Cochemea Gastelum’s 2019 release All My Relations saw the saxophonist step out from his longtime ensemble role as a member of the Dap-Kings. They are Daptone Records‘ house band, best known for backing the late Sharon Jones and collaborations with the likes of Mark Ronson—and explore his musical practices as a solo artist. Now, Vol. II: Baca Sewa continues the work as Cochemea leads a seven-piece ensemble through innovative arrangements, his perspective informed by his Yaqui and Mescalero Apache ancestry and the cosmic sounds of spiritual jazz.
The central celestial body of Baca Sewa’s sonic profile is unquestionably Cochemea’s alto saxophone, an instrument as nimble as a well-trained human voice. Whether used in red-hot syncopated solos (“Burning Plain”, “Tukaría”) or mellower lines (“Baca Sewa Song”), it sings, always impassioned, a crucial part of the album’s emotional solid and melodic core. It isn’t the only manifestation of Cochemea’s instrumental skill. “Black Pearl” sees Cochemea pull double duty by bringing in lilting flute to lead the main line in unison with Alex Chakour’s understated marimba. That gives the track a softness that allows for an even more exciting buildup once the sax returns to soar over the track’s second half.
No less critical in crafting the recognizable textures of the album is its rhythm section. The percussion here is constant, layer upon layer of acoustic beats. Cochemea counts among his drummers labelmates, seasoned veterans of New York scenes, and blood relatives. The Baca Sewa Singers (named, like the album, for the pre-colonial moniker of Cochemea’s family) are made up of Cochemea’s kin and offer both vocals and steady rhythmic accompaniment on the first iteration of the titular track, an antiphonal chant. The “Baca Sewa” pair of songs is something of a microcosmic representation of the album’s array of strengths: following the chant is the album’s final cut, a laid-back, fleshed-out version of the same melody, with Cochemea’s horn at the forefront over warm, electric keys, a gently rolling bassline, and a small array of sparing percussion.
Vol. II: Baca Sewa is an outstanding example of music and meaning working in tandem to produce an impactful record. Cochemea’s style stems from a holistic sense of musical identity. His Indigenous roots and career in contemporary funk and jazz are inseparable from one another and from the music he makes here. As he looks to family for inspiration (“Chito’s Song” pays tribute to an uncle, “Black Pearl” to a great-grandfather) and takes on vintage vibes (Chakour’s bassline on “Curandera” is pure 1970s funk), his considerable ingenuity as saxophonist and composer is sparking. This is soul music in every sense of the word.
As a sophomore effort, Baca Sewa is both a continuation of Cochemea’s previous solo work and a cohesive, self-contained story of its own. However you listen to it, though, Cochemea’s virtuosity and vitality are self-evident. This second volume of his work is earthy and open, laced with brilliant subtleties. There is space for contemplation, there are moments of ecstasy, and in the middle of it all, there is Cochemea, an artist who stands apart from his Daptone labelmates in the best possible way.