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In the Mountains with Marta Gomez

The music of Marta Gomez is honest in its beauty and directness and maybe just a little deceitful in its complexity, seeming simpler than it actually is. The Colombian singer and songwriter seems to be using simple forms and language to express the world around her, but there is an awful lot of craft going into it and, making their first West Coast appearance last month at the Getty Center in Los Angeles, it was obvious that she and her band play with tremendous technical ability. Their debut was part of the Getty's Sounds of LA series, and it was well received by the crowds that packed the auditorium on both days of the engagement.

There may be no exact recipe for an enjoyable concert, but there are certain elements that seem to help. Setting is one; we've all seen great artists transcend the limitations of mediocre halls, but being in a comfortable environment with good acoustics surely helps both the players and the audience. You can't beat the Getty Center on a perfect day in spring. The sprawling museum and garden, high in the Santa Monica Mountains with a panoramic view of miles of city, coast and ocean provide a backdrop that is conducive to receiving music. Gomez' music, pastoral in nature and evocative of the Colombian countryside, certainly benefited from the mixture of natural and man-made wonderment that surrounded it.

Gomez led a quintet rounded out by bassist Fernando Huergo, drummer Franco Pinna , nylon-stringed guitarist Julio Santillan and percussionist/second vocalist Alejandra Ortiz. While Ortiz is a fellow Colombian, the balance of the group are Argentine. Their music, then, incorporates rhythms, melodies and forms from different parts of Latin America and the world, not just their native countries but Cuba, Peru, Venezuela, and Mexico, as well as Spain, Portugal and a bit of American jazz for good measure.

The group plays with an ease that suggests their innate connection to the land and the music and a proficiency befitting an ensemble composed of Berklee graduates and faculty. Pinna had an interesting kit, combing an old Gretsch bass drum and some standard cymbals with some Latin drums in lieu of more typical toms. Ortiz distinguished herself with vocal harmonizing, use of hand percussion and an assured stage presence. Huergo was a steady presence, and Santillan played with a light but precise touch.

Gomez sings her songs in Spanish, but offered explanatory remarks to introduce them; these, combined with the clarity of her vocals and the directness of her language, were enough that even those (such as myself) who have very limited Spanish could follow what she was saying. Her lyrics describe the world around her in straightforward language and were quite charming, as were the little dance movements she accompanied herself with. One of my favorites was "Seis," a song about her niece turning six. She explained that six was a very important age because it marked the point at which she no longer had to reintroduce herself to her niece after returning from the road. "El Puebelo," using a Peruvian rhythm, cannily lifts a vocal melody from the bridge of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow," the most affecting part of that great song. The Flamenco original "Canta" was another standout, dedicated to the victims of the bombing in Spain in March, 2004.

Gomez commented that this was her first trip to Los Angeles and that she was already in love with it. The Getty is something other than representative of the city as a whole, but no matter. The weekend, to coin a phrase, seemed to be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Marta Gomez
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