Oriente guitarist Eddy Balzola is deep. If you see any of his performances, his mix of musical genres surprises and delights. Besides being lead singer and composer for Oriente, he also sketches and writes poetry. A couple of months ago I heard Oriente play at Anacapri @ The Top in the Gables. I asked Eddy, “Did I hear some country western chords in your last set?” He giggled and said that he heard from people that used to hang out at Birdland in New York that Charlie Parker would play a country music CD during his break. When they asked why country music? Parker replied, “they tell the best stories.”
Eddy always had an artistic yearning. As a child, he began drawing characters from his favorite westerns. “My world changed when, at age fourteen, my uncle gave me a guitar,” he told me. As he mastered the instrument, he longed to play Cuban music like he heard at home. It was not being played on the radio. The plaintive sounds of a Cuban lullaby sung by his mother and the music reminisced by his uncles, songs by Trio Matamoros, Benny More’ and Arsenio Rodriguez, left him with a feeling of nostalgia.
Then he discovered American blues, soul and funk. Later, as a teen on Miami Beach, he listened to Carlos Santana who reconnected him to his Afro-Cuban roots. When he came across the music of John Coltrane, he was transformed. His studies at Miami-Dade College helped him to distill these musical influences and hone his craft.
Soon, his skills and repertoire on guitar landed him gigs as a sideman playing with bands in a variety of styles, from reggae to Latin pop and with Vegas show bands and jazz trios. The yearning to interpret the music of Cuba’s richly musical Oriente (eastern) region never left him. In 1994, he formed his band, Oriente. The band’s Cuban rhythms are fused with blues, jazz and Brazilian influences.
All band members, except one, are from Cuba. Eddy Balzola, the band’s prolific lyricist and guitarist, performs vocals and solos. The band is driven by their Afro-Cuban drum section. The congas and bongos are played by Yoel Del Sol and the trap drums and timbales by Orlando Machado. Peppe Aparicio covers the bottom with his bass, William Paredes lays on a layer of brass with his cool trombone and Stuart King, the lone gringo, plays trumpet. The result is an exciting batido (mix).
Oriente has played the St. Lucia Jazz Festival, JVC Jazz Fest, Piccolo Spoleto, Belle Chere, New Orleans Snug Harbor, Cafe Brazil, Loyola & Tulane University, Arturo Sandoval’s Jazz Club, Calle Ocho Festival, South Florida Jazz & Heritage Festival, Mardi Gras, Miami Jazz Fest, Carnival on the Mile, and Atlantis Casino. The band was chosen to do a Department of Defense tour of Europe and Iceland and they also appeared live on Chef Bobby Flay’s TV show on the Food Network, representing original Miami music.
I saw Balzola recently at the Van Dyke Cafe in Miami Beach. He recited his “Echoes of Trane Tracks,” a poem he dedicated to his mentor, John Coltrane. His prose floated on his guitar chords. Each verse ended with a refrain that declared that life is - ”Love, Freedom, Music and Magic.” I asked Ed why Coltrane and not Charlie Parker? He replied, “When I listen to Charlie Parker, I know I will hear great music. But when I listen to Coltrane, I don’t know what to expect. He takes me to a glass wall. Beyond is unknown, cloaked in mystery and magic.”
When you hear Oriente, expect to hear the unexpected. Eddy Balzola is deep. His music speaks of love and strives for magic.
Click on link for Oriente video: http://www.ustream.tv/recorded/15352967
Click on link for Oriente’s schedule : www.myspace.com/SuperbArtists