Alibi V.28 No.40 • Oct 3-9, 2019 

Music Interview

Ryan, Isaac and Their Friends

Making Jazz and Soul Count

Ryan Montaño
Ryan Montaño
courtesy of the artist
Weekly Alibi came up with the following topic sentences while thinking about the super awesome Balloon Fiesta sponsored musical extravaganza coming up on Thursday, Oct. 10 at early October’s center of the universe: The big grassy field adjacent to Balloon Fiesta Park.

How about these: The air is filled with more than shapes. There are sounds of all sorts to experience at the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta. Such sentences would be glorious fodder for floating through the conversations that such sensory diversions might engender.

But we’re mostly concerned with the sounds of music and not the unseen, pre-Halloween, gloriously ghostly presences—that sound just like hot air gushing from a steamy metal orifice into a huge vinyl envelope—of the surrounding environment, noises that are ubiquitously hiding in the nighttime shadows of every blessed balloon glow ever held.

And so the music that we’re concerned about in this feature is a concert that stars local trumpeter—and de facto band leader—Ryan Montaño and a band of some of Burque’s best players from the jazz, blues and soul communities.

Among them is up-and-coming guitarist Isaac Aragon, who also presides over a funky ensemble known as The Healing. This funky septet includes Montaño on trumpet. The band makes music that has a deep, easy-to-grok groove and Aragon says he’s making music that heals. A couple of summers ago, he told the Taos News that his message “is a message of love, tolerance, understanding and peace.”

It’s also a message about excellent musical skills that instantly connect with listeners seeking melodic fulfillment as well as spiritual release and a damn fine reason to dance.

While Aragon builds on a busy career as an arbiter of musical culture in The Land of Enchantment, Montaño continues to define success for working Burqueño musicians. Since Weekly Alibi last chatted with the multi-talented trumpeter, songwriter and photographer, he’s continued to expand his artistic reach, working as a musical arranger and actor, too.

To get a better idea of what might happen when these two astronomical bodies find themselves committed to similar vectors—with the possibility of some grand musical collision clearly and somewhat dangerously possible—we asked Ryan and Isaac to come by Weekly Alibi HQ for a chat. I wanted to know what it was like, headed toward a jam session amidst October’s balloons, a concert that should definitely and colorfully respond to that topic sentence we created earlier. You know, the one about beautiful things that fill the air.

Weekly Alibi: Whoa, I’m looking at your poster and wondering, are there two shows that night, gentlemen?

Ryan Montaño: Yes, basically two different sets. We do 5 to 6 [pm] and then they do the special shapes balloon glow. That’s followed by a laser show and fireworks. After the fireworks, we go back on about 8pm.

And really rock out?

Oh yeah.

So Ryan we’ve talked to you before about the expanding jazz scene in Albuquerque but Isaac, you’re new to this conference room setting. Tell our readers a little bit about what you do.

Isaac Aragon: It’s original music; it’s soul music. I’ve heard it called many things, neo-soul, soul, R&B. But to me it all fits under the umbrella of soul music. It’s kinda got an essence of old R&B flavor, you know, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, Bill Withers, Donny Hathaway. Those are heroes of mine. Soul is the sound I’m going after.

Is it a little unusual for New Mexico to be a nexus for soul music? There don’t seem to be too many musicians in this part of the country following that path.

No, you’re right. There are a lot of cats that are saying “We’ve not really heard of your band,” and it’s because there’s scenes. There’s a blues scene and a jazz scene. There’s a country scene, a metal scene. A scene especially for New Mexican music. But really, for soul and R&B, there really aren’t a lot of cats doing it here.

How long have you been playing soul and R&B?

Like with the band? I’d say two to three years now. I’ve been doing the solo thing for a while, nine or 10 years.

Like solo guitar?

Yeah. I’m a guitarist. I sing too. That’s mostly soul and R&B, too, but I throw in a little country blues and things like that. A lot of it is my original music. The songs I’ve been playing with the band, I’ve been carrying them with me for years now. I just finally have all these guys around me. That’s the cool thing about our community here in Albuquerque. Ryan’s been working with these cats that have been playing with him, on this gig, for years now. They ended up aligning and playing in my band as well. So we all pull from the same source.

It seems like there’s a lot of interplay and collaboration in Burque’s jazz and blues communities, que no?

That’s the beauty of what we do. Ryan can categorize his music however he wants to, and categorize mine. But we pull from the same spirit. I mean it’s the same spirit of jazz and blues and R&B—all traditions—working together toward a singular sound. So we can use the same bass player, we can use the same drummer. And then, Ryan can come in with the killer arrangements. If you’ve heard my single “God Bless America,” you might have noticed that Ryan arranged the horns on that. So it’s like we’re doing separate projects but they’re both coming from the same vein.

That’s very cool.

We can do shows like this and it’s not like switch gears. We’re all adding to one another.

Ryan, tell me about the musicians who are going to be performing with you all.

Ryan: Of course me and Isaac are the headliners. We’re being backed up by Artha Meadors on the bass, Paul Palmer III on drums, Dee Brown on keys, Claudio Toulouse—who is a fantastic solo artist in his own right—is going to be playing guitar. We also have a horn section with Ziggy Garcia on trumpet. And then I have a friend outta Denver, Elijah Samuels, who will be playing saxophone. The other cool thing—to extrapolate from what Isaac just said—is that the players that we hired, they all have, they’re all based in the tradition of soul or R&B or jazz. There is a lot of versatility in our set. We can go from a hard rock number like “Baptized by the Rain” to a tune like “Just the Two of Us” and then follow up with one of my jazz-oriented tunes, a straight-ahead bebop tune. It’s cool to have that ability to play different styles of music and to play them authentically. And we’re all friends, like close friends. Some of my closest friends are the guys that are going to be doing this show. It’s my favorite show that I’ve had an opportunity to play through.

I’m feeling like there has been an upsurge in the sort of musical performance you two are offering Burqueños. Discuss.

Isaac: Yeah, sure. I think that, like with any form of art, people grow thirsty for something they haven’t heard or experienced before. It’s interesting because we’ve just defined the overall scene here in Albueruque, but if you look at the Seattle area, R&B and soul music are huge out there. People are just really getting into it. Vinyl sales reflect that out West. It’s huge in the Northwest.

We were just talking about that the other day because I interviewed all these DJs who were coming out for the SOMOS festival. A lot of them were from the Northwest. And I wondered out loud if there’s a scene like that in Burque. It’s a much more rock-oriented town. But I have noticed what you’ve noticed. A lot more people are listening to Afro-American and Latinx music.

And I think my generation, we’re all still relatively young and energized. I think that we take it as a responsibility to define the genre anew.

Well in the past three years, the music community in Burque has really grown to include jazz and hip-hop and soul subcultures. The musicians were always there, but now they’re getting bookings and people are coming to their shows.

Ryan: Well, I was talking to Isaac before we walked in. I think that’s at least partially due to the efforts here [at Weekly Alibi] and consequently, at other media outlets.

Well, I think that for a lot of readers, these sorts of shows make sense. It’s about environment in many cases, comfort levels and liking a sound that goes in many directions.

It’s very cool when people are exposed to music they haven’t heard before and they can enjoy that experience in an expansive environment. People come out and they think, “This is some very good music.”

Isaac: Expanding on that idea, the show we just played is testament to that. We opened up for Los Lobos and the Mavericks [at Sandia Casino Amphitheater]. If you look at the bill, I don’t have any songs in Spanish—and you might think that doesn’t make sense. But so many people came out and it wasn’t about the genre. It’s all music that has a good vibe. For that reason, the bill made sense.

That’s a great venue that some people overlook. I’ve seen some great shows there: Salt-N-Pepa and Ringo Starr & His All-Starr Band, come to mind. What do you see happening with your music, separately and as bandmates?

That’s the cool thing about Albuquerque’s music community. Everything I’m doing in the future involves Ryan and these particular players. When we went into the studio about a year ago, I had these demos—just myself and the guitar—and the songs got fleshed out. But I told these guys, “Listen, I’m not bringing you in as studio musicians to turn in some work, some session. I’m bringing you all in as artists and I give you free reign over my songs.” I told Ryan, “Whatever you want to do with the horns, whatever you see, do it, express yourself.” I told all the instrumentalists that. I’m definitely not a control freak; I really respect and value these guys. I told them, “Paint whatever colors you want over this song.” It ended up being a really cool collaboration.

For folks who haven’t been fully exposed to the types of music we’ve discussed here today—and they wanna be—why should they come to your show next week? I know why I’m going to be there; I love live music in an outdoor, arcadian setting.

Ryan: I’m really excited and proud about what we’ve been able to do with the Balloon Fiesta concerts. The foundation of these shows is the music. I would say they should come to the show because it represents the best young accomplished musical talent that New Mexico has to offer.

Isaac: If you come, it will make you feel good. Our music is based on positive vibrations. If you wanna feel good and be entertained, I’ll see you there for sure.

Ryan Montaño & Friends, Featuring Isaac Aragon
Live at the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta’s Main Street Stage
Thursday, Oct. 10 • 5pm and 8pm