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Solo Or In Ensemble, Brandon Lopez’s Bass Is An Uncommon Sound

Brandon Lopez-TAK Ensemble
Brandon Lopez and TAK Ensemble

Despite the increasing numbers of creative improvising musicians who play it, the double bass in a solo context—on record or in performance–remains a comparatively uncommon sound.

Yet Brandon Lopez, with a new recording and a showcase at this weekend’s Re:Sound festival presented by the Cleveland Uncommon Sound Project, is the exception that proves the rule.

Lopez’s playing is exceptional in other ways, too, harnessing a powerful physicality in the service of paint peeling intensity that all but silences the old jokes about talking during bass solos.

Lopez is part of a growing cohort of young musicians who owe no allegiance to genre. He is as likely to astonish while playing notated music with a contemporary classical ensemble as he is driving the rhythm section of a fire-music quartet.

This weekend, Re:Sound gives him a chance to show his versatility as he plays a solo set Friday on a program that also includes sound artist John Wiese, and joins the New York’s acclaimed TAK Ensemble for a program Saturday.

Lopez grew up in North Jersey wrestling, playing lacrosse, two punishing sports, and digging graves, “with a shovel,” he noted (his Bandcamp URL is His immediate family was not particularly musical, but his extended family in Puerto Rico boasted several notable musicians and his cousin Sandra “Sandeé” Casañas was an original member of the Latin freestyle trio Exposé. So perhaps it was inevitable that Lopez would take up music.

Brandon Lopez“I started playing rock music, and like everybody else eventually kind of moved on to jazz, though I was always more into the out shit,” he said by phone from his Brooklyn home. Lopez switched to the bass in college, a choice that unlike college, stuck. “I went to Berklee for a short period of time. Dropped out and switched to the bass, and I went to NEC and dropped out.”

None of that stopped Lopez from forging a commanding technique and a personal style of music making. “Ultimately, I just want to play the bass in a way that’s really personal, my own. Every single touch and every single aspect of my playing I want to be uniquely my own,” he said. “I also would like to change people’s perceptions of what the bass can do and what the bass can be and how music can be created.”

Though his work in the contemporary classical or new music space can be rigorously abstract, Lopez’s approach is anything but. “In my creative life, there’s always been something to be talking about and expressing,” he said, ‘And that sense of urgency, I don’t think it’s ever not been there for me.”

It’s certainly there in his collaborative trio with poet Fred Moten and drum master Gerald Cleaver, and it’s also there on vilevilevilevilevilevilevilevile (Tao Forms), released earlier this month (you can read my review of the recording here).

In his performance with TAK Ensemble, Lopez will be heard in yet another role: that of composer. His composition “Empty Under Church of Plenty,” is among the dozens that TAK has commissioned from a wide range of composers.

Marina KiffersteinTAK violinist Marina Kifferstein describes Lopez’s composition as a structured improvisation. “Essentially, there’s a there’s a form and some signals that we can give to each other [that] mean different things. We can also choose to disregard them. We don’t have to follow the rules. That’s one of the rules. So, it’s quite free and every performance is going to be different.”

That’s just the way Lopez likes it. “I like to keep people kind of confused and guessing ultimately,” he said. “I think that music, at least the music that I want, is better when the performers is on their toes. I don’t want them to feel too comfortable.”

Comfort isn’t exactly at issue in Lopez’s solo performances, but here too, he thinks in collective terms. “My solo playing is kind of like a way for me to push my abilities to play with other people. I try to craft long ideas on this difficult instrument, and I try to push my technique, my physical technique, as far as it goes, and also the ideas as far as they can go so that when I do need somebody else, I can be there.”

Brandon Lopez wsg John Weise, Friday, June 9, 7 p.m. and wsg TAK Ensemble, Saturday, June 10 at Convivium 33 Gallery, 1433 E. 33rd St., Cleveland as part of Cleveland Uncommon Sound Project’s Re:Sound Festival. $20-25 per concert sliding scale; no one will be turned away for a lack of funds. Tickets available here.

Trading Fours

There’s never a bad time to get out and commune in the same room with creative musicians. Below are four musical events of interest in the coming week that you might want to check out.

Jazz Is PHSH
Thursday, June 1, 8 p.m.
Bop Stop, 2920 Detroit Rd., Cleveland. (tickets)

If you think politics is a polarizing topic, try attending a gathering of music geeks and bringing up the long-running phenomenon that is Phish. It’s safe to say that you love ‘em or you hate ‘em, and that goes for jazz fans, too. If you’re in the latter category, don’t @ me for bringing up this event, which, in any case, is likely to be sold out by the time you read this.

Tommy Lehman’s Uplift Quartet and Hubb’s Groove
Friday, June 2, 6 p.m.
Waterloo Tower Stage, Waterloo Rd. at 156th St., Cleveland. (free)

The series of free concerts presented by the Cleveland Rocks: Past, Present, Future organization under the Waterloo Makes Music banner is one of NEO’s hidden treasures. With the action moving outdoors, now is a perfect time to see and hear what you’ve been missing. And just in case you’re on the fence Friday, two of the region’s feel-good bands raise the FOMO stakes.

Friday, June 2, 8 p.m.
Blu Jazz+, 47 E. Market St., Akron. (tickets)

You would think that between gigging with Stephen Philip Harvey, Anthony Taddeo’s increasingly busy Alla Boara band and his own :beta collective, guitarist Dan Bruce’s calendar would be full. Yet here he is with Ohm!, a new trio of bassist Denzel Chismar-Oliver and Nathan Douds on drums, making their maiden voyage. Resistance is futile.

Clint Bliel/Bryan Kennard Octet
Sunday, June 4, 7 p.m.
Bop Stop, 2920 Detroit Rd., Cleveland. (tickets)

Let’s say you are the director of a jazz club and you need a band to fill a dark night on your schedule. What do you do? If you’re Bop Stop’s Bryan Kennard, you book your own band, and you do it without shame because who wouldn’t want to come out and hear ace players such as saxophonist Bliel, Zach Warren on trombone, pianist Grant Heineman, Aidan Plank on bass, Zaire Darden on drums and the busy Messrs. Lehman and Bruce?

Information for this section came from Jim Szabo’s essential, weekly Northeast Ohio jazz calendar , NEO’s most complete list of jazz and jazz-adjacent events.


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