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Jazz 01/11/2023

Joe Santa Maria Works With Woodwinds & Electronics On 'Echo Deep'

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Joe Santa Maria Works With Woodwinds & Electronics On 'Echo Deep'
New York, NY (Top40 Charts) Joe Santa Maria, a fiery alto saxophonist with a strong command of post-bop vernacular, took a detour from earlier acoustic jazz releases The Illustrated Man (2012) and Introspection (2014) when he made Creature (2016), an absorbing, otherworldly set of electronic tracks and experimental woodwind sounds and improvisations. His new release, Echo Deep, has a foot in both these worlds, in a sense: a sonically exploratory solo voyage, though one involving other players in a plethora of roles.

"Scenes from the album are drawn from my earliest memories of sound, beauty, and humor as well as from challenging and triumphant moments in my teenage and post-college years," Santa Maria explains. "Travels to Indonesia, Mexico, South America, and a seven-year stint living in Boston and NYC all have scenes to play on this record, which took nearly 10 years from inception to completion. The melodies and rhythms are meant to be cyclical and trancelike."

Santa Maria holds a BFA from Berklee College of Music, an MFA from CalArts and a diploma from Houston's famed High School for the Performing and Visual Arts (alma mater of Beyoncé, Robert Glasper, Chris Dave, Eric Harland, Kendrick Scott and countless others). "At CalArts I was welcomed into a very special and creative Los Angeles community," he recalls.

"I studied gamelan music, culminating in a trip to Bali to learn and perform an epic piece by ear. I studied African and Indian rhythmic techniques. I spent time writing and searching for a compositional voice in jazz and other genres. I had more time to work on my doubles and progressed in my flute and clarinet playing. I also started playing soprano and baritone saxophones regularly and began to deviate from only playing alto."

Echo Deep finds Santa Maria placing these varied influences and experiences in captivating dialogue, conjuring reeds, brass and strings in varied aesthetic combinations and soundscapes. It is, quite simply, his "sonic autobiography." Contemporary chamber music, electronica, Brazilian brass ensembles, Balkan music and other inspirations creep in, almost imperceptibly in a music that falls beyond genre.

"Growing up playing in the forests and lakes of Michigan influenced the track 'Soap Box,'" Santa Maria says, "drawing on years of enjoying string and folk music on Midwestern public radio as well as idyllic seasonal weather. 'Apix Groob,' a favorite of mine, reflects on a later period in high school when I was listening to Aphex Twin as regularly as John Coltrane and Thelonious Monk, and experiencing many exciting trips and early life lessons."

The piccolo and reed sonorities of "Pathways 1" were inspired by the flute music of Bali yet have a grand, almost organ-like quality here. "Pathways 2," by contrast, has its origin in Mozart, with "a feeling of ascending and falling" and a growing density throughout. "Mad Max" and "Play Play" are more fiercely percussive, the former with irregular, machine-like rhythms, recalling dystopian cyberpunk scenes like "the pizza delivery driver from the beginning of Snow Crash," Santa Maria offers, "or maybe a chase scene from Akira." "Play Play" is less angular but still full of tension and dissonance, facilitating a nasty alto solo on an otherwise non-alto-centric release.

Although Echo Deep is a solo outing, the massed instrumental forces at times give it a big-band energy, as unconventional a band as that might be. "Lullaby" is a tableau of "a plane over water," says Santa Maria, with "an endless soft sunset and a tired moment on a journey." "On the Water" has a beautifully plainspoken trumpet melody, with a striking blend of synth and horns thickening the middle section.

And "Where's Annie," the finale, has a Twin Peaks inspiration, opening with strings before grinding into slow funk anchored by bass clarinet and trombone, not to mention atmospheric voices and surrealist noise. "Try listening at different times of day, in different situations, or sound systems," muses Santa Maria as he sends this dazzling "sonic autobiography" out into the world.

In addition to his solo work, Joe Santa Maria performs and records with famous rock acts including Airborne Toxic Event, Daniel Platzman (Imagine Dragons), Django Django and Vampire Weekend. He has played with jazz greats Danilo Perez, James Moody, Jason Moran, Joe LaBarbera, Larry Koonse, Roy McCurdy, Vinny Golia, Kim Richmond, Bill Holman, Ron King and more, performing at The Blue Whale, Vibrato, Sam First, Disney Hall, The Greek Theater, The Lighthouse and other top LA venues. He is a member of multiple creative ensembles including the Joey Sellers Jazz Aggregation and The Lauren Baba Orchestra.

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