The Twist - Review: Tristeza


This is music to zone out by. Lyric and lead-line free, Tristeza is a group that could be background to almost anything you're doing. And, if you listen to Jimmy Lavalle, that's exactly the point.

"I don't think we're writing it to be background music, but I think it's better to have music in the background of everyday life," said Lavalle. But, maybe that's even a bit simplistic for the music that his mom describes as "dreamy, ambient melodies."

The twenty-two year-old Lavalle, who also has just released his second solo EP, "In an Off-White Room," says his music wasn't always this relaxing. He performed in pop, punk and grunge bands at first. By his senior year of high school, it was all hard-core stuff, "with lots of screaming," he said.

Trying to put Tristeza's sound into a category is tough, if not impossible. I had to wonder, however, about the persistant references to its classical influence -- I wasn't hearing any.

"That's because it's not there," said Lavalle. Turns out he's a classically-trained musician, but he's not using those skills with this band.

"Lots of times, they kinda compare us to another instrumental outfit, 'cause that's so easy to do," said Lavalle. He adds, however, that it's happening less these days than in when Tristeza started.

Things were confusing for everyone then, as the clubs would advertise their names, and the audiences would come in, expecting the sounds the guys had been making with other bands.

"At first, the reaction was like, 'Whoa, what's goin' on here?' -- but now they know what they're going to hear," said Lavalle.

While listening to Tristeza's latest CD, "Dream Signals in Full Circles" - (TigerStyle Records), it would almost be difficult to be distracted. The sound is like a series of repeated samplings, which subtly come to a calm climax. There's not much to get excited about here, but plenty of reason to be curious -- this band packs every house it plays, annd is now on its 15th tour, starting in Europe and then on to Japan.

While there is intricacy in Lavalle's guitar work and some inspired percussion by Jimmy Lehner, with no lyrics, singing, lead lines, I had to wonder why this group had such a large following. It must be one helluva stage show ... right? 

The one thing I could not deny, was that the CD played as background to my work for days, and although I couldn't say I began playing it with any enthusiasm, it was definitely growing on me. This is music to be enjoyed on a different level.

I decided go to Tristeza's last live show in January at the Casbah in downtown San Diego before they headed out on tour, to see what the big deal was in person.

The first thing I noticed, was the friendly crowd, who wasn't there so much to socialize as to hear good music. Tristeza was the last band up, and the crowd pressed close in anticipation ... but of what, I wondered.

The band started up, nodding to the plodding beat, and took the crowd along for the ride. Each wave was the same as the last, and no different from the next. No tsunami here, just progressively larger waves, longer, stronger nods in front of a totally capitavated sea of bobbing heads, drenched in a red light, in synchonized undulation to crashing cymbals. True to the CD, Lehner's percussion work was impressive and relentless, the bass was adequate, the keys droned. Sprague's one-note resonation for every half-lifetime wore a little on me, but I'm positive that seeing it live was the real problem. To me, this is a studio group - but the Casbah crowd was transfixed, looking at nothing, listening intently to everything. In the end, they burst into enthusiastic applause, and a sense of relief swept the room as though we'd all emerged somehow relaxed and refreshed from a hypnotherapy session. It would make great subliminal tape music.

Outside, after the concert, a very warm and genuine Lavalle asked me if I felt like I "got it." I told him I did, but in my mind, I was thinking, "I grokked it." Check some live video of the group at their new Web site: