Ocote Soul Sounds is the brainchild of two incredibly accomplished musicians who continue to operate just under the radar, one more project to occupy the diminishingly available time of guitarist Adrian Quesada and flautist Martin Perna. With roots in the otherworldly grooves of labelmates and benefactors Thievery Corporation, Ocote Soul Sounds’ latest offering, Coconut Rock, builds on the band’s Chicanos in Outer Space groove by adding a cinematic quality reminiscent of David Axelrod, Weather Report and other fusion era powerhouses.
Adrian Quesada is the man behind the bombastic funk of Grupo Fantasma and it’s alter-ego Brownout. When not leading those groups, the Austin, TX-based Quesada somehow finds time to share song ideas digitally with the never-stationary Perna. Founding member of the afrobeat orchestra Antibalas, Perna has added his flute and saxophone to recordings from the likes of TV on the Radio, Scarlett Johansson and DJ Logic.
Coconut Rock is by far Ocote’s best record to date, showcasing the growth of the band as, well, a band. Whereas 2007’s The Alchemist Manifesto was smoke-filled rooms and psilocybin dreams, Coconut Rock is dense layers of horns and percussion, Axelrod on vaca in Tijuana or Mandrill in the bomb shelter with Madlib. “Vampires” recalls the proto-raps of Gil Scott-Heron, “The Return of the Freak” shadows the pimp walk of Curtis Mayfield’s “Superfly.”
“[Ocote Soul Sounds] was a name I came up with in 2001 when I started writing songs that didn’t really fit in the rest of the Antibalas repertoire,” Perna explains. “It sort of became the umbrella name for little random stuff I did.”
Without a doubt, the nexus of Ocote’s sound is the inspiring, and almost freaky, musical connection between the groups two leaders. “The most difficult thing is getting together,” Perna says. “Martin travels quite a bit so we don’t spend all that much time in the same room. So he’ll send me sketches he has via email,” adds Quesada. Which brings to mind an interesting dichotomy: while Ocote Soul Sounds’ compositions begin with the digital sharing of two musical minds via the web, the actual music looks back, not only to the latin funk and soul explosion of the ‘60s and ‘70s but much further back to the Yoruban chants and layers of polyrthymic percussion that drive Coconut Rock (ESL, 2009). Like Perna’s work promoting sustainable living alternatives, Ocote Soul Sounds music attempts to address the present by looking to the past for lessons on how to build a better future.
No doubt, Coconut Rock is documentation of a band finally comfortable in it’s own skin, finally acknowledging it’s status as a “real band,” no longer a pet project of two staggeringly talented musicians with too many ideas in their heads and not enough outlets to explore them.
“Every musician who gets to a certain point in his/her journey begins to confront questions of identity, roots and core values,” Perna reflects. “I think that is where we are right now with the music. It is a challenge to try to articulate where we are at, where we are from, and were we want to go in our own words.”