© 2024 WFAE

Mailing Address:
8801 J.M. Keynes Dr. Ste. 91
Charlotte NC 28262
Tax ID: 56-1803808
90.7 Charlotte 93.7 Southern Pines 90.3 Hickory 106.1 Laurinburg
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
These articles were excerpted from Tapestry, a weekly newsletter that examines the arts and entertainment world in Charlotte and North Carolina.

Jazz bassist reshaping the sound of the instrument

Brandon Lopez on Facebook
New York-based bassist Brandon Lopez will perform at Goodyear Arts in Camp North End on Saturday, Sept. 23.

If you think playing the stand-up bass solo sounds like it could be musically limiting — think again. New York-based bassist Brandon Lopez uses the instrument to conjure whole worlds of sound. His unique approach has made him an in-demand sideman and collaborator. That's in addition to leading his own projects, which include a new album that came out earlier this year.

Lopez is bringing his bass to Charlotte Saturday night to perform, and he spoke to WFAE's Marshall Terry ahead of the show.

Marshall Terry: So we'll get to your new album in just a moment. First though, I want to know, is this your first time playing in Charlotte?

Brandon Lopez: I would reckon it is. I think I may have stayed in Charlotte on tour, but maybe not played.

Terry: Well, Charlotte's jazz scene isn't quite New York's but it has grown a bit in recent years. So what made you want to come down here?

Lopez: It sounded like a really interesting gig. I don't get to play outside of New York so much, aside from playing in Europe. So, you know, anytime I get a chance to go to a new city and meet new people and play for new people, it's always interesting at the very least and mostly a pleasure.

Terry: Well, I saw one article refer to you as “the ubiquitous” because of the many collaborations you have done. How does working with so many different artists affect your own music?

Lopez: Well, it's funny. I never think of myself as a serviceable musician. I always try to actually contextualize myself as having more of a personal approach and finding interesting ways to make that work in so many different settings, it really opens up the way that you actually contextualize your own work. It's really an interesting learning experience to put yourself in so many situations. I've been a soloist with the New York Philharmonic. I was in the house band on TELFAR.TV. And I also play this very strange music, you know? Ultimately, putting myself in situations where I could still be myself and still learn from other individuals is extremely important.

Terry: Are there any collaborations or projects with other musicians that stand out to you?

Lopez: Fred Moten, myself, and Gerald Cleaver, who is a percussionist. Fred, if you don't know Fred, he's one of the preeminent scholars in Black studies and just an amazing poet. And we have a collective trio. Working with Fred and Gerald and really crafting a very, very personal music between three different people has been so exceptional. I also have a group with saxophonist, the German saxophonist named Ingrid Laubrock and the drummer Tom Rainey. It's a very traditional setting where it's saxophone, bass, and drums. What it seems like we're trying to do is really push the limits of what those conventions are. And at the same time make something that's engaging and very tactile and very musical. I guess it's kind of in a way like transgressing the typical idea of the jazz trio and turning it into a whole other organism.

Terry: Your new album, which came out earlier this year, is called "vilevilevilevilevilevilevilevilevilevilevilevilevilevilevilevile." What are you referring to with that title?

Lopez: So there's these Carl Andre pieces. I think they're poems or they're maybe considered visual art. But it's just a word. He would take these words and just kind of loop them and loop them and loop them in these boxes and it would take the word and just kind of recontextualize what it is, the more that you actually dealt with it. I thought that was really interesting. I stole that idea from him in taking something vile and maybe rendering it into something else. It's just kind of a run-on of, vile vile vile vile vile vile vile vile vile, you know, over and over and over and over again and it ends up becoming something else.

Terry: I was thinking that it really is amazing just how many sounds you get out of the bass when you're playing just by yourself. You're not only plucking and bowing the strings like you normally would with the bass, but you're also starting to beat on the sides of the instrument as though it were a drum.

Lopez: Well, you know, I'm Puerto Rican. My mother's family, they were musicians for generations, particularly in Latin Caribbean music, Afro-Caribbean music. And I didn't grow up playing that music, but that music was always played and that was always in the house.

And I'm a huge fan of Cachoa who was one of the greatest Cuban bass players and he would use the bass as if it was a drum at certain points or maybe all the time. Even the way he was playing, it sounds like congas kind of in conversation with each other. But sometimes he’d actually physically play the bass as if it was like a cajon or a conga. And that gave me the idea to kind of explore that more. What I found was that the bass is this huge resonating wood body that is essentially a really well-tuned cajon.

Terry: I was actually going to bring up that you are Puerto Rican American and also note that it is Hispanic American Heritage Month right now. How has that cultural heritage shaped your music? That's one part of it right there using the bass as almost a percussion instrument. Has it come up in other ways?

Lopez: I'm culturally American, but also at the same time there's so much influence from particularly Puerto Rico and Cuba, Dominican Republic. And how that actually influences my playing I'm not really quite sure. I could take guesses. One of those things, as I mentioned before, was taking the bass and treating it as a cajon or a conga and learning these kinds of Afro-Caribbean polyrhythms and recontextualizing them. But also I think growing up with the tradition, but also feeling outside of that tradition, kind of always put me in a place where I feel like I'm in between so many spaces. And I feel that's a way that I approach my music, that I'm not quite working with a particular genre. I'm really kind of in between these influences, if that makes any sense.

Terry: It does. It almost sounds like maybe you found a little niche for yourself.

Lopez: I think so.

Lopez performs Saturday, Sept. 23 at 7:30 p.m. at Goodyear Arts in Camp North End located at 301 Camp Road. Admission is free. More information here.

WFAE's weekly arts and entertainment email newsletter, Tapestry, will keep you in the loop on arts and culture in the Charlotte region.

Select Your Email Format

Marshall came to WFAE after graduating from Appalachian State University, where he worked at the campus radio station and earned a degree in communication. Outside of radio, he loves listening to music and going to see bands - preferably in small, dingy clubs.