Carlos Niño, the spiritual force behind Los Angeles’ eclectic music scene

During concerts, Carlos Nino may set up bass drum and floor tom, but his percussion is far from traditional.He’s not interested in keeping a steady beat, he creates shimmering atmospheres and earthy tones He packs many bells, shells, rain sticks or rattles into a large black roller bag to create the texture. He was surrounded by cymbals and gongs. He shakes dry palm leaves. Wind chimes are also involved.

Niño has been a staple of the Los Angeles music scene for nearly 30 years, and has become a leading practitioner of what he calls “spiritual, improvisational, spatial collage music.” (The genre most associated with it is probably spiritual jazz.) He’s a beacon of energy and knowledge who can connect with the city’s transformative saxophonists and give you the name of an acupuncture guru. He’s also extremely prolific, releasing seven releases from different projects in the past eight months alone. His latest film, “Placenta,” will be released on May 24.

On a recent afternoon at Endless Color, a coffee shop and record store near his home in Topanganino, California, he enthusiastically recommended menu items and vinyl records. A colorful knitted hat sits atop his wavy brown hair. There was a flash of gray in the thick beard on his face.

Niño, 47, is not only an instrumentalist and producer, but also a beatmaker, terrestrial and online radio DJ, record collector and venue programmer. But most of all, he was a listener. “A lot of times, there’s actually no music playing in my life, but I still feel the flow of sound,” he says. “Essentially, I’m in the flow. I’ve never missed a live broadcast, which is awesome.

Guitarist Nate Mercereau, who has become one of Niño’s frequent collaborators, says listening is a big part of their dynamic, but it’s far from a passive experience. “It’s about listening to yourself and letting it be part of the communication,” he said. “It’s not just a receiving thing, it’s like waves within waves to each other and within waves.”

The impact of Nino’s approach began to be felt outside of his rather niche creative pocket. He was crucial to the production of New Blue Sun (2023), André 3000’s unexpected first solo record featuring the flute. Nino produced the album and co-wrote the music with Andre. He also brought together other musicians who appeared in it and performed at live shows.

“It’s a real collective, and that’s where I really dig what we’re doing, and when I met Carlos, he laid it out in front of me,” Andre said in a phone interview. “More importantly, I always like meeting people who are crazier than me. People say their ideas and are like, ‘Oh, yeah. Let’s go.’

Niño was born in Santa Monica and grew up in the San Fernando Valley communities of Reseda and Canoga Park in the 1980s and early 1990s. shopping center.

His cousin began to open up his world before he even entered his teens. Painter Ernesto Potdevin took him to concerts and clubs in parts of Los Angeles that Nino could not reach on his skateboard and introduced him to John Coltrane and Sonny Rollin Infinite jazz from artists like Sonny Rollins. “I probably listened to Giant Steps and INXS on the same day,” Niño recalls. “I probably listened to Run-DMC and Fat Boys, and then I listened to ‘Heavy Weather’ by Weather Report.”

In high school, he got a job at the Reseda Public Library, where he researched his favorite musicians and spent most of his paycheck on old records. He recognized the improvisation-based connection between his jazz heroes and emerging rap masters like the Freestyle Fellowship. He began making rough mixes of songs he’d recorded from the radio, and at 18 he started his own gig on North Hollywood’s KPFK radio station, which he continued for two decades. In his early 20s, he was one of the founding DJs of the pioneering streaming station Dublab.

Nino began recording music as a teenager, initially using a four-track recorder with three functional tracks. Over the decades, as he became more confident as a musician and performer, his circle of collaborators expanded to include South African composer Thandi Ntuli and multi-instrumentalist Miguel Atwood-Ferguson. It also sweeps up older mentors such as jazz percussionist Adam Rudolph, ambient architect Laraaji and Iasos, the founding new-age artist who died earlier this year.

Since 2011, many of his albums have been attributed to Carlos Niño & Friends, a name that aptly expresses his emotion-based style. “If I invited them to my house, I might make a record with them,” Nino said.

Mercereau said artists were attracted to Niño’s atmosphere: “He brought a lot of enthusiasm. He brought a lot of practical connections. He brought a lot of support. He got people to open up.

At first, Nino didn’t know if Andre 3000 would be one of them. He heard that the Outkast rapper had moved to Venice, California, and saw videos on social media of him playing the flute alone on city streets. “I was like, oh, he’s traveling, he’s pursuing,” Nino recalled. “He was doing something that was very profound and inspiring to him, and that resonated with me.”

Nino decided that if they were meant to meet, it would happen naturally. Then it happened, in a grocery store in Erewhon. Nino introduced himself and invited Andre to watch him and keyboardist Surya Botofasina perform a tribute to Alice Coltrane. Coincidentally, Andre has been listening to Coltrane’s music on repeat for the past week. Soon, he brought his flute to Nino’s garage, and their lessons developed into “New Blue Sun”.

“It felt like a discovery, it felt new to me,” Andre said. “That’s really what I’m leaning towards. Whatever it is, it’s honest.” He plans to release more of the music they recorded in the near future.

Placenta, the latest release in the Carlos Niño & Friends series, offers a different perspective on parenthood. Niño was inspired by the recent arrival of his son, Moss, and how he felt when his first child, Azul, was born 24 years ago. But rather than centering his own experience, Niño wanted to use “Placenta” to celebrate and support his partner, Annelise, and all the doulas, midwives and midwives who help bring life into the world.

“There was so much closeness and closeness and sound and feeling and so much connection to the people who were involved,” Nino said of the period after Moss arrived.

This album is like the first few months of parenthood, both peaceful and overwhelming. “Moonlight Watsu in Dub” finds a relaxed rhythm among echoes and natural sounds, while “Generous Pelvis” soars amid Sam Gendel’s swirling saxophone. The 17-minute closer “Play Kerri Chandler’s RAIN” – based on Niño, Mercereau and Botofasina’s live performance in Cologne, Germany with frontman Cavana Lee – is filled with anticipation and uncertainty before reaching a safe landing spot.

“It’s also a solemn tribute to how we got here – you have to be in it, you have to show up somehow,” Nino said. “There’s always the placenta involved in the process.”

For Niño, making music is a spiritual practice that he accepts as his calling. “What I’m interested in is actually communicating and trying to find common ground so that we can reduce the tremendous suffering that occurs when people are overly greedy, overly competitive, and overly violent with each other,” he said, speaking quickly. Get out. “I’m really interested in representing something else.”

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