Last year, Denver trumpeter Joshua Trinidad received a Facebook message from a man in Bangalore, India, saying he wanted to collaborate on an album. Trinidad shrugged it off and let the message sit for a few weeks before finally replying. The man turned out to be Arun Natarajan, an architect and graphic designer, and the bassist for metal band Moral Collapse.
Natarajan is also the co-founder of Subcontinental Records, which launched in 2019 and has released nearly twenty recordings from artists around the world, including acclaimed Japanese trumpeter Toshinori Kondo and Indian vocalist Radha Thomas. The recordings span genres from experimental, ambient, dub and techno to jazz, free improvisation, Indian classical, metal, noise and more.
As Trinidad went through the label’s catalogue, he became increasingly intrigued and started corresponding with Natarajan, who'd been inspired to reach out after hearing In November, Trinidad’s 2018 atmospheric album that he recorded for the London-based RareNoiseRecords in Norway with Norwegian guitarist Jacob Young and drummer Ståle Liavik Solberg.
To help persuade Trinidad to join the Subcontinental roster,Natarajan offered to send him music by some Indian artists he thought would be a good fit for a collaboration.
One of those was Riatsu, the recording name of Bombay-based ambient electronic artist Shadaab Kadri, who has worked with French trumpeter Erik Truffaz. Truffaz, who has long fused jazz with electronica and other genres, is one of Trinidad’s influences along with other forward-thinking players such as Cuong Vu, Nils Petter Molvaer and Mathias Eick.
About nine months ago, Trinidad and Riatsu began collaborating over nearly 8,400 miles — Trinidad in Denver and Riatsu in Bombay. The result: the six-song album Lithium, which Subcontinental released on July 3.
Using Google Drive, the two musicians shared ideas for songs. Riatsu created foundation tracks that Trinidad would sit with for a few days before seeing what was working, adding ideas and sending them back.
“I think where the tweaking really took place was with mixing, because we were trying to decide when the trumpet is in the front or when it moves to the back," Trinidad remembers. "And all that was done through email.”
The two were wrapping up the album just as COVID-19 became a worldwide pandemic. During their online correspondence, they wrote about the dark ambient tracks they’d made, some of which were created during quarantine. They thought about isolation from society as well as people's psychological and emotional wellness during the pandemic, and hoped the music would be healing.
“Lithium has been used to help with chemical imbalances for psychological and emotional issues,” Trinidad explains. “In a lot of medications, you'll see that lithium is always used as a core drug for people who have some of those issues. And so we were trying to think of our music as musical lithium for people who are all alone.”
Over the years, Trinidad — a graduate of the Music & Entertainment and Visual Arts programs at the University of Colorado Denver, with a focus in music performance, education and business — has proved that he’s a deft jazz trumpeter and improviser. But In November and Lithium both prove that he can be just as compelling playing ambient music.
His playing is lithe and sparse on Lithium, a perfect complement to Riatsu’s beds of expansive electronica, which created a sonic effect akin to the album's namesake, calming the mind, easing fears and bringing balance to the chaos.
Some of the songs' titles fall in line with that concept, as well: “No Feeling Is Final,” “The Fatigue of Obedience” and “The Sleep Song (What It Used to Be).” While Lithium is now on all streaming platforms, Trinidad notes that the album will also be released physically on cassette, something that Natarajan wanted to do because tapes are popular in India. Physical copies of Lithium should be available at Twist & Shout, Mutiny Information Cafe and Wax Trax.
In addition, the six songs on Lithium will have accompanying videos that star Indian actors and create one long narrative; the first of these, "He Was Right Here," recently premiered, with the others set to be released every few weeks.
“You can watch them individually or watch them in succession, and it makes a whole story,” Trinidad says.
He and Riatsu plan to make a second album that would be a companion of sorts to Lithium; the projects would eventually be released together on a double vinyl set.
“Our thought is that hopefully there's something to reflect on as soon as there's a vaccine, or when people are able to come out of quarantine, and to make an album based upon that,” Trinidad says.
In the meantime, he's gearing up for his second year as vice principal at Hill Campus of Arts and Sciences, a public middle school in Denver's Hilltop neighborhood for students from every part of the socioeconomic spectrum. The school’s elective classes include band, orchestra, vocal music, theater arts, visual arts, film, broadcasting and more.
“Denver School of the Arts has their thing and their vibe,” Trinidad says, “but it's always been my dream to work at a school that would rival that in a way, but to do something different and to give kids a chance to do not only music, but all arts in a kind of a different way.”
Trinidad has a lengthy background in education. Around the time In November was released, he was finishing his doctorate in ethnomusicology and education at Colorado State University, and taught both undergrads and graduate students. His doctoral dissertation focused on how youth and minority populations in urban settings access higher education, specifically music programs and the arts.
In addition to nearly two decades of working in music education, including stints in Korea and Mexico, Trinidad has spent a lot of time performing, either with his own groups, such as improv collective GoStar, or with local hip-hip act Wheelchair Sports Camp. Trinidad started on trumpet at the age of seven and later honed his jazz chops under the guidance of Hugh Ragin, Walter Barr, Al Hood and Ron Miles. He recalls Miles telling him how playing the trumpet embodies so much more than just creating music, and impressing upon him the importance of being honest and genuine as a person and in his music.
That’s evident in whatever kind of music Trinidad is playing, whether it's jazz, ambient, rock or hip-hop — and he’s in good hands with Subcontinental’s Natarajan. Trinidad hopes that when the world is in a better place, he can travel to India to actually meet Natarajan and collaborate with Riatsu in person.
“Our plan is to do that," he says, "but we don’t know when that’s going to be possible."
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