TD Vancouver International Jazz Festival: Alvaro Rojas's music evolves by reconnecting with identity

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      After almost a century of Charlie Christians, Jeff Becks, and Eddie Van Halens, what’s left to be said with the electric guitar? Plenty, if you ask B.C. guitarist Alvaro Rojas.

      Actually, you don’t even have to ask him; he’ll answer that question on-stage at two disparate but intimately related shows at this year’s TD Vancouver International Jazz Festival.

      Thanks to things going viral in all the wrong ways, he’s had plenty of time to ponder musical history, as well as his own, in the two eventful years since the last live version of the fest, at which Rojas staged a massively ambitious concert called Gran Kasa, employing strings and electric instruments to create a barrage of sounds that managed to be both daring and accessible—descriptors that sit usefully on most of his music.

      “I just had so much time,” Rojas explains in a call from his Port Moody home. “Time to get sick of the whole Zoom thing and sort-of playing with others! I grew a lot as a musician over the past year or so, and this is my COVID project, basically. I took the opportunity to develop my solo repertoire. And then I suddenly started hearing a string quartet in my head, and then more instruments on top of that.”

      The end product of that process is Alvaro Rojas’ Music for 22, a free show happening next Friday (June 25) at the Ironworks at 4:30 p.m. and available online. (At deadline, event planners were still determining how many audience members could be allowed in the venue.) The guitarist will also appear solo the following Sunday (July 4) for free at the Western Front, likewise at 4:30 p.m.

      “The solo show is stripped down but still very electric,” Rojas says. “It’s the same material, just without the other players. A lot of these tunes are based on guitar effects to begin with, so I set up a whole bunch of pedals and get a whole lot of sounds.”

      This torrent of aural effect doesn’t come from just anywhere, or even just from the history of the amplified guitar. Rojas was born in Peru and still has extended family in South America. But it took some time for the music of his infancy to resurface.

      “I was a real child of the ’90s,” he explains. “I was into grunge and stoked on all kinds of music. But also I grew up listening to my parents’ music in the background.”

      The guitarist has also executed a couple of small-film scores, went in various twangy and surfadelic directions on an earlier album called Gala, and went all metallic prog rock on Hellenic Dub under the pseudonym Big Buck.

      But it wasn’t until he connected with Afro Peruvian singing star Susana Baca that Rojas found a way to reconcile his competing impulses.

      “I managed to find a contact for her through some connections in Peru”, he recalls, “and must’ve caught her on a good day because before I knew it, we were working together."

      The incantatory result, “Tu, La Tierra”, is available through Bandcamp.

      “Identity is a funny thing,” Rojas says. “It takes a while to find out who you are and what you’re made of.”