two or three shows a year around that time in New York, backed by guys from Antibalas, The Dap Kings and El Michels Affair."

[Ocote] took on another phase in 2004 when I linked up with Adrian Quesada in Austin, and we put together material for an album. We had both donefour or five songs independently, and put them together along with a few joint collaborations and we had an instant album [2005's El Niño y El Sol (ESL)]. It was unexpectedly well received and picked up by the Thievery Corporation guys for the ESL label."

Ocote Soul Sounds"Because we really didn't know how this project would turn out, if we'd expand to a full band or not, it made sense to bill it as 'Ocote Soul Sounds and Adrian Quesada,'" Quesada adds. "It has a better ring than Martin Perna and Adrian Quesada. Still, when we perform live we just call it 'Ocote Soul Sounds.'"

Regardless of the name, the nexus of Ocote's sound is undeniably the inspiring, and almost freaky, musical connection between the group's two leaders. "The most difficult thing is getting together," Perna says. "Even though Adrian and I both theoretically live in Austin, our times here rarely overlap and our commitments here leave precious little time to get together. I think there is definitely some ESP happening between us because when we do get together in the studio, the ideas flow pretty freely and usually one of us is able to put the finishing touches on the other's ideas to make it a song we're happy with."

"Martin travels quite a bit so we don't spend all that much time in the same room. So he'll send me sketches he has via email," says Quesada. Which brings to mind an interesting dichotomy: while Ocote Soul Sounds compositions begin with the digital sharing of two musical minds via the web, the actual music looks back, not only to the Latin funk and soul explosion of the '60s and '70s, but much further back to the Yoruban chants and layers of polyrthythmic percussion that drive Coconut Rock. Like Perna's work promoting sustainable living alternatives, Ocote Soul Sounds music attempts to address the present by looking to the past for lessons on how to build a better future.

The Record

All of Ocote's records, if anything, have shown the growth of the band. Like their songs themselves, the group's albums have developed from sketches of what could potentially be, to fully orchestrated brilliance.


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