Fabian Almazan is busy as ever, keeping up his longstanding gig in Terence Blanchard’s band, as well as his record label, Biophilia. In addition, Almazan just finished recording his sophomore album with a trio consisting of bassist Linda Oh and drummer Henry Cole. He’ll be bringing the brand-new book of music to The Jazz Gallery, along with Cole on drums and bassist Yunior Terry-Cabrera. We caught up with Almazan, as he was en route from Arizona back to New York, for a quick chat about the new music.
The Jazz Gallery: What brought you to Phoenix this week, and where are you off to next?
Fabian Almazan: We were playing in Flagstaff, Northern Arizona University, where we brought in some big band music for the students. We also played a trio concert. I’m headed home to NYC now. I’ll be for twenty hours before flying off to Seattle, where we’re playing with Terence Blanchard at Jazz Alley for a couple of days.
TJG: And what will you do in New York for twenty hours? Sleep? Catch up on rest? Do you have to run around?
FA: I’ll be running around like crazy [laughs]. First, we’re going to rehearse for the gig at the Gallery, because Yunior hasn’t played this music with us yet. I’m also releasing a couple of albums this year on Biophilia, so I need to do a bunch of things for those releases.
TJG: I hope you can relax on the plane for a few hours!
FA: Yeah. Christmas holidays are right around the corner, so I’ll be able to relax a little then… only ten months away [laughs].
TJG: Exactly. They’re always singing about the three hundred days of Christmas [laughs]. Props to you for keeping busy, and doing a lot of wonderful things! You mentioned the music is new to Yunior?
FA: Exactly. I’ve played with Yunior in different musical settings, but he hasn’t played the music we’re bringing to The Gallery yet. Some of it is new to Henry as well. We recorded an album with a bunch of new music in December, Linda, Henry, and myself, so this will be a chance to keep it fresh.
TJG: How did you possibly find time to write new music while touring and maintaining the label?
FA: All of my peers have to do that in this day and age. It used to be that if you were a touring musician, your only job was to be a musician, to write and perform. These days, we have a million things to do in addition to being a musician. We all find the time to make it happen, whether it’s getting to the soundcheck early so you can have access to the piano, getting as much sleep as you like. Somehow, we just get it done.
TJG: Can you tell me about one of the new tunes that you’ll be playing with Henry and Yunior?
FA: There’s one called “Benjamin,” in reference to the the oldest character, the donkey, in the novel Animal Farm. A lot of my new music has to do with our current climate, both the actual climate and the political climate. The music is basically trying to look beyond the power struggles that are happening within the world right now, emphasizing the bigger picture and the consequences of what happens if we don’t look at the bigger picture. Benjamin from Animal Farm has seen a lot of things in his day. When Boxer, one of the horses and Benjamin’s best friend, gets taken away and sold for glue, well, I don’t want to go into the whole book. But I was trying to remind myself of the cycles that occur throughout history, and to be conscious and aware of what’s happening right now, so we don’t make the same mistakes we’ve made in the past.
TJG: When, in your busy schedule, did you have time to re-read Animal Farm?
FA: It’s not that long of a book [laughs].
TJG: Good point. How did you decide to write a tune based off this character and his message? When did this happen for you?
FA: I revisited the book at some point last year. It felt very relevant to the current climate. The moment where Benjamin realizes they’ve been bamboozled, there’s this sense of urgency that I wanted to convey. Musically, “Benjamin” is trying to emulate the actual call of a donkey, but it’s basically just an urgent call to say “If we’re not engaged in what’s going on right now, there could be catastrophic results.”
TJG: Is this something you talk to your bandmates about?
FA: No. If I bring music in, and it feels like the musicians are taking a direction that’s so far removed from my original vision that it doesn’t really work for me, then I’ll bring up the thought process that went into composing the piece. But if it feels like everything is falling into place from the beginning, I won’t say anything about what it’s about. If the music works, that’s fine with me [laughs]. As long as the listener is going through a genuine emotional experience, then by all means… That’s the beauty of music. Everyone interprets it in their own way. Whatever medicine they need in that moment.
TJG: Cool. What music functions like that for you?
FA: I always go back to Ravel. I don’t know what it is about his writing, but it’s like a comfort food for me. Ravel. He has two piano suites that he then orchestrated. You’d assume that I’d be biased toward the piano versions, but I actually like the orchestral versions a lot better. Le Tombeau de Couperin and Miroirs are two suites that I really like. I’ve recently become aware of Roscoe Mitchell’s work too, and I’ve been listening to some of that as well.
TJG: Have you ever played Ravel’s music in a more jazz context?
FA: Not really. I know Herbie’s done that. He’s the only one that comes to mind right now.
TJG: Turning back to the show, what are you looking forward to most about playing with this trio at the Gallery?
FA: It’s always fun to play with Henry and Yunior. This new music is in its early stages, so it’s always exciting to see all the little changes in the approaches we take. I’m looking forward to playing with these guys, and getting to experiment with some new music.
TJG: I imagine the new music will be leading up to a new release on Biophilia?
FA: Yeah, we’re releasing the album in June. The name of the album is This Land Abounds With Life. The message behind it is to focus on the bigger picture of climate change, that’s essentially what the whole album is about. I went back to Cuba after twenty-three years and recorded some endemic birds in the forest, and incorporated that into the audio of the album. I didn’t necessarily want to make it political, but Cuba is an example of a place in the world that has been sometimes overlooked because of politics and power struggles.
TJG: Whoa, what do these birds sound like?
FA: You’ll get to hear them when the album comes out!
The Fabian Almazan Trio plays The Jazz Gallery on Friday, March 1, 2019. The group features Mr. Almazan on piano, Yunior Terry-Cabrera on bass, and Henry Cole on drums. Sets are at 7:30 and 9:30 P.M. $25 general admission ($10 for members), $35 reserved cabaret seating ($20 for members) for each set. Purchase tickets here.