San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

26-year-old Tico jazz musician puts out first album

As 26-year-old Costa Rican jazz musician Max Esquivel talks about the upcoming release his first album, Max Esquivel Quintet, his hands cradle imaginary instruments, as if this is what they were made to do. He strives to be original, to be genuine, he says, and his hands seem intent on following suit.

Esquivel received his first bass guitar from his parents 13 years ago, and when he picked it up, he felt as though a seed had been planted. Friends and family quickly noticed that Esquivel was adept and obsessed with the instrument, and that planted a seed. He chose to study music in school, majoring in jazz performance with emphasis in execution, and received his education abroad, at the Los Angeles Music Academy, Florida International University and the New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music in New York, from which he will graduate in May.

Over the years, Esquivel has looked for opportunities to work with a variety of musicians who can help him hone his own vision. Encountering different perspectives has allowed him to see “que tan elástica es mi música” (how elastic my music is), he says, and that’s particularly true of his current circle.

For this initial, self-titled work, he connected with pianist Walter Flores, trumpet player Cody Rowlands, drummer Orlando Ramírez and Felipe Fournier on vibes. Of the eleven songs on the CD, Esquivel composed nine. The other two, “Camila’s Changes” and “Perception,” were written by Fournier and Rowlands, respectively.

When asked what inspired him send these initial songs into the world, Esquivel seemed stumped. He just hadn’t thought of it like that, he said, rather he simple let his music flow, hoping it wouldn’t sound pretentious or showy. “Yo siento que soy genuino (I feel that I am genuine),” he said, and that also goes for his music.

No matter how original or genuine, though, jazz musicians in Costa Rica don’t necessarily receive much attention. Esquivel believes that the lack of musical education in the country is partially responsible for the fact that the genre is still in its infancy. He has noticed that his shows are attended mostly by the international set, but he thinks someday that might change. When he’s not recording or performing or traveling to the U.S., he spends his time teaching aspiring Tico musicians.  

The “Max Esquivel Quintet” CD release party will be held Tuesday, January 15 at the Steinvorth bar in downtown San José. The album, which features a tapir on its cover in a nod to the indigenous Bribri culture, will be sold on site for $20.

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