What makes an indie artist stop penning rock songs to record a jazz album? Well, you could ask Dominic Castillo, whose now defunct band, Ravishers, had a tremendously hooky song, “Keep You Around”, featured on a PDX Pop Now comp some years back. He would say insanity…but not his own.
“I think after the break-in, I just felt like mixing it up a bit,” says Castillo, who survived a harrowing home invasion in 2011. “There was a moment during the fight when I wasn’t sure I was going to make it.” Luckily for Castillo, who only sustained a broken wrist, some cuts and bruises, he managed to prevail.
“That event gave me a little time to reflect and refocus. I’ve always loved jazz, and jazz guitar. It’s a sound that’s always been in my head.”
And there were plenty of other things in Castillo’s head after the incident. “Of course I can get psychological. I think there’s more to why I really needed jazz after the break-in. The way jazz works, when you’re playing it, your memories disappear, your attention is completely harnessed into creation. I may have leaned on it for relief from my own thoughts, to manage the anger and anxiety.”
The eponymous EP has that time honoured mix of standards and originals. His “But Not For Me” has a pathos, a darkness, that harkens back to a rueful Chet Baker. It avoids the trap of being ordinary, which is the trap that all covers wait to spring on their artists.
“La Vie En Rose” unleashes the crooner in Castillo, but also the thoughtful guitarist in him. From the opening counterpoint of his solo, he masterfully develops thematic material, weaving swing lines and close intervals equally effectively. It is, to use a bland understatement, “Beautiful.”
The opening track, “Get Things Done for my Baby” is an original swing number, unabashedly poppy, with a killer tenor saxophone solo by Portland’s own Leon Cotter. This is the only tune on the record that has another harmonic instrument besides Dominic’s guitar. Dustin Hunley’s piano comping is used to great effect, his pocket makes the tune groove so hard that, it’s actually hard to type the rest of this sentence. You may be chair dancing soon as well…
The other tunes on the album don’t deserve short shrift, but let me be brief. Imagine if Frank Sinatra and Bob Marley decided to collaborate. Listen to Dominic’s “It Could Happen to You,” because, well, it could.
The other two tracks are original. “Hempsha Swing,” an obvious nod to Monk, is the one instrumental. Listen to the interplay between Leon Cotter and Castillo on the head, as well as another outstanding guitar solo. Of course, the rhythm section needs be mentioned here, Vytas Nagisetty (bass), Matt Farina (drums) do a fabulous job creating the perfect arc for the tune. This is an instrumental jazz tune for the skeptics among us for sure. Last, let me mention the bossa on the album. From Castillo, “I’m actually terrified of bossa nova. I love it so much, I’m always worried that I will play it badly. I’m sure it’s a clinical condition that, as yet, has not been recognized by the psychological community. That’s led to me avoiding bossa tunes. I wrote “I Just Couldn’t Help Myself” to hopefully get over it.” Excellent medicine.
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