Seventh album from Carlos Niño, the Los Angeles polymath, enlists trusted friends to mould another astral, Afro-futuristic suite of unrelenting beauty which teeters at the edge of New Age and spiritual jazz.
From his formative years as a teenage radio spinner to the present day as a multi-disciplinary behemoth and founder of Dublab Radio, the extravagantly bearded composer, DJ, percussionist, poet, producer, arranger, bandleader and multi-instrumentalist Carlos Niño has consistently excelled within the underground pockets of beat-based music.
Finding his tribe in the early nineties in Leimert Park’s community of jazz vets and hip-hop prophets in South Central LA, Niño started on the music trail by writing journalism for Urb magazine and putting on shows for like-minded, generation-panning creatives thriving at the nexus between jazz and LA’s bass scene.
Following a series of low-slung beats releases under the alias of Ammon Contact, Niño formed the socially conscious, Sun Ra-inspired Build An Ark project, a freewheeling spiritual jazz ensemble encompassing Los Angeles-based musicians of the highest calibre such as Nate Morgan, Phil Ranelin of Tribe Records fame and Dwight Trible.
In turn this led to the birth of Carlos Niño & Friends, a looser and more ad hoc operation in which an eclectic cast of artists from the realms of cosmic jazz, hip-hop and New Age music traditions collaborate on ‘space collages’ and intuitive, globally inclined ‘head music’, pan-genre tone poems that offer a higher state of consciousness and spiritual enlightenment amidst an increasingly troubled and divided world besieged by conflict, authoritarianism and inequality.
The latest offering from Niño and pals, Actual Presence, a sprawling, ever-mutating mixtape suite which deploys sterling contributions from long-time associates such as Miguel Atwood-Ferguson, Iasos, Sam Gendel, Deantoni Parks, Jamael Dean and Jamire Williams, is everything that we’ve come to expect from the bandleader. Concocted and assembled from edits and post-production of live and in-studio group improvisations, the flowing, radiant music brims with a meditative, senses-vibrating glow, basking in the rootstock of discordant free jazz, psychedelia, contemporary classical, spiritual New Age, ambient electronica and beat strains and generating grins and chills in equal measure.
Less an auteur than a facilitator of found sound and untamed dreams, Niño urges the listener down a celestial rabbit hole on Explorations 7: a mist of ambient shimmer beckons a sultry Jamael Dean piano run which induces a furious, latin-tinged storm of free jazz blast. On Luis’ Special Shells, he unleashes psychedelically fired fireflies of gong and cymbals around Dean’s limpid piano meditations; the latter’s organ bends on Youwillgetthroughthis, I promise approximate a child liberated from confinement as the band reach a frenzied, circular pitch around snippets of waves and drops of rain.
For all its knotty juxtaposition, slabs of whacked-out noise and Cubist tapestry, Niño’s default mode is one of lying-on-the-beach-with-your-eyes closed relaxation and serenity: Actual Presence seeks to heal a fractured universe with the sparkling dance of its Coltrane and Sun-Ra-inspired trippy soundscape.