Originally from Houston, multi-instrumentalist Mark Medina has lived in various parts of Colorado since 1997. Five years ago, he moved near the small town of Westcliffe in the Wet Valley, which is between the Wet Mountains and Sangre de Cristo Mountains in Southern Colorado. Although he and his family live off the grid and get spotty satellite internet through HughesNet, Medina is still able to collaborate with musicians around the world, through his ambient/jazz project Re-Evolution Cafe Orchestra, which just released Deep Into Wet Mountain Valley.
Medina plays most of the instruments on the ten-song album, while Norwegian guitarist Ingvar Tautra, who records under the name Agnostura Elwar, performs on two songs, including “Slow Spot in the Midnight Sun.” When Medina heard the track Tautra had sent for the recording, he got chills. The collaboration reminded him of a story about how Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque allegedly invented Cubism at the same time.
“I really believe in that kind of union thing of the uncollected subconscious, that we're all kind of connected together, without getting really esoteric about it,” Medina says. “What Ingvar did to that particular song, it was like he was in my head — like what I could envision, but it was beyond my limitations. I'm happy with what's here, because it had a certain mood, and then he took the mood, followed it, captivated it, and then took it somewhere else, and I was like, ‘Wow, that's the magic of why we're here.'”
Through long-distance collaborations, Medina says, the real trick is making it sound like everything was recorded in the same room and not pieced together.
“That, I think, is a real challenge, but it's something that I think is very interesting and very feasible with the tools that we have today,” he says.
The Colorado musician is also collaborating on an EP with Henry Koek, a poet and musician originally from the Netherlands and now based in France, as well as Brazillian artist INGRD.
Medina, who’s influenced by jazz pianists Bill Evans, Ahmad Jamal and Keith Jarrett, says the kind of music he makes — a fusion of ambient, nu jazz and electronica — is more popular in Europe than in America. Though he lives in a secluded home not far from a town with a population of about 400, most of his SoundCloud followers are based in Europe.
Before moving to the Wet Valley, Medina played blues and rock around Denver, Morrison and Evergreen. But since moving to the valley, he says his music has gotten more ethereal and not quite as aggressive as what he was playing before. Even his jazz-oriented material has softened a bit.
“Music for Trains and Station Platforms,” from Deep Into Wet Mountain Valley, is a nod to Brian Eno’s album Ambient 1: Music for Airports, an album Medina and Bruce Hickey, an ambient artist who lives nearby and records as Windspace, share an affinity for. While the track began with field recordings of a subway platform and a train station and merged them together, the song was also inspired by the Bluff Park in Westcliffe, which looks up at the Sangre de Christo Mountains.
“We're always talking about what you would write if you've never been there before and you suddenly were transported there and you open your eyes and you're staring.” Medina says. “Because of the way the nature is down here, it changes every day.”
Medina says the collaboration with Windspace reminds him of the scene in the 1995 film Smoke in which Harvey Keitel’s character, Auggie Wren, is showing William Hurt’s character, Paul Benjamin, an album of photos that he took every day on the same corner.
“We have this ongoing discussion about the Sangres, and looking at them and seeing something different — even after living here for a while,” Medina says.
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