A look inside The Jazz Gallery

Photo by Vincent Soyez

Photo by Vincent Soyez

Next Friday and Saturday, September 13th and 14th, pianist Fabian Almazan will give premiere performances of new works he composed at the Gallery back in February as part of the 2012-13 Jazz Gallery Residency Commissions. He will be joined by vocalist Camila Meza as well as a 16-piece choir. His performances will follow the premiere performances of “Threefold” this Friday and Saturday, which was composed by David Virelles also as part of our 2012-13 Commissions program.

We caught up with Fabian by phone to talk about how the Residency went and what the audiences can look forward to hearing next weekend.

The Jazz Gallery: Can you tell us a bit about the music you wrote during your residency?

Fabian Almazan: I decided to compose for voice. In the past, I’ve done orchestral writing and trio and all sorts of different instrumental variations. I had never tried to compose for voice, so it’s a bunch of music for Camila Meza’s ensemble from Chile. The majority of the concert is duets between her and me, and the final song is with a 16-piece choir. Also, all of the music is in Spanish, and I wrote the majority of the lyrics except for one of the pieces.

TJG: Were you drawing from any particular sources of inspiration?

FA: Initially, not really. I just set out to express myself, but then I realized that most of the songs had to do with different sorts of injustices that happen, whether it’s political prisoners or the civil rights of women. Also, some of it has to do with nature and how human beings have had a detrimental impact on the natural world—so, mainly it’s about injustices and unfair things that happen.

TJG: How did you find the process of writing lyrics?

FA: Extremely, extremely difficult! *laughter* I find it really rewarding to be able to put words into the music. I guess I’ve always looked for ways of being able to express what I want to express as a musician clearly, and I gravitated towards film scoring because I feel like the message is more clear; I guess it was also natural for me to gravitate towards writing lyrics because I feel like it’s a clearer message. I feel like it’s coming across in language.

TJG: Had you had much experience as a lyricist before?

FA: This was my first time writing lyrics. I really wanted to try doing something new. I did run some lyrics past Camila, who helped me out a bit. Also, my Spanish is a little dicey at this point since I’ve lived in the US since I was 10, so any time I had any grammatical inquiries I’d go to my dad.

TJG: What did you hope to create in your music with this particular instrumentation?

FA: Part of it is just trying to explore all the different musical situations that are available to me,  and the choir was something that I never had access to. Also, lately I feel like the human voice is the source of all music—it’s the first instrument that we used and it’s something very personal. I think part of it also happens to be that I play with Terence Blanchard, who was commissioned to compose an opera. I’ve been involved with that in the past few years, playing in workshops and stuff like that, and he’s been experimenting with what he can and cannot do with the human voice. I think that probably interested me in the possibilities of writing for voice as well.

TJG: Did you listen to much choral music while preparing to write your commission?

FA: I did, initially, but I quickly realized how much of a foreign world it is for me. I embraced not having a lot of personal experience to draw on and embraced doing it. I plan on going back and really studying a lot of choral music after doing this, although I feel certain things you learn best by doing.

TJG: How did you find the Residency Commission experience overall?

FA: It was great—to be able to have a space where you know that it’s solely dedicated for you to explore what you can do with music. I took comfort knowing that somebody thought I deserved that. 

TJG: Were you satisfied with the work that you were able to accomplish in a month’s time?

FA: It’s been challenging because I’ve been very busy with other things and I wish, like everybody else, that there were more hours in the day. We’ll see how it goes; I don’t expect it to be perfect, but I expect to learn from it and grow from it, and I hope it enriches people’s lives.

Fabian Almazan performs at The Jazz Gallery next Friday and Saturday, September 13th and 14th, as part of The Jazz Gallery Residency Commission 2012-13, with Camila Meza (vocals) plus 16-piece choir. Sets at 9 and 10:30 p.m., $20 general admission and $10 for Members. Purchase tickets here.