The man with the blue face playing rockabilly

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When Maestro Anjael stood in the lobby of the church, the first thing I noticed was how white his teeth looked against his painted, midnight blue face. The second thing was how talon-like his nails were. Later, I would learn he painted his face blue as a protest against racism. “The blue sky accepts all nations” and his talons gave him the ability to play flamenco-style guitar on steel strings instead of nylon. Under normal circumstances, regular nails would rip off.


When I scrambled to reach for my phone to record the interview, he assured me that I would not need to worry about it. That he was a professor and a doctor of natural medicines. That his photographic memory of everything we will talk about would suffice and he would type out all of his answers for me.  And so began a whirlwind of eccentricity, both that night in his music and in his email exchanges that allowed a brief glimpse into how his mind worked.


Maestro Anjael is the director behind the Avant Garde Jazz Project, which performed together for the first time May 10. The group performed improvised jazz music and songs from Anjael&rsquo;s previous album, <em>Heart of the Lion</em>. Anjael brought together his musician friends from around the world to play a concert that reflected the diverse backgrounds of each performer. The small audience of 15 was treated to a gem of a performance inside Uptown Waterloo United Church. The evocative music ranged from free-form jazz to blues to &lsquo;80s glam rock to flamenco guitar to Middle Eastern gypsy music.


The group consisted of Oscar De Congao Dominguez on the conga, a narrow African hand drum; Gregg Dechert on keyboards; Johnny Victor on flute, soprano saxophone, and wind synthesizer; Jeffery Torok on five-string electric bass; and Maestro Anjael on drums, guitar, and vocals. Individually, all of the players are professional musicians. The keyboardist, Dechert, toured with Pink Floyd guitarist David Gilmour in 1984 on his solo tour, <em>About Face</em>.


Anjael wrote of avant garde jazz that &ldquo;free-form music can be [&hellip;] reflected in the human psyche as chaotic beginnings [of humanity] from the dark ages. Cavemen becoming transcendent and becoming aware of ones divinity within.&rdquo;


The show opened with the group&rsquo;s far more experimental and improvisational music. De Congao Dominguez played the conga with the elegant poise and control of a handsome woman sitting on an elephant. He provided the steady, grounding pulse that became the bare bones upon which the other musicians layered their melodies. The mixture of dreamy soprano saxophone, bass guitar, futuristic sounding tones from the wind synthesizer, and repeatedly ascending and descending blues scales and dissonant notes on the electronic keyboard fused together to form an eccentric sound.


In the remaining portion of the performance, Anajel played several songs off of <em>Heart of a Lion</em>. Anjael emerged from behind the drum set to play the acoustic guitar and take lead as the main vocalist. The first song, &ldquo;Truth is One,&rdquo; began with a bumbling stream of Flamenco guitar work while the flute added Middle Eastern exoticism. Anjael&rsquo;s deep vocals wailed and boomed and whimpered from his blue, expressive face.&nbsp; In subsequent songs, Anjael traded in the acoustic for an engine-red electric guitar. The band rock-and-rolled in front of a stained glass portrait of Mr. J.C.


Anjael is a deeply spiritual man and fiercely criticizes the lack of depth in pop music: &ldquo;I want my music forever to remind us of our Creator and [the] Divinity I came from.&rdquo;


Of all his songs, the most beautiful and harrowing was the love song Anjael played by himself on the acoustic guitar. The music came in waves and flooded the church. As the melodies bounced off the high ceilings and echoed in the chamber, Maestro Anjael harnessed the energy of the audience, and by the end, completely captured their attention.


&ldquo;I was very lonely as a child, very misunderstood and very abused by everyone. Everyone I knew abused or cheated or betrayed me. I did not know why this world was/is filled with so much evil/cruel people and yet I want to know all the wonderful beautiful souls who make our world better.&rdquo;


Visit CDBaby or <a href="http://lionofthebron.com" rel="nofollow" target="_blank">lionofthebron.com</a> to preview the songs off Maestro Anjael&rsquo;s <em>Heart of a Lion</em>.