Adrián Esteves - Piano / Marcos Morales - Drums / Nam Son Fong - Guitars / Julito Padrón - Trumpet
By: Michael League
We bassists, in general, are cooperative people. We love to stand in the back of the stage, playing a simple and supportive role so that the musicians around (and in front of) us can have a warm, grooving foundation upon which they can express themselves comfortably and shine. So, it stands to reason that when we bassists step out of that dark corner of the stage and into the light, we find ourselves a bit blinded. We’re just not used to it. Music history is littered with solo albums by great bassists who put technique above musicality, chops above grace, and derivatives above thoughtful compositions.
On Mama Ina, the debut release of the young Cuban bass prodigy Gastón Joya, you could not have a more opposite scenario.
Everything that Joya embodies when playing behind other artists is merely amplified, and never overly-so, when he assumes the role of leader. His melodicism and virtuosity as a soloist is featured in the perfect moments. The strength of his groove is brought as far to the forefront as it could possibly be without crossing the line. His fun-loving, playful spirit can be felt in both the compositions and the joyful performances themselves. And finally, that most intangible quality of a musician which can never be emulated by any other human body- tone- rules supreme on every track. This is not to mention his versatility as a beautiful and soulful singer, a thoughtful composer and arranger full of personality, and the fact that he moves between different styles (and instruments) with the ease of a veteran session musician.
Every bassist will tell you that they are only as good as the musicians around them. A special mention must be given to Estévez, Morales, Fong, Rodriguez, and Padron for their expressive and supportive playing throughout the album. At no point do you get the impression that they are being held back, nor do you ever desire them to be. It’s the perfect balance of taste and freedom that Gastón exhibits every time I’ve ever heard him play, and it makes sense that his partners would do the same.
There’s a common expression in the music world which says, “You play who you are.” In the few years that I’ve know Gastón, he’s become like a brother to me. His optimism, generosity, and joyful spirit constantly inspire me in ways that go well beyond music. In listening to this, his first solo release, I hope you feel not only the love he puts into his artistry, but also the beautiful person he is. Felicitaciones, mi hermano.