Esteban Alvarez releases “La Bikina”
Composer and classically trained pianist Esteban Alvarez is making a lot of noise with his new song “La Bikina,” from his new album Piano Meets Mariachi at the moment, but the road to stardom for him has not been the easiest of paths traveled. Born and raised in San Jose, Costa Rica, Alvarez has been playing piano since adolescence. He taught himself how to play and compose on a keyboard that his father brought home one day when he was a boy, and from there, nothing could contain his attraction to the fine arts. Studying music and physics at the University of Costa Rica, Alvarez was chosen at just 20 years old to conduct and arrange music for the Escazu Folk-Music Band at SIVO in Central Europe, no small achievement for a man of such a young age. This led to a full scholarship to Baylor University the following year where he would major in classical piano performance and study directly under Dr. Terry Lynn Hudson and Dr. Vincent DeFries. His abilities on the piano were evolving into something much stronger than even his closest mentors could have predicted, and after graduating from Baylor with honors, it was on to the highly regarded jazz program at the University of North Texas. He became a staple in the jazz ensemble and was clearly the brightest mind in his class. Relocating to Austin, Esteban has been recording, writing and performing his own imprint of classical music even before leaving school, and in “La Bikina,” we get to see what all of his hard work was for.
Piano Meets Mariachi probably wasn’t recorded to redefine what classical music is going to sound like for Latin audiences, but it certainly does a good job at doing so nevertheless. For once we can have a true mariachi record that can feature jazz elements and accents from pop, standards, folk and classical music without coming off as a watered down attempt at making a commercially savvy hybrid. I don’t know about anyone else, but isn’t that something that fans of mariachi have been craving since the turn of the century, when many critics complained that the style had reached a creative plateau?
Alvarez doesn’t have to try very hard to sell us on his inventiveness, and that’s the magic in a short instrumental track like “La Bikina;” it lets the musicians’ hands do all of the talking. Robert Moog once said that “When a pianist sits down and does a virtuoso performance, he is in a technical sense transmitting more information to a machine than any other human activity involving machinery allows.” Is it Alvarez’s relationship with the piano that makes him so capable of expressing his emotion and message to us in this medium? Is it the piano’s exceptional magnificence that is allowing us to see the magnificent side of Alvarez? Perhaps the other way around? Whatever the case may be, Piano Meets Mariachi is my choice for piano album of this latter portion of the 2010s, if for no other reason than its amazing portrayal of a musician’s undying love for his instrument.