Bounce and spirit fit together like a jigsaw puzzle on guitarist Victor Samalot’s new CD, “Esperanza.” Under his skilled fingertips, the strings sing with a richness; notes are light on their feet and the pulse glides forward. The song “Café Puerto Rico” boasts intertwined themes that keep pace while Samalot finesses each perfect stop and strum. On the guitar-centric “Struttin’” he exhibits technique and fidelity all the way up the neck. He’s hotly percussive in “One for the Road” and on the title track, the ensemble fuses beautifully into an acoustic mosaic.
You can feel the musicians smiling in every track.
When did you first pick up the guitar?
Like most kids, I grew up to the music my parents were listening to. From traditional Spanish music to Elvis to the Beatles. I was always drawn to the guitar and was given a guitar for Christmas around the age of 12.
Well, I noodled around with it but didn’t take it seriously until later on when I became a vendor at the Cleveland Municipal Stadium in the mid 70’s. Man, those were the days! I happened to vend during some of the World Series of Rock concert bills and was blown away! It was then that I thought the guitar was not just cool but THE coolest instrument in the world. Those concerts really inspired me to become a guitar player.
What was the first jazz you listened to?
The first jazz artist who made an impression on me was George Benson when he released “Breezin’.” I think this was around 1976. I really dug his style and tone. The timing and phrasing of jazz evokes nuances you don’t feel with other genres. My next big find (one of many) was the music of Return to Forever which pointed me in the direction of jazz fusion.
Actually all the music that has shaped and inspired me has underpinnings in jazz whether overt or subtle. It is always a part of my music mind. Absolutely love it!
How did you evolve your individual sound from Rare Blend to today’s fusion of jazz and Latin?
I wanted to develop something more organic. I switched to an acoustic guitar (although I play an acoustic/electric to give me options) for the challenge of a new guitar sound as it has the richness and warmth to complement the vibe I was looking for, particularly with Latin music. Coming from a fusion mindset, combining elements of Latin grooves and rhythms with jazz and rock overtones felt really comfortable.
What was the biggest lesson you learned about music in your formal education?
Practice, practice, practice your craft.
What was the biggest lesson you have learned on your own?
Be open to all styles. Listen to music that’s outside your comfort zone. It will introduce you to genres you never thought you would like!
What is the jazz scene like where you live?
The scene in northeast Ohio is well worth checking out for sure. It is also worth mentioning that the Latin scene is strong with Brazilian, Cuban and Latin along with a strong Puerto Rican music vibe. Nice!
What inspired you to write your new album “Esperanza”?
I’d have to thank internet radio among other musical outlets for turning me on to artists that take Latin guitar to the next level. Really inspired me to produce a Latin/Spanish guitar-fronted album that in some ways was a “coming full circle” back to my roots but with a twist.
Is there an overall theme?
Not necessarily, but a Puerto Rican friend of mine who has a copy of “Esperanza” summed it up perfectly: “It reminds me of home.”
How does it differ from your past work?
If you compare to my fusion band, Rare Blend, it’s night and day on style and genre. If you compare to my first offering, the self-titled “Victor Samalot,” “Esperanza” is a much more complete album in songwriting and instrumentation.
How do you want to develop your music?
I am as just as busy reaching out to new fans and outlets for my music as I am writing and performing. Definitely a full-time endeavor.
Also looking at expanding to a trio or perhaps a band to reproduce “Esperanza” in a live setting.
Where will you perform this year?
Currently sticking around the northeast Ohio area, however I’ve been meeting really good people who like what I do and want to bring my music to their venues in and outside of Ohio. Looking forward!
What new instrumentation would you like to explore?
As part of my current gear, I would like to mention that I integrate the Boss RC-300 loop station. This is great for improvisations in real time and adds layers to my music in lieu of a band. It’s a great tool for songwriting as well.
Who are your favorite collaborators?
Have to give a big shout out to my wife, Bobbi, who has been my longtime collaborator, co-founder and also the keyboardist for Rare Blend. She composed the basis for “El Torero” as well as played bass on the “Esperanza” album. Couldn’t do this without her, and couldn’t ask for more.
Most exciting thing about “Esperanza”?
I could answer this question on so many levels.
Let me start by saying that it’s a great feeling to start a new project and be well-received not only from a performing perspective but also in offering up a new album.
Hearing your music locally and halfway around the world on radio and making my ideas come alive with new musicians I met through the internet is so exciting. New music is in the mix for sure! Stay tuned!
For more information, visit victorsamalot.com.