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On ‘Introspectiva,’ Guitarist Ricardo Morales Vivero Looks Inward and Outward

Ricardo Morales Vivero
photocredit: Alyssa Redd


Everywhere you listen these days, you’ll find young musicians from South America ripping it up. Bassist Jorge Roeder (Peru), the enchanting guitarist and vocalist Camila Meza (Chile), pianist Leo Genovese (Argentina) and way too many to mention from Brazil are among the most exciting examples. But try to name a jazz musician from Ecuador and you might come up empty.

Meet Ricardo Morales Vivero, a 28-year-old guitarist from Quito who will celebrate the release of his recording debut, Introspectiva (self-released), with a concert at BOP STOP Thursday.

Ricardo Morales Vivero Introspectiva coverMorales Vivero has only been in Cleveland for a year, but he’s quickly made friends and assembled an impressive band of Grant Heineman (keyboards), Kip Reed (bass), Ronell Regis (saxophone) and drummer Anthony Taddeo for the CD and the live date.

Taddeo would prove crucial to the project. “Anthony was one of the first people I connected with here,” when we met at a West Side brewpub. At one of the BOP STOP’s jam sessions, the guitarist said, “I went up to talk to him and he was just very welcoming. I told him I moved from Chicago. We played together and he was like, ‘Let’s talk about what you want to do musically here.’ I went over to his place, and I told him I wanted to record an album.”

It’s a project that Morales Vivero had long been contemplating. And though Introspectiva is his recording debut, it arrives as more of a summation than a beginning, the guitarist said. “I had been holding on to a few of these arrangements and compositions for a while. I want to arrange new music. I want to start playing differently, too. So I really needed to commit to put something out there because I felt like I owed it to myself and to the music that I had worked on for these years.”

Morales Vivero’s style is clean and linear. Like most young guitarists these days, the influence of Pat Metheny and Kurt Rosenwinkel is never far away. Yet his playing has a graceful lyricism and songfulness that sets him apart.

Armed with a grant from the Julia de Burgos Cultural Arts Center and a lineup of musicians suggested by Taddeo, Morales Vivero and his wife, vocalist Grace Blackford, entered the studio with engineer Tuck Mindrum to put his approach on record.

Ricardo Morales ViveroFrom Quito to Chicago

It was the culmination of a long road that began in Quito, Ecuador’s capital, where Morales Vivero first picked up his mother’s guitar as a child. He was soon playing in rock bands, but when he resolved to dedicate his life to the guitar, he was told that the only way to learn was to enter a jazz program.

Morales Vivero entered a conservatory program knowing nothing about jazz. “My first thought was it just seemed so foreign, like this really old music from another country,” the guitarist said. Then an instructor gave him recordings by Joe Pass and Metheny and everything changed. Determined to learn this new music, Morales Vivero enrolled in North Central College in suburban Chicago.

Despite the appeal of the vibrant Chicago scene, the couple wanted to be close to family. Columbus, where Blackford grew up, was closer than Quito, but, Morales Vivero said, “We just didn’t find it very appealing compared to Cleveland. My perspective is that [Columbus] seemed like it was being made from the outside, and I think Cleveland very much seems like a city that is being made from the inside by the people that are here.”

A band that knew what to do

Some of them can be heard on Introspectiva. Keyboard player Grant Heineman, the guitarist said, “was really great at hearing what the song needed. In the solos, in the comping, you’ll hear him play just the thing that sounds good at that moment.”

For the recording’s two jazz covers, “Equinox” and “Blue and Green,” Morales Vivero wanted the kind of fire that John Coltrane brought to the original recordings. “I felt like Ronell really had that,” he said.

Kip Reed was suggested by Taddeo as a bassist who could bring a wealth of playing and recording experience to the session. “Having that background and in Brazilian music really helped save ‘What We Have’ that is very influenced by música popular brasileira. Kip just knew what to do.”

Morales Vivero admires Taddeo, who in many ways is the godfather of the project, for his approach to music. “I think what I love most about Anthony when he’s playing is how much he enjoys it. He’s always just frickin’ smiling and in the music in terms of the enjoyment of it.”

The title of his record notwithstanding, Ricardo Morales Vivero is looking outward these days, to more playing opportunities. “I’d definitely love to just jam with people and get to experience that, but I honestly love just hearing people playing and all these sorts of different things.”

Ricardo Morales Vivero Thursday, August 24 7 p.m. at BOP STOP. $15 available here.

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