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Jazz all over: Orilla and La Lucha

Bill DeYoung




The jazz duo Orilla debuted on an episode of The Catalyst Sessions last fall, and went on to appear, virtually, several times over the intervening months.

Ona Kirei and Alejandro Arenas make their first public, flesh-and-blood concert appearance Friday at thestudio2620.

When the pandemic was at high tide, musicians had to find innovative ways to ply their creative trade. Arenas, who’s also the bassist in the innovative trio La Lucha, says that the live audience is always part of the “real” jazz experience.

“If you play something, and the audience reacts even in the middle of a song, it’s like a chain reaction,” he explains. “You then decide OK, this audience is a little more adventurous, so we can open up a little bit more … things like that. It’s very nuanced. It definitely changes from room to room. And we miss that a lot.

“We always appreciated the audience – but we appreciate them even more now.”

La Lucha is well-known for original work, as well as arrangements of classics and others from the catalogue.

Orilla (it means “shore”) is another thing altogether. The approach, Arenas says, is “minimalist,” with just his bass and Kirei’s vocals (and percussion) creating a sumptuous blend of music.

He is originally from Colombia, while she hails from Spain.

“The backgrounds that we have both culturally and musically are so diverse that we found we had a lot of material we could cover,” Arenas says. “Between the languages that Ona can sing in, the music that we know from Brazil, Spain, Colombia, American music, European music … so it’s kind of a compilation of all those things. We’re covering a lot of ground.”

Other musicians – La Lucha’s John O’Leary (piano) and Mark Feinman, and trumpeter James Suggs, will join the duo in various combinations for certain songs at Friday’s performance. But it’s not a La Lucha show.

“I love a lot of things about playing with Alejandro,” Kirei offers. “The duet format is very enriching. We are very naked, musically speaking, and that allows us to grow, on one hand, and learn a lot from ourselves – and on the other hand, it helps be more creative. And dare to try more things. And exchange roles.

“So I’m not just the lead singer. I am equally an instrument with Alejandro, and I love that.”

Saturday night at the Palladium, however, La Lucha returns with another edition of its popular “’80s Jazz Party.” The young musicians have crafted jazz interpretations of songs from “their” era (think Peter Gabriel’s “Sledgehammer” or George Michael’s “Careless Whisper”). “We love a good melody with La Lucha,” Arenas laughs.

Other performers on the Saturday bill are – wait for it – Ona Kirei and James Suggs (with second vocalist Stella Saddiq).

Kirei is looking forward to this show, too. “Sometimes the tunes that were famous here in the U.S. were not the tunes that were famous in Spain,” she explains. “So I honestly didn’t know all of them. And it was very fun to sing the tunes that I knew very well, and be creative with them – and it was a lot of fun, too, to have a little immersion in American culture and learn the other tunes that were not as famous in Spain.”

Tickets for Orilla (Friday at thestudio@620) are here.

Tickets for La Lucha’s ‘80s Jazz Party (Saturday at the Palladium) are here.









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