If you haven’t heard Roman Filiú’s name, you certainly know the people he’s worked with, including Chucho Valdés, Omara Portuondo, Steve Coleman, Pablo Milanés, Michael Mossman, Roy Hargrove, Gonzalo Rubalcaba, and the Buena Vista Social Club. Filiú has released two albums under his own name, including Blowin Reflections (2006) and Musae (2012), the more recent of which featured David Virelles, Adam Rogers, Reinier Elizarde, Marcus Gilmore, and Dafnis Prieto.
With support from Chamber Music America and the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, Filiú returns to The Jazz Gallery this week, leading his band Musae in new project titled Okàn: El Libro de Las Almas. The lineup will again include Adam Rogers and David Virelles, with additions of Maria Grand on saxophone, Matt Brewer on bass, Craig Weinrib on drums, and Mauricio Herrera on percussion. We’ve spoken with Filiú before, about his influences and upbringing. This time, we spoke further on his compositional techniques and the thematic underpinnings of his work.
TJG: At The Jazz Gallery, you’ll be premiering a new work, funded by the Doris Duke Foundation and Chamber Music America. Can you talk a little about the work?
RF: I always try to work on a theme. This project is based on an imaginary book, written by a fictional writer, on the people who have helped me in my life. Important people pass on or leave your life, you don’t see them anymore, and when you’re a kid, you say, “Well, that’s life.” But when you have a kid, you start to think about the people who supported you and never asked anything of you in return. I imagine a book where all the people who have helped me have their stories there. I love science fiction, and have been reading a lot this year, Dan Simmons’ Hyperion, books by Orson Scott Card and Ursula K. Le Guin. I similarly try to link my music to something unreal, to create something different. I’ve been trying to imagine an alternate universe where all these people who helped me still live. Sometimes you never had the opportunity to say thank you. So this is a kind of tribute, in a way.
TJG: I think I understand the concept of the theme. Could you talk about how, for you, it translates into the music?
RF: It depends on the personality of the person on my mind, the specific things they did, our ages, our relationship, or where we met. I build the music around those ideas. For example, when I was a kid, there was an old man, eighty-something years old, from Haiti. He never said a word, but when I was little, with my big saxophone, he would always help me carry it. He was slower than me, man: To walk a block with him was like one hour. But he saw my saxophone and he came by my side to help me. That happened for two years straight. I was thinking of him, of the specific slow walking pace that he had, almost like an invalid. Something like that is how I link the music and the form with the personality.
TJG: Do you know what happened to that man?
RF: Never found out. I moved when I was fourteen, to go to boarding school, and I think he moved to another part of the country around that time, or right before. I didn’t see him any more.