Bassist Alexis Cuadrado speaks many musical languages. He grew up loving rockers like Dire Straits and Supertramp, before falling for the sound of Jaco Pastorius’s fretless bass. He studied jazz in his native Barcelona and classical bass in Paris before relocating to New York in 1999. You can hear everything from classical chamber music to Sting in Cuadrado’s work, even when he explores new mediums and unfamiliar styles as he did on his flamenco-inflected 2011 album Noneto Iberico.
Cuadrado is always searching for new artistic challenges, and in his new project “A Lorca Soundscape,” which will be performed this Friday and Saturday at The Jazz Gallery, his challenge is the poetry of Federico Garcia Lorca. In the piece, Cuadrado sets to music a selection of Lorca’s New York poems, written when the writer lived in the city from 1929 to 1930. The poems feature Lorca’s observations of New York’s rampant economic inequality and the destruction leveled by the Great Depression. For Cuadrado, Lorca’s images still hold immense power in our age of recession and the “1%.” By appropriating them for his artistic expression, he helps us hear the poems in a new way.
The setting of poetry to music isn’t an especially common practice in the jazz world, although there are numerous precedents. Before you come out to hear Cuadrado’s new explorations of Federico Garcia Lorca’s words, consider checking out some of these other thoughtful jazz interpretations of poetry.
1. Fred Hersch — “The Sleepers,” from Leaves of Grass
On his 2005 album Leaves of Grass, pianist Fred Hersch takes favorite poems by Walt Whitman to create a piece that’s nearly operatic in scope. On “The Sleepers,” vocalist Kurt Elling’s falsetto and tenor saxophonist Tony Malaby’s fluttering asides conjure a vision of ghostly beauty.
2. Kurt Elling — “The Waking,” from Nightmoves
Elling himself has had a long fascination with using poetry in his music, setting poems by Rumi, Rilke, and others. On his 2007 release Nightmoves, Elling dresses Pulitzer Prize-winning American poet Theodore Roethke’s “The Waking” in a simple drape of upright bass.
3. Luciana Souza — “Sonnet 49,” from Neruda
Like Elling, Luciana Souza is an avid reader of poetry and has produced several poetry-related projects throughout her career, including Neruda (2004), an album working with the poetry of Pablo Neruda. For the delicate “Sonnet 49,” Souza accompanies herself with just kalimba, an African thumb piano.
4. Sam Sadigursky — “After Paradise,” from The Words Project
Tenor saxophonist Sam Sadigursky is perhaps today’s most prolific explorer of poetic texts in a jazz context: his 2007 album The Words Project has blossomed into three additional volumes, each with new compositional approaches. His gorgeous setting of Czeslaw Milosz’s “After Paradise” builds through a series of pungent harmonies, opening up to a cathartic instrumental finale.
5. Becca Stevens — Tillery
The previous composers have used poetic texts as musical inspiration, but singer/guitarist Becca Stevens also uses them as a jumping off point for her own lyrics. On the song “Tillery,” Stevens takes lines from Jane Tyson Clement’s poems “Winter” and “February Thaw,” juxtaposing them with her own musings on spring.
6. Alexis Cuadrado – “La Aurora,” from Poet in New York
If you’re still on the fence about coming this weekend to hear Alexis, check out this video of “La Aurora.” Cuadrado imagines Federico Garcia Lorca watching the sunrise over Coney Island beach as all the shells and washed-out sea creatures on the shore become images out of a Dali painting. We hope that you’ll just us this weekend to hear Alexis Cuadrado’s entrancing and transportive music.
Alexis Cuadrado presents “A Lorca Soundscape” at The Jazz Gallery on Friday, September 20th and Saturday, September 21. The band features vocalist Claudia Acuña, saxophonist Yosvany Terry, pianist Dan Tepfer, and drummer Henry Cole. Sets at 9 and 10:30 p.m., $20 general admission and $10 for Members. Purchase tickets here.