I first heard Esteban Alvarez a couple of years ago, when he recorded a stunning rendition of Carlos Gardel’s “El Día Que Me Quieras” and posted the video to YouTube. I’ve been intrigued by the piano since I was a young boy growing up listening to my father play in the study on Monday nights when he would return home from work. I learned to play myself, but I was certainly never good enough to play on the stage or in front of a crowd. When I heard Alvarez furiously attacking the keys with a fiery passion in the song, I was struck with an uncontainable nostalgia that took me aback. The feeling, the connection between this man and his instrument; you could tell that there would never and could never be words to describe their relationship. This man truly loves to play, and the piano loves for him to play it. Music critics call this type of experience “the find.”
What I found that day really stuck with me, and it brings us to 2018, now three years after his Gardel cover and into his new album Piano Meets Mariachi, an inspired and thoroughly creative instrumental anthology album led by the rousing single “La Bikina.” Presented in supremely refined high definition audio, “La Bikina” makes a strong argument for song of the year when compared against the output of Alvarez’s most talented contemporaries and rivals, and there’s no denying its tremendous crossover ability with fans of the classical and ambient persuasion. I myself found myself completely lost in its earthy, almost woodsy like fog that it generates out of pure, stripped down notation. It’s hypnotic but not all together overwhelming, and it can take center stage or play well in the background. Versatility isn’t much of a problem for Esteban Alvarez, and neither is compositional authenticity. He doesn’t have to make an emphasized point of showcasing the mariachi elements more than they already are on Piano Meets Mariachi, because the true flavor of this record lies in the spirited energy that it radiates from beginning to end.
If “La Bikina” is any sort of glimpse into the direction of Esteban Alvarez’s career moving forward, then there’s plenty for music enthusiasts to be getting excited about. I mean here we have a stirring single from an artist who is building up quite the following both south and north of the border, and he’s doing so without the assistance of a lead vocalist to attract the attention of the masses. Alvarez’s talented multi-instrumentalism abilities do all of the talking for him, and it’s an absolute treat to bear witness to. I’m a big fan of exotically accented classical music, and “La Bikina” might be the perfect track to introduce more people to the genre. Anyone who ever said that mariachi can’t be exquisitely structured and studied through the lens of postmodernism will be effectively shut down when listening to the whole of Piano Meets Mariachi, and frankly, I don’t think it could have come soon enough.