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What a Feeling: Edgar Pagan Releases New Album

Many of you are familiar with Grupo Pagan and therefore Edgar Pagan. If you’ve spent any time near this guy you’ve become immediately aware of his positive nature and his exuding positive vibe. It feels good to be in his company… one of those people who seemingly refuses to bitch, or speak poorly of people in their absence—if at all—and I’ve never seen him behave “exclusively” (as though its ‘your’ privilege to be in his company or some sort of cool-kid club). Rather, Edgar is extremely “inclusive” in his nature because he understands with great maturity that honoring the company he’s in at any particular moment is his privilege; not theirs. This, to me, is not only wise, the “real” cool, but refreshing… not just in the music business, but also in adulthood in general. And this is why every time he comes up in conversation, it is always noted that he’s a cool guy. His reputation precedes him in the right way.

The reason I point this out is not because we’re pals. It because I know all of this intrinsically manifests itself as the basis for the quality of this music. I’ve been doing this a long time, myself. I can hear the difference between somebody who simply likes being on stage, receiving attention, surfing the pop-culture pastime of it all, living the dream…—vs.—those who are flat-out lost-cause junkies for and  of music. They need F-sharp in their lives like everyone else needs enough vitamin C. The ones who keep going further into the woods because they are lost in those woods. Its a soul searching journey where the home you seek is the journey itself as opposed to any place to arrive. The true musician knows that they will never arrive and this is why they keep going. It’s not even a matter of “if.” Regardless of attentions, public opinion, anyone’s personal comment, the weather of the industry, what’s in, what’s out… it’s simply what we do.

What Edgar does.

It is a privilege for the city of Syracuse to have the man and artist that is Edgar Pagan, right here. As pals, we’ve jammed a little, enjoyed conversations over a gentleman’s tequila and other musician-ly chit-chats with a few laughs along the way usually hanging out with other music pals. Anyway. To sum… the dude’s got a lot of soul and it permeates his newest release “What a Feeling” in a way that is olfactory. Listen to this record and you will find yourself feeling better about things. It’s a positive medicine for a world that is growing discontent, expectant and accusative.

The music on this album begins with Grupo Pagan Lite as its core and then “inclusively” includes guest musicians. And my o my—look at these guests!: Robben Ford, Jimmy Haslip, Jeff Lorber, Luis Conte, Mark Doyle, Joe Driscoll, Bob Halligan Jr., Beledo, Melissa Gardiner and Jeff Richman.

Yikes! Nice!

The collection of songs and instrumental compositions is overtly Spanish in it’s vibe. It is beautifully indigenous and elegantly transcending. Hypnotic grooves are rolling underneath it all under  the influences of jazz, soul, R&B,. The kind of music that will take you to a place if you involve yourself as more than a casual 3-person listener. The kind of music that makes you real happy you were born when you’re dancing with the right girl.

Lyrically, the album is all positive and hopeful in accordance with Edgar’s (unspoken) intentions to do his part in making the world a better place by being the best example of his good self. There is nothing cleverly snide or brilliantly cynical or even skeptical to be found here. Good. Cuz, well.. you know….

And if nobody minds my saying so, I think It also makes a great “make out” record in that it is sonically luscious flowing from groove to groove—whether it’s a sultry groove or a more danceable groove. Its all connected to soul and is emotionally tangible. And it sounds freaking great.

I took a little time with Edgar to talk about this work and to offer more insight.

CS: Good afternoon, Edgar. Thanks for making a record. And thank you for sharing it with us. How did this all come about? What Inspired the album?

Edgar Pagan: I’ve been contemplating doing an album of my own for some time. I’ve been fortunate enough to meet so many talented artists over the past few years that had voiced an interest in working on a project together.

CS: I will take this opportunity then to butt-in and voice my same interest for a future write.

EP: (chuckling….) ok. Sounds good! This allowed me the flexibility to do just that. To incorporate different styles and influences. I was also encouraged by a few very close musical friends. The songs themselves were inspired by many different things, ranging from an event in my life, a story I may have read, a melody, a thought, a spontaneous guitar or bass line, a rhythm that sparked creativity, or a phrase I may have heard. A culmination of events that have occurred over the last few years. It’s much more difficult for me to just sit down and write a song for a particular issue. It’s seems so much easier when something comes from inspiration. Like many things in life. 

CS: Agreed. It’s all about nudging an inspiration to arrive, or having the keen awareness to notice diamonds in a rough. You have a rather impressive gang of musicians on this work. Tell us about who is on the album?

EP: The core group is made up of myself on bass and some guitar, Bill DiCosimo on keyboards, Joshua Dekaney on drums, and Emedin Rivera on percussion kit. I was also very blessed to have guest artists Jimmy Haslip, Robben Ford, Jeff Lorber, Joe Driscoll, Bob Halligan Jr., Mark Doyle, Melissa Gardiner, and Jeff Richman. I can’t thank them enough for sharing their beautiful gifts.

CS: Yeah…. all sluggers on this record! How did you come to meet Jeff Lorber, Jimmy Haslip and Robben Ford?

EP: My producer and friend legendary bassist and producer Jimmy Haslip was a very driving and encouraging force. Jimmy has worked with and introduced me to a number of wonderful artists, many of them Grammy winners. He also happens to work touring and recording with Jeff Lorber. We would discuss the songs and potential guests that we felt might be inspired to contribute. I was so touched by Jeff Lorber when he said to me ‘Thanks for inviting me to be part of your project, I hope you like what we did on your song’. Jeff and Jimmy are such icons and the consummate professionals but yet so humble and giving.

CS: Well, those things always go together….

EP: Yes, I suppose they do…. They’re always looking to create and make their contributions the best they can be. Not just great musicians but also great people. An inspiration in so many ways. 

CS: On those terms alone, it’s no wonder that they were delighted to be a part of your project. With that, tell us about the feel of the album.

EP: I’m a big fan of World Rhythms and love how over the last few years you can see more and more of a melding of musical styles, cultures and rhythms from artists like Rihanna, Santana, and Enrique Iglesias. I’ve also had the pleasure of working with artists like Beledo and Emedin Rivera who have worked with World Beat influenced artists Tito Puentes, Paquito D’Rivera, and Sting to name a few. I was so excited to be able to have world renowned percussionist Luis Conte perform on a song we wrote in honor of Tito Puentes. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve played ‘Oye Como Va’. Luis takes an amazing timbale solo on ‘Tito’. Always trying to do something different we added international rapper Joe Driscoll and his beatbox voice to the song. I took this approach on a number of tracks. Even combining Flamenco with classical influenced melodies and rap or jazz and rap, pushing the envelop a little. The album has 12 heartfelt originals and some interesting versions of 4 cover songs.

CS: The sound of the record is beautiful and rich… like you’re being soaked in it. Where did you record? 

EP: The songs were recorded over the last few years at many different locations. For instance we recorded ‘Show the World’ live in Tokyo, Japan with a choir but did the lead vocals here in Syracuse at Jocko’s More Sound Studio’s. Most of the Album was recorded live at Belfer Studio’s, A gem at Syracuse University. The title song was recorded in Los Angeles at Jeff Lorber’s JHL studio’s with some overdubs at Jose Varona’s GROOV Studios in Syracuse. We were invited to record a few of the songs live at Subcat Studio’s as part of their amazing summer MTAP program. An amazing experience and honor. ‘Respect’ was recorded at Mark Doyle’s ‘Near Miss Studio’s’, another gem. Mark has quite a resume and is incredibly talented, humble, and an inspiration to work with. 

CS: How do you go about composing and writing?

EP: It varies. I may hear a melody in my head or start singing a phrase that inspired me. I usually like to start with what is know as a ‘hook’, a catchy rhythmic phrase. I build around that. Then I may sit down with a guitar and work out chord changes and associated bass lines. Sometimes everything falls into place and other times it takes much longer—(shakes head and smiles with a rising eyebrow…)—I may be in the car or wake up in the middle of the night with lyrics that somehow came to me.  There’s no real set formula.

CS: Discuss a highlight and some of the challenges in this project.

EP: The highlights have been hearing the songs materialize from an initial concept and the performances by guest artists. Studio time is hard work but also very exciting and fun. The time flies by. I recall leaving the studio with the sun starting to come up.

CS: How can we get a copy of the album?

EP: ‘What a feeling!’ is now available online at www.cdbaby.com/cd/edgarpagan, at gigs and locally at The Sound Garden in Armory Square.

CS: Its always good catching up with you, man. Congratulations on a very solid work. Peace.

EP: Thanks so much for your interest and for the opportunity to discuss this project. You, too. Peace!

Chuck Schiele
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Chuck Schiele is an award-winning musician, art director, producer, editorialist, artist, activist, member of SaltCityChill.com and fan of the CNY music scene. To be considered for this column, please write chuck.schiele@gmail.com.