COCHEMEA

Photo by Jacob Blickenstaff

Cochemea Gastelum is coming home to connect with his roots. After nearly 15 years of touring  the world with Sharon Jones and The Dap-Kings, the saxophonist offers a deeply personal album of jazz and indigenous-influenced rhythms. All My Relations¸ out February 22 on Daptone Records, is 10 tracks of mesmerizing and spiritually ascendant instrumentation. 

All My Relations is a way for me to explore my roots through music. Some of it is a memory that is imagined from a time and place I’ve never been (‘Sonora’) or a musical impression of ritual (‘Mitote’),” Cochemea says. “I felt compelled to add the way I feel when I go to ceremony, when I feel connected with my ancestors, to the musical narrative.” 

A California native with Yaqui and Mescalero Apache Indian ancestry, Cochemea grew up surrounded by music but without knowing much about his heritage. Both his parents were musicians, and gave him a heavy name meaning “they were all killed asleep.” Cochemea has spent much of his diverse musical career – as a soloist, musical director, composer and ensemble player – exploring and iterating on roots music, and All My Relations is a capstone meditation on his own ancestry. 

Originally conceived during Sharon Jones and The Dap-Kings’ final year of touring, Cochemea and Daptone’s Gabe Roth cast a varied but familial set of New York musicians to bring All My Relations to life. A large portion of the album was created through improvisation and collective writing, where its 10 musicians created a melodic, percussive conversation. “It was a beautiful experience – people would start playing and we’d work up these arrangements on the spot, then record it.” 

The album begins with an invocation and plays like a story. Several songs have indigenous names and each track is an experiment in roots – from the Sanskrit prayer on which “Asatoma” is based, to the Mexican huapango rhythms in “Mescalero” and “Song of Happiness,” which is partly derived from a Navajo melody called Shii’ Naasha.’ “In a sense, this record is a prayer for unity, love and the recognition that we are all part of a web, and everything we do effects everything else,” Cochemea says. “These days there’s so many lines being drawn, I wanted to focus on what unites us.” 

Cochemea has a long history of uniting multiple genres with his powerful polyrhythmic sensibilities. His roots in jazz, Latin, funk and rock led to multiple tours with funk-jazz organist Robert Walter’s 20th Congress, and connected him with SJDK for their 2005 Naturally tour. Cochemea also played tenor sax with The Budos Band and Antibalas, and Baritone sax on the Amy Winehouse sessions, before becoming a full-time Dap-King in 2009.   

In between marathon tours, Cochemea recorded a critically acclaimed solo album of soul, funk, and afro-Latin jazz, The Electric Sound of Johnny Arrow, all while doing session work for the likes of Mark Ronson, Rick Rubin and Quincy Jones. He’s performed alongside Archie Shepp, Beck, David Byrne, Public Enemy and The Roots. Cochemea was also a featured soloist in the award-winning Broadway play Fela!, which led to historic performances in Lagos, Nigeria.