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Ernesto Diaz-Infante : In Concert & On Record
Houston TX, 18 November 2001

Ernesto Diaz-Infante is a constantly evolving artist. He is an active member of the thriving San Francisco experimental music scene, and he is curator of the annual Big Sur Experimental Music Festival, which is now in its third adventurous year of existence. Diaz-Infante is an accomplished pianist and guitarist, but as he explores the potential of his talent, he is ever changing, ever seeking, ever trying to find the elusive holy grail that will satisfy his sonic wanderlust. Although he has produced four striking solo piano albums for Pax Records, he currently is concentrating most of his energy on the guitar—and not just the guitar as a melodic string instrument, but the guitar as a vehicle for developing absolutely undiluted sound. Diaz-Infante cites Bhob Rainey, Greg Kelley, and their group Nmperign as significant forces in shaping his musical direction, and that direction is on the cutting edge of acoustic experimental sound/noise.

He told me when we spoke recently in Houston that he is seeking total sound purity, the ultimate source of sound in its most natural configuration. The occasion was a concert he was giving with local Houston guitar innovator Philip Gayle. Using an accumulation of string instruments from small violins to larger guitars, the two artists began by turning them into percussion tools. They smacked the strings and rubbed, slapped, and thumped the wooden bodies to hear for themselves what sound would result. Then, to the surprise of the audience, Diaz-Infante became more physical. He plunged a drumstick into the back of his guitar and proceeded to twist and turn it to produce a symphony from the crackling wood. Gayle took the cue, and he also began systematically decomposing his instruments. The microphones picked up every nuance of shattering wood, bent strings, and broken tuning screws. As the instruments began to disassemble before one’s eyes, the two would play the hanging, limping strings to eke out whatever sound was left in the disembodied structure. They were joined midway through the performance by voice master Ben Lind and viola player Dr. Rose Lange.

With the grunts, whistles, groans, and falsettos of Lind on one side and the sparse and eerie string playing of Lange on the other, Diaz-Infante and Gayle accumulated a pile of rubble that once saw life as string instruments. At the end, nothing was left but the pieces and fragments on which the two could pound plus the echo of the life that oozed from them. Diaz-Infante used a remaining guitar neck to sweep the debris into a central pile while simultaneously creating compatible acoustical noise. Although the instrument attack was not violent, it was startling to view and just as amazing to hear. Diaz-Infante may well be on his way to reaching his sonic quest.

The piano music of Ernesto Diaz-Infante is a totally different matter and evolves as a thought-induced process devoid of such physicality. It is pensive, introspective, and near-meditative, building on somber tones that dwell in dark recesses of his mind; yet the captive poetry is able to escape its habitat and in so doing expose his searching soul. These four albums span a period of 28 months. Itz’at and Tepeu were recorded on the same date in 1997, Ucross Journal 14 months later, and Solus 14 months after that. Each is a solo venture where Diaz-Infante probes deeply into the inner core of the songs. His musings are reflective, spontaneous, sometimes sparse, and sometimes voluminous. They surface as gems of beauty dripping from the vibrating keys.

Itz’at consists of a suite in 13 parts plus one additional in-depth analysis. It is marked by sound and space, with both of these natural elements having an equal footing. Diaz-Infante builds short phrases of interrupted but not abrupt lines, and then works around and through them to milk every nuance of potential from them. His touch is semi-percussive, his tone highly resonant, and his methodology patient and exploratory. With each succeeding phrase of the suite, he dissects the lines with the precision of a surgeon and reduces them to their lowest common denominator. His direction appears linear, using the short fragments of contemplative notes to ponder the seriousness of life in layered fashion. “Mariposa Liviana”, which follows the suite, develops in full-bodied measures by expanding the resonance, filling in the space, and uniting in a substantive statement having the same weighty countenance as the suite. The recording is a telling look into the mind of the man. It leaves one pondering the mysterious path he took while being uplifted by the journey.

Tepeu from the same session has six compositions, including the lengthy title cut that depicts a Mayan god, whom Diaz-Infante states brings order out of chaos just as his creative process does. Other than the structured improvisation of this song, the pieces are all instantly composed. Diaz-Infante continues his examination of improvised sound while building the resonance and establishing a higher level of flow by filling in all the cracks and crevices. The music has a ringing continuum. Notes hang in the air while new expressions vie to take their place and others cascade down as gently falling rain. His touch also becomes more percussive as he induces the keys to speak in more volatile tongues. Diaz-Infante opens the throttle on “Antithesis” to establish a new foothold marked with vibrant tonality and rushing waves of sound, only to retrench into sacred ground on the ensuing “Synthesis” with its cognitive deliberativeness. He is a seeker of sonic refinement and order on this disc and continues to find the right path.

By the time Ucross Journal was recorded in 1998, Diaz-Infante had encountered a metamorphic experience through his residency at the Ucross Foundation in Wyoming. The serenity of the surroundings, the ambiance of nature and the environment, and the sheer majesty of the landscape greatly influenced his approach to piano improvisation at this time. The program contains 30, obviously short statements on serenity, but they really flow together into a continuous collage of color reflecting his emotional attitude from the exposure. One can sense the openness of the land through the scattered density of his conceptions where he again uses sonic space and introspection to convey the hugeness of the Big Sky country. There is severe austerity to his conceptualizing, marking it as a significant departure from the robust style exhibited on Tepeu. Resonance, a strong sense of dynamics, and reverberant chord structure still prevail as Diaz-Infante exhibits yet another facet of his complex musical mind.

Solus from 1999 finds Diaz-Infante again expressing himself in energized terms with logically developed free improvisations spun around a near-aggressive dynamic. His left hand and right hand compete with opposing views on openness, allowing the music to advance to a fully liberated state. He almost completely abandons the concept of space as a partner to sound and fills the recording with ringing, astutely creative improvisations. Diaz-Infante maintains his penchant for resonance, and in these selections, the music resounds through his vibrating authority. Gone for the most part are the spacious ruminations. In their place are cascading swells of improvised music being swept up in the current of activity he generates. Although he again employs the suite concept, the 13 passages knit together to form an ongoing, breathing example of free speech. In response to my inquiry on the evolving nature of the four albums, Diaz-Infante told me that he felt Solus was the culmination of what he was trying to say through the piano.

Diaz-Infante is an intricate artist whose music projects the complexity of the man and the emotions of his inner being. He is able to convey his immediate feelings through his playing, making each recording unique and rewarding. These four discs represent a composite of an artist who uses his talent to express more than music—he expresses himself.