Puerto Rican guitarist who mixes the flavours of home with a contemporary flair.
As far as debut albums go, few come with as fully formed as Jan Rivera’s, //Existential Paranoia//. For the Puerto Rican guitarist, it’s the result of a lifetime obsessed with the guitar.
“Growing up, our house used to be the happy place,” he recalls. “People would gather around, watch my dad play and have the best time. That really stuck with me.”
As he began his own guitar playing journey, he soon looked beyond the celebratory music that echoed around his family home. Soon, he was enamoured by those with a weirdly wonderful approach to six strings.
“When I started to listen to artists like Steve Vai and Joe Satriani, I knew that guitar was something that I //really// wanted to do. But when I went to study guitar at 15, the only option I had was to study classical. I remember thinking during a recital one day that I’d fallen in love with guitar because of all these other guys. That’s when I decided to move to L.A.”
There, at the revered Musicians Institute’s Guitar Institute of Technology, Rivera wolfed down as much knowledge as humanly possible. So hungry was he to hone his craft that, unlike his fellow students, the prospect of one-to-one tuition with Scott Henderson wasn’t something he found terrifying.
“There were open counselling sessions and Scott Henderson would go there pretty regularly,” Rivera continues. “On my first day, everyone was standing outside the room too petrified to go in. I thought to myself, ‘if I don’t go in, why have I flown thousands of miles to be here?’ So I went in and he told me to take out a notebook and start writing ‘because I’m going to tell you what you need to study for the next several years’. I wrote pages and pages.”
From there, Rivera began searching for his own voice on the instrument.
“Studying in LA shaped my sound heavily,” he says, “but the influence of Latin American music is something I can’t shake. It’s not something I want to restrict, either. My music is seriously proggy at times, but that music never leaves you.”
On //Existential Paranoia// he conveys his voice, an acrobatic yet tasteful entanglement of jazz, prog and salsa, with a maturity beyond his years. As further proof of his eagerness to put himself amongst the thick of it, Marco Minnemann and Jordan Rudess feature in an equally as impressive cast list who lend their own voices to the record.
“The music always comes first,” Rivera continues. “I think that came from classical school where you are just one voice in an ensemble. I was thinking about the different vibes different people would bring, so I made sure they put their ideas across as well as my own writing. I love what everybody brought to the table.”
With the album now out in the ether, there’s only one thing left on his mind.
“Musicians are born to perform, and that’s what I want to do with this music.”
LINE-UP Jan Rivera (guitar), Mohini Dey (bass), Marco Minnemann (drums), Jordan Rudess (keys), Juan Antonio (guitar), Chris Clark (keys), Jimmy Johnson (bass), Gary Husband (keys), Nili Brosh (guitar), Eli Marcus (bass), Chad Wackerman (drums), Mark Hartsuch (saxophone).
SOUNDS LIKE A vibrant melting pot of winding prog, colourful jazz turns and swinging salsa rhythms
CURRENT RELEASE // Existential Paranoia// is out now and is self-released
– Phil Weller.
From "Limelight - Jan Rivera" Prog
Issue 139 Reprinted with permission.