By Dee Dee McNeil / jazz journalist
February 1, 2021

Bassist, Mauricio Morales has composed seven outstanding selections for this, his debut album.  To produce and carryout his arrangements, Morales employed three different drummers, a pianist and harmonica player, both trumpet and alto saxophone, a guitar and four string players. The Mexico City native, currently based in Los Angeles, showcases his arranging and composing skills on this release.

“Luna is a tribute to childhood. It represents the pursuit of a childlike peace of mind and excitement about life.  Every song depicts a different layer of my own growth.  Conceptually, I am attempting to tell a story through my music.  Each piece represents a chapter in the journey that Luna is meant to be,” Mauricio Morales explains the premise of his artistic album.

Of course, “Luna” translates to ‘moon’ and many of the songs incorporated during this production reflect nature elements including this title tune. “Luna” opens this project and is based on the Mexican tradition of El Dia de los Reyes Magos.  That’s the holy Epiphany Day of January 6, where presents are given in remembrance of the three kings who came to baby Jesus in Bethlehem bearing gifts.  One part of this Mexican celebration is sending letters skyward, represented by helium balloons, requesting certain gifts.

“Our family always celebrated this time-honored tradition.  I was three when I first celebrated it and my mom filled out the gift card for my balloon.  She asked me what I wanted and I said, the moon. My title song represents the innocence of a kid who is so unaware.  I wanted to make the music sound magical and special,” said Morales.

His mother, who he mentions, is Teresa Gonzalez, a renowned Mexican watercolor painter.  Both his parents encouraged young Mauricio’s love of nature and music.  The “Luna” composition soars and floats, with Mauricio taking a provocative bass solo in the middle of the piece, along with trumpeter Aidan Lombard.  Another nature tune called “The Forest” is plush with sweeping string parts and Roni Eytan’s creative harmonica melodies that dance atop those strings.

“The Forest is really a simple song.  My idea was to write a piece about the hero’s journey.  It’s a common template in every form of storytelling that involves a hero that goes on an adventure and is successful in beating whatever challenges are put in front of him and (that hero) comes home transformed.  The whole idea is about fantasy,” Mauricio Morales described what inspired this composition.

Perhaps this concept is a subconscious look at his own journey.  Interestingly, Morales did not start out being a jazz player.  Instead, at age fourteen he was playing pop music and heavy rock in Mexico City.  He also loved listening to video game themes and was infatuated with film scores and television background music behind programming. The attached video was made at Berklee College and is a medley of themes from the video game ‘The Legend of Zelda.’  This student ensemble was directed by Mauricio Morales, who also played bass on the project.

“I was like a sponge soaking up any kind of art that had an impact on me.  I came to understand, over the course of time, how cathartic and liberating it was to recognize the freedom that improvised music represents,” he elaborated on what made him turn to jazz.

Eventually, his dream was to study at Berklee School of Music in the United States.  Morales manifested that dream and, once enrolled at Berklee, he studied with celebrated faculty members including George Garzone and Tia Fuller.  But Morales credits educator Hal Cook for mentoring him throughout his tenure at Berklee.  In 2019, He settled into West Coast living, making Los Angeles his home.   That’s when he started seriously thinking about this “Luna” project.  Morales worked closely with three friends he knew from his studies at Berklee: pianist Aga Dertak, trumpeter Aidan Lombard and harmonica player Roni Eytan.

“I was relatively new in Los Angeles, so I didn’t know a lot of people, especially string players.  I wanted to do something different.  The music was already written and arranged.  I knew violinist Megan Shung from working with her on different projects and she instinctively pointed me in the right direction.  They (the strings) create such a different texture for the music. … The collective energy and focus from all musicians involved is what created a perfect outcome,” Morales reflects.

“Terremoto” opens with the powerful drums of Gene Coye.  Morales wrote this twisting and turning composition and arrangement as a result of the terrifying earthquake that destroyed parts of Mexico City on September 19, 2017.

“It was a hard moment.  I wanted to be home and support, but I was in school in Boston and seeing lots of buildings tear apart and numerous lives destroyed.  But what was remarkable was how people came together to help each other.  It was a crazy and tense moment.  That’s why I wrote a pretty and simple melody, underscored by the intensity of the rhythm section, meant to represent the contrast between chaos and beauty.  I was so moved by my native city coming together in dealing with tragedy and showing so much resilience amongst the chaos that surrounded them.”

On a composition Mauricio Morales calls, “The Glass Door,” Patrick Simard shines on drums, propelling the song forward, inspired by Aga Derlak on piano.   Morales says this is a reflective tribute to pianist, Robert Glasper, who is an artist he admires for the way Glasper perceives harmony and melody.   But it’s not until track 6, “Relojito” that we hear Mauricio Morales take an extended bass solo, one that shows off his inspired chops.  The final song titled, “Garden of Hope,” features a riveting electric guitar, with a very rock inspired solo by Al Joseph.  Morales says this is a song about redemption.

“There is hope, no matter what mistakes you make,” he reminds the listener.

I found this debut recording by Mauricio Morales to be both inspired and poetically expressive.  Morales uses music instead of words to paint melodic pictures of his life journey.  We are swept along by his unique storytelling