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Carlos Niño & Friends - [I'm Just] Chillin', on Fire. 2LP [Ltd. Ed. Etheric Pink Vinyl]

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Carlos Niño & Friends - [I'm Just] Chillin', on Fire. 2LP [Ltd. Ed. Etheric Pink Vinyl]

“I’m just chillin’, on fire,” Carlos declares when asked if he's a spiritual teacher. “I'm not rolling with or out any kind of religious or traditional focus, rules or doctrine. I'm just presenting something that has a lot of energy, and is intended to be an opening for those of us who are journeying, creating musically, and for those who gather with us.”

Indeed, there’s a communal essence to Niño’s self-described Energetic Space Music. As leader of Carlos Niño & Friends, he encourages his collaborators to improvise without preconceived ideas of what the sound is supposed to entail. His new album, (I’m just) Chillin’, on Fire, features more than a dozen musicians and includes a who’s who of sonic experimentation — everyone from guitarist Nate Mercereau and saxophonist Kamasi Washington, to New Age cornerstone Laraaji and hip-hop legend André 3000 playing his now trademark flute. On purpose, Niño lets the music drift and the unity ensue, making (I’m just) Chillin’, on Fire another highlight in a recent run of sublime work.

While the album compiles live and studio arrangements recorded in places like Venice, Leimert Park and Woodstock over the past three years, it feels harmonious, as if captured in one space with all musicians present. This highlights Niño’s ability as a conductor and producer. That he could winnow such vast experimentation into a seamless set is a worthy feat on its own. Much like Niño’s other LPs, (I’m just) Chillin’ is an immersive listen that requires attentive ears to fully absorb. In a world dominated by social media and the 24-hour news cycle, it seems we’re all in a hurry for no reason in particular. By creating music with tender messages and leisurely pacing, Niño nudges listeners to slow down and appreciate life’s natural wonders, to savor the journey and not rush so quickly to the destination. In turn, his art conjures pastoral images — endless fields, boundless oceans, ripples crashing along the shoreline. It urges you to simply look up: notice the wind rustling through the trees, listen to the birds sing a glorious song. This is real life, the stuff you can’t quite capture with a smartphone camera. As a conduit, Niño embodies the water he cherishes so deeply. He’s not just the bandleader, but a vessel for everyone’s ideas to shine through.

“Creativity, to me, is an expression of a being's state, and their states of being,” he says. “It's really reflecting or reporting how they feel. The deeper ‘why’ is what I'm getting to with all this, what is inside that feeling, and it's not uncharted territory. I'm one of these people who's very into organizing, curating and offering; it's a deeply sharing kind of thing. It's a living thing; it grows. Sometimes it gets sculpted. Sometimes it gets rocked by forces outside of its maneuvering. Sometimes it looks one way. Sometimes it looks another way, but it's alive.” 

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