Aquiles Navarro & Tcheser Holmes Interview
Updated: Feb 27, 2021
Introducing two of the members from the hugely successful free jazz collective Irreversible Entanglements, trumpeter Aquiles Navarro and drummer Tcheser Holmes.
The duo released their second album together in late October last year, Heritage of the Invisible II which was released on Chicago label International Anthem. The pair are longtime friends, collaborators, and tireless hustlers on the creative music scenes of New York City.
They embrace their Latin and Afro-Caribbean roots on an album where there are Moog Grandmother synths and Juno 106's layered over their acoustic improvisations on their primary instruments. They filter in overdubbed contributions from poets, vocalists and instrumentalist friends, and added field recordings of themselves in conversation to create a progressive album of free jazz.
'Pueblo' is a highlight on the album, with such energy emanating from the rhythm section as Navarro blares out beautiful melodies. Navarro comments on the anthem as “a celebration of life, the coming together of the people, el pueblo, a celebration of who we are, where we come from, it’s our pueblo, our people, a feeling of openness, hope, and a future of unity from el pueblo, the people.”
'NAVARROHOLMES' starts as a massive ruckus before the pair improvise freely to imaginative and sprawling climaxes, sparring off together with synchronised telepathy. The record's remix by Madam Data really blends together the whole album succinctly and refreshes the album at the end really nicely. It must be mentioned the pair's love for Thelonious Monk is expressed through the homage to him on M.O.N.K, a nice contrast to the rest of the record with Nick Sanders soloing on that song.
What's clear from the record is the duo's tight friendship and desire to push each other to follow their dreams in creating completely free music. Chatting with them is infectious and their love for each other and the music they share together is the epitome of why music connects people all around the world.
They are a testament to why we should celebrate our culture and heritage, and be proud of what we do and the people we surround ourselves with. They have an abundance of positive energy and really embrace the beauty of the music they have learnt about in school together, and the music they now create for themselves and for us all to hear. Check out Ben's conversation with them just before the new year.
Heritage of the Invisible II came out recently, a sequel to the first album out 6 years ago - how come you wanted to release it now, and how do you think the past 6 years have shaped you recording the record as it is?
Tcheser - Man, I didn't even know it was six years ago. Right? Damn. The first aspect is life and growing as a musician. It's been an exciting six years, you know, learning, growing, failing, succeeding all that. Yeah, this is trying to achieve your dream. So, when you said six years, it still kind of feels like it was actually like, a year ago or something as you don't prepare for what you want to do or what you've learned. I think this came out too because it had to, it had to it as it's important in any progression, just to start your ideas and what you believe in, in relation to whatever you do.
Aquiles - It only makes sense that, that in during that time, we contributed and accumulated emotions through those five years, six years. We started touring as Irreversible Entanglements (IE) and the first record was our presentation card of anything into the city. So, that kind of got us into the scene so we were working our language out. And this one is the continuation, the next chapter of all those accumulated feelings and when we recorded it, it was a feeling that we had for a while like we have to do this, we felt like we had the second thing to say, "okay, it's time".
How was the recording process? I know with the first IE record it was a one-day session, was it the same with this?
Aquiles - This one was two days. And the first IE, it was five people that essentially had never played together. So it was just like, "okay, let's do this". But this record, two days, they were pretty much like nocturnal. We started at 10 or 11 pm and finished at 4 am. We like the night. The first one, we improvised, and we let the environment dictate the sound of Panama as we had just graduated. And this one, we had some ideas but again, it's almost like we were already making it in our head. So just going into the studio was like the last step, already we had it in our bodies. So it's like we knew what we wanted to do the same time we did it - it was really high paced and concentrated and focused and crazy, but we knew what we were doing.
Tcheser - So it was definitely a combination of the six years too. So, one thing about our music is, we're friends. Yeah, we've known each other for a long time. And we actually are creating music together, coming from the learning setting of "school" to actually apply the ideology you learn in the school settings. So those two nights in the studio was almost like an unspoken pack between me and Aquiles as we travel, hang out, perform, speak about the music and listen. The studio was actually a rite of passage almost because it was like we're coming from this with what we want to do with our lives.
With artists, you don't really hear that or it's known, or unknown. When we were younger, and we wanted to perform our music, you want to perform your artistry. We wanted the cultural aspect to be there. So those two nights it was actually revealing because it's two people and because of that, it's harder to tell one person "no", or "yes", or "let's do it this way". But those two nights are definitely just synergy and a conversation we wanted to record, to be honest.
In terms of you two meeting in Boston at college, is there anything extra special that it's just you two on a record together?
Tcheser - Once I got the LP, it was super special. Yeah, it was just me and my best mate on a record. So you know, I was super proud of that.
Aquiles - I don't know if you checked out the credits but even on the first record, we always credit imagination. Yes, it's music, but it has to be stimulating, even in the studio. We improvise and challenge each other in a way it's like you've been getting in the ring together.
Tcheser - I will add we are also very thankful for proper mentorship. In Irreversible Entanglements, we are the youngest members, we were in our early 20s and you could think of the cognitive awareness you have and major shout out to the other members, and other musicians we know because they keep it positive, they're honest, and they push you without babying you, and I think I'm so thankful that we weren't afraid of mentorship.
So there was school and that's a whole thing, but then there's going home and actually listening to the Monk record, and really trying to understand how was he was this amazing. I guess that's why music is kind of layered. It was such a private thing. We have some great family, great mothers, great fathers. And it's really a part of why we want to make this stuff we make.
Aquiles - You can go to any school but if you don't actually know how to use the resources, or don't use the resources, especially outside of what they tell you, it's kind of like a waste of time. And we were in the listening library all the time. I think we have a strong attraction to sound, and I was thinking the other day "man, words are cool. But sound though" and I think like sound sometimes you can sit in a room in complete silence with people and you are communicating. I think our affinity for sound is at the core of it, and then we add the emotion through the sound so much that it's embedded without having to manipulate it too much.
Did you ever think the music you would create would turn out like this from when you first met?
Tcheser - We were 20, sitting on the couch and this might sound really ego but we wanted this. I remember there was a serious snowstorm and we had no school for a week or so. And I spent the whole time in Aquiles living room. Listening to this Monk record up to the point where one time Monk came up on the TV. Yeah, I don't know if we were delirious but we know Monk came and sat right between us. We got scared and turned off the TV, went outside and doing other things too. But we've never experienced that. And so when you ask that, I would say, that dream became real when I realised for me, Aquiles loves this music almost like me. How we speak the rhythm, we always hug each other, so if I'm really going to be honest, we definitely held each other accountable to even try to get here. And I don't know where we are either but this is definitely an unspoken pact that we made.
Aquiles - I think a big thing that goes with that is family values because we did think about our music getting out there 10 years later, but it was never "I want to be a star" or how the industry sells you the idea of what it is to make it, and obviously, it's not been easy because there are shorter paths to getting to where you can get more noticed or this and that, but it's always really been about the music and sound for us and all the things that go with it. But even if it's a longer path, I'd rather had been there sharing it.
It seems like quite a natural path that you both have embarked on - was it nice you both coming from afar from New York and Panama to meet in Boston, and connect over music straight away in a new place?
Aquiles - Yeah definitely. I felt I had great mates in all of our class, we were all really tight. It was super exciting for me, obviously, I was coming to a new place and the street was called "Symphony Road" and like kids carrying their instruments. I'm like "Oh, my God, the first time that I want to be in school for a long time" just because there was so much passion for the same thing. But rhythmically, in my experience in Panama I feel like it's close to New York. So a lot of my really good friends were New Yorkers. But with music, the thing is sometimes you don't know, life takes you down a certain path.
Tcheser - I always make the joke New York is an island too you know.
Aquiles - They're both points of heavy trade and commerce. With Panama you can get to loads of places, and the same thing in New York and in one block you can see the whole world, so it's exciting.
Has making records with IE affected how you've wanted to do things now with music as a duo or on your own?
Tcheser - I raised the freedom for us to want to create because that group is really five people who were super confident and great people who all made the choice that we're going to make music that is music for the heart, so for me that I think it just raised awareness of really believing in what you want to do, even when you don't even know what it's going to be.
Irreversible Entanglements was definitely something that was supposed to happen and it was the perfect meeting of five people. You had to go into a new setting, being responsible and all the things that are conducive to being positive when you first meeting someone, but now you're creating together. We never go in the studio and say, "we're going to be political". Irreversible Entanglements was definitely I'll be honest, a power move in terms of believing in yourself to play. We respect each lane that we we wish to devote our love to.
Aquiles - IE is definitely a bigger spaceship for us like, that's home base. We are all in it together and we try all these different things and the message there that all five together can achieve is kind of the only place that all five of us can do that. We know that the power of the group can achieve things that you individually cannot achieve.
Are there any parts of New York that have really inspired you guys at all in your playing?
Tcheser - I'm from Brooklyn and originally from Flatbush, which is the West Indian section of Brooklyn. And we're both of Caribbean descent. And for me, I would say Brooklyn, just because the music in Brooklyn is so high. I grew up going to see people freestyle battle rap and you would walk away if someone wasn't appealing. And the house music scene. Some of the legendary DJs who push house music are actually from Brooklyn, like Larry Levan and Frankie Knuckles. Brooklyn to me is also its own Island in New York and they are very proud of being who they are. I love how I walk into a Caribbean descent store, to a Spanish descent store to Pan American descent store, to a Russian store. If you go to an original Panamanian store, you will hear Panamanian reggaeton. I think New York always allows us to be who we are.
If you look at the scene, sometimes it is even a rules of how you need to be almost "you got to wear black", "you got to be smelly", "you got to be grimy". And that shit doesn't work for us. There's nothing like getting on a train at 2am after playing a gig and no one gives a fuck about it. I love that. No one gives a damn who you are. And the guy who's on the train performing, that's his show right now. That is the ultimate ego. Who the hell do you think you are? Okay, you play the Blue Note. Now you're on the C train. Now you're in the Uber. That New York energy keeps you strong, you know.
Aquiles - My first gig in in New York was in Brooklyn for the Panamanian parade every year in October, and then I think the next day, it's like the Hispanic Day Parade. So like, I was there with the delegation that came from Panama. I was playing this Panamanian folkloric music in Brooklyn. And it's a huge parade, selling fried fish, with a stage at the end. It's huge. And that's it. That's one of the things about New York like music has a function in society, it has a context. It's all about what you tap into.
Aquiles, you've started your own label River Down Records supporting Panamanian artists - how's that been going?
Aquiles - I wasn't looking for anything it just formed itself and and it's really to uplift creatives from Panama and to create our infrastructure and have the ownership of our work. It's to give hope and get people paid for their work. I don't want them to just upload it on Spotify and then it just kind of gets lost in the mix. I wasn't on tour so I actually kind of had time to think about the music in a different way. I'm not thinking about myself, it's really about others.
Tcheser - I think about the pride that our parents gave us being black and brown when Aquiles talks about this opportunity. We are still active in our community in terms of what we think about and who we are from our community and you can see that in the label.
How was it doing your solo record Tcheser?
I'm super thankful that we have a friendship where we really want to prove to each other that we could do it. If we're going to do something, we want to make sure that we give it all so ...the T is silent really came after realising that I have a daughter and my daughter has grown with me as I'm growing as a musician. She's like "Dad, this is cool"!
Aquiles - It's a new expression I feel like breaking through the ozone of music. Like it's new rhythm, it's new combinations because it's a new coordinate of Brooklyn, and I'm excited about that. I remember when I think I was at your place and I was listening to it and I was so happy because it's the things that you love coming at you and you're there for the beauty of it. I think the beauty embedded in our history has to be manifested more though, you know?
Tcheser - I think we're just creating and opening the door to another valley that exists on another canyon because there are so many artists who I appreciate that release stuff but this is definitely like a life thing for us.
What's coming up in the future you guys in 2021?
Tcheser - More fire, more music!
Aquiles - It's a bit uncertain. We were always with itineraries, and where do we have to be but I don't know how much I want to invest too much thought into what's going to happen. But 2021, it's gonna teach us you don't control anything, you know what I mean?
Tcheser - We also are prepared for this change in a weird way. We already have ideas that we've been sharing and stuff but we just have to wait because we want to be safe. You'll definitely see some shit soon. We're just super thankful that this is working out and this is actually a long time coming. More collaborations, we have a lot more to show.
Buy or stream Heritage of the Invisible II here:
Follow or keep up to date with Aquiles Navarro & Tcheser Holmes here:
Irreversible Entanglements Instagram
Irreversible Entanglements Facebook
If you enjoyed this article, please consider making a donation to The Runnymede Trust and/or the Race Equality Foundation to help further equality within the UK.