Joan Torres

Contemplating Jazz with Joan Torres

Joan Torres is a jazz+ and progressive jazz fusion act fronted by the band’s namesake and leader bassist Joan Torres. The band hails from San Juan, Puerto Rico and San Francisco, California. The award-winning group also features Jonathan Suazo on alto sax, Sergio González and Gabriel Vicéns on guitars, Emanuel Rivera on piano and Fernando García on drums. With two albums (“Before” and “The Beginning”) under their creative belt, Joan Torres released “All Is Fused: Of The Musical” last year with GRAMMY-winner Dave Darlington who mixed and mastered the album. Joan Torres recently spoke to the for an in-depth, wide-ranging and detailed email interview. Torres vividly and descriptively discussed all three of the band’s albums to date and what went into creating them, the band’s musical influences and how it lead to playing the music they perform today in what Torres calls “a fusion of styles” lead less by a deliberate sense of direction instead focusing on “where they need to go” and also  “the feedback loop between the performer and audience” and enjoying the aspect of performing live that gives a band a sense of freedom and improvisation causing “immediate unpredictability.”


What do see you as the musical progression from your first album “Before,” to your second “The Beginning,” and to the latest that is “All Is Fused?” I sense a theme going on based on the titles.

Each album paints a different picture for several different reasons. As I studied some of my favorite musicians and artists across their careers, some of which span several decades, I noticed the evolution of their sound. I titled my first album “Before” because I knew that in spite of how much I believed I had figured out what I was going for, there was absolutely no way for me to know what my compositional style or even what the sound of the group as a whole would actually end up being. I only knew what it sounded like in the snapshot of our story that is that album; the album which came “before” we started devising our own path. Looking back

now, it is definitely the more traditional-sounding of the three. “The Beginning” was the point where we started venturing out of those traditions and bringing in more risky ideas, more fusion in order to progress our sound. This album was both much darker and more personal. This felt true to the evolution I mentioned before where some of my favorite artists went from sounding “with the times” to sounding like themselves. The third album, “Of the Musical”, is about exploring the expression a bit more. It is both following the idea of a musical, in the sense of musical theater and musical films, as well as the concept of making complicated music be more musical. As you can probably tell, each album title is very closely related to a musical milestone in that journey.

Your music is synthesized of your various musical influences. Can you talk more about that in detail?

Growing up I took a liking for a wide array of artists: Red Hot Chili Peppers, Rush, Weather Report, Miguel Zenon, Bob Marley, Dream Theater, Koji Kondo, Henry Mancini, Natiruts, Dafnis Prieto, Juan Luis Guerra, Claude Debussy, Silvio Rodriguez, Daft Punk; the list could easily go on. Of course, this did not happen all at once. At first, I listened to whatever caught my attention on the radio. I spent some time dissecting the top songs of the moment as though I were looking for what I was supposed to enjoy. I eventually landed in the Led Zeppelin, Guns N’ Roses,

AC/DC territory. I stayed there for a long time until I started discovering Jazz. It took me a few years to grasp the depth of that world, during which I accidentally disconnected myself from so many other genres that were happening around me. To make up for that disconnection, I

purposely began putting myself out there as a “bassist” without a genre association, to get myself into music that I wouldn’t have otherwise played. As a result, I played a significant amount of Salsa, Merengue, Plena, Reggae, and Latin Jazz. Thanks to the time I spent dissecting Jazz, I was able to grasp the structures and patterns of all these genres considerably faster than before. However, similar to my experience with Jazz, it took me some time to assimilate them.

Do you feel you play a style of progressive jazz fusion because you like and appreciate so many styles so much?

I actually think the progressive jazz fusion label that my music is associated with came from listeners more than from me. The style we play is a result of who we are. As people, I believe the experiences that we go through in our lives shape us and make us who we are. Sure enough, we can show a part of ourselves only within certain contexts, but the most freedom comes from just being transparent and expressing yourself without diluting yourself for a specific crowd. In spaces like these, your full specific set of life experiences will bleed through, regardless of what we may argue. Music is exactly the same. You may compose jingles or music for someone else, which may not include your own full musical voice, or you compose freely. That said, when composing freely the music may express everything you want to bring forth, but it would also contain bits and pieces of your experiences that you may not even be aware you’re giving away. In the case of my albums, I didn’t set out to write Progressive Jazz Fusion tunes. I set out to write music I enjoyed which ended up containing many elements of different styles. In fact, when I started the project I called the genre “Jazz+” as a way to address its improvisational nature, but also leave it open for anything else to happen. I’m glad it has worked out so far because I remember thinking years ago that I would need to start nine different projects in order to write all the music that I enjoy. One is certainly easier to manage.

How you ever considered honing in on one style and exploring that? Or is that too limiting?

I could argue that I’m actually honing in on my style and exploring what that is. This came after years of exploring each individual style I was exposed to, its rules and vernacular. In doing so, I realized how less can be more: you have to be rather creative to stay within the genre and still

sound original. After many years, however, the restriction did start feeling limiting, when the tunes needed to go elsewhere to a territory outside of the genre. Today I do my best to take the tunes where they need to go rather than where I want them to go: often that road leads to a

fusion of styles.

Would ever considering incorporating vocals into the band?

Definitely! I do have a background in choir music and experience with harmonizing vocals for songs I’ve helped write. This is not something that I want to force, though. So far we have been exploring the depths of emotional expression through instrumental music alone. When the vocals come in, they have to add to that expression. I believe they will though as the voice can have a distinctively engaging effect. Even when the lyrics are not understandable: think about The Great Gig in The Sky or when we hear beautiful music sang in languages we do not understand. The vocal contribution to the musical experience overall can be profound.

Do you have prefer playing live or touring in the studio?

Doing live performances is amazing. You grow so much as a musician when performing. Each gig or show can be very different, not just because of the notes played that night or the tempo at which we played a tune that night, but because of the feedback loop between the crowd and us. The performance is just as much for learning about us as it is for learning about our crowd. You can experiment and get away with much more depending on the type of crowd you’re engaging and type of stage you’re playing. Studio work is very different from that: it’s just you, the other

musicians and the engineers working together for days to capture the music for the benefit of repeatable experience. In a way, it’s an experience akin to crafting, whereas a live performance brings much more immediate unpredictability.

What was it like working with Dave Darlington on the new album and how did they come about it?

That actually happened through Gabriel. He had worked with trumpet player Alex Sipiagin on his second album as well as drummer Henry Cole. Both had worked with Dave before, and I believe one of them recommended Dave to Gabriel. Later, when we were working on “Of the Musical”, Gabriel thought Dave would be ideal to work on the album. He introduced us and it all went

great from there. I didn’t have to explain much. Dave understood where we were going from the start and the results were beautiful. He is a really cool, down-to-earth guy; you can just tell that he loves what he does.

New video for “Invaded”: