Photo caption: Victor Noriega releases improvisational album “2 Trios.” Photo courtesy of Victor Noriega.

Award-winning pianist, composer and arranger, Victor Noriega continues to challenge himself as a musical artist.

His latest project, “2 Trios,” is a joint recording with pianist Gust Burns, whom Noriega first met at a Port Townsend jazz workshop in 1996 at the age of 17. The album originated from an idea Burns had of putting together a show where he and Noriega would each do one set, playing with the same rhythm section. It was also an opportunity to reconnect with two other musicians that they had played with a lot and had a long history with – bassist Jeff Johnson and percussionist Greg Campbell.

They recorded in a studio, through the Jack Straw Artist Support program, performing 16 songs total (eight with Noriega and eight with Burns), choosing the best 10 for the album. Both pianists took turns, after every two songs, observing each other and then performing. This is Noriega’s fourth album under his name. It is his first recorded collaboration with Burns and most improvisational album to date. All of the songs were recorded in just one take.

“It’s almost like two records in one,” noted Noriega.

Both Noriega and Burns studied from pianist Marc Seales at different times when they attended the University of Washington (UW), but they both have different approaches to playing. Burns was completely improvisational on the album, while Noriega prepared some music sketches (established ideas throughout the tunes) for the recording. None of the songs were rehearsed.

“You can’t do that with just anybody; you have to do it with the right people,” said Noriega.

Noriega has titles for his tracks, while Burns’s are just numbered on the album.

“It’s different than what I’ve ever done. I wanted it to be pretty free flowing and reacting to each other and not worrying much about specific parts. More spontaneous,” said Noriega. “That’s the beauty of it. It allowed me to be more of a free improv guy.”

All of the musicians Noriega performed with on his newest album are based in Seattle, while Noriega himself moves between Seattle, New York City, and Vancouver, B.C., among other places.

“[The projects and the people] keep me coming back,” he said.

Noriega also received support from Jack Straw Productions for his album, “Alay,” released in 2006, that contained Filipino folk melodies and songs he learned growing up with his family. Because of this album, he worked with a number of Filipino artists —including Angel Peña, Ryan Cayabyab, Bob Aves and Charmaine Clamor — and toured along the West Coast.

“My music has given me the opportunity to travel to a lot of places,” said Noriega, adding that he has been musically influenced by places he’s visited. “With music, you want to be as many places as possible because that’s how the music stays fresh.”

Just last year, Noriega was commissioned by the Oakland East Bay Symphony Orchestra (a full 76-piece orchestra) to compose his first original orchestral work for their “Notes from the Philippines” concert. His classically influenced piece, “Generations, Directions,” is based on his family’s immigration from the Philippines to North America. It examines three generations of Filipino immigrants. The six-movement piece explores the process of maintaining the culture and traditions of the homeland, while integrating into a new world.

The first movement, “Harana,” represents the “homeland” of the immigrating generation. The second movement, “Arrival,” marks the beginning of a new life in North America and the journey ahead. The third movement, “The Bond,” signifies the importance of solidarity with the immigrating generation and challenges of adapting to a new culture. The fourth movement, “New Harana,” represents Noriega’s generation and the attitude of independence that comes from growing up as a first-generation immigrant. “Kuya,” the fifth movement, represents a playful attitude and the fun aspects of life. The sixth movement, “Children’s March,” represents the newest generation of Noriega’s family and what being Filipino will mean to them as they grow older.

The finale, “Harana Revisited,” noted Noriega, “is to signify that the story and spirit of the Philippines is still intact in our family, and although my generation has had a different experience growing up than my parents, and the children of my generation will have a different experience than I, we are still connected to the original idea of the Philippines; it can never be forgotten, but will be evolving.”

“It was quite an honor,” he said, about participating in the concert as a composer and performer. “That was the highlight of last year.”

Given the opportunity, Noriega said he would love to see it performed again.
“I’m grateful to have been given the opportunity to just try it out,” he said, adding that there were more than 1,000 people in the audience. “The show went great. I’m looking to do more of that in the future.”

Born in Richmond, British Columbia and raised in the Pacific Northwest, Noriega obtained a bachelors in music degree in jazz studies at the UW. He has been a featured artist in music festivals all over the world, including Seattle’s Earshot Jazz Festival, Bumbershoot, Vancouver International Jazz Festival, the Filipino-American Jazz Festival and the Philippine International Jazz Festival.

For more information about Victor Noriega and his upcoming concerts, visit www.noriegamusic.com.

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