An artist as curious as Marta Sánchez is always seeking to evolve her sound. After releasing four records as a leader and multiple others as a collaborator, the Madrid-born pianist and composer has challenged herself to pursue a new writing frontier, one that incorporates the works of other artists within her own compositions.
A project several years in the making, Room Tales represents a creative exercise in layering textures and mingling art forms, using poetic texts to complete Sánchez’s sound world. She began composing the music for Room Tales before releasing her most recent record Danza Imposible in October of 2017, keeping both projects—that feature different ensembles—separate from one another as she worked through compositions for each. We caught up with Sánchez to discuss her approach to working with texts, and how the work has evolved throughout the writing process.
The Jazz Gallery: Would you identify the poets and poetic works you’ve chosen for this project?
Marta Sánchez: I’m not sure about the whole repertoire that we are going to play [at the Gallery], but we have poems from Maya Angelou, Charles Bukowski, Gioconda Belli, Silvia Plath, George Craddock, Rabindranath Tagore and Idea Vilariño.
TJG: What sparked your desire to include poetic texts in your music, and also when did you conceive of this project?
MS: I started composing for voice maybe a few years ago. I had a sextet, which was more or less the same [as my quintet] but with vibraphone. We did a few gigs with that; I wrote some lyrics and I used also other lyrics, and was interested in working more with voices. [But I found] with the sextet it was a little too hard—with vibraphone and everything, it makes everything harder and more expensive. Then also, with the whole political scene, these times we’re living in and the women’s movement, I was interested in using texts of women poets. But in the end, I found other poems by men that were significant for me, and I decided that I wasn’t going to be exclusive with gender. So I guess I was interested in doing something with voice, and I found taking texts of poems that were important for me was the way to do it, because the texts were going to be way more powerful than lyrics [I would write because] I’m not a poet.
TJG: It sounds like there was a real transformation in your conception as you started going through these poems.
MS: Exactly. I think I started writing some lyrics—I mean this project didn’t come suddenly; it was an evolution. I also wanted to record with a singer from Spain, Lara Bello; we wanted to do songs based on poems of female Spanish poets, and we recorded a few songs. From then, it was a kind of evolution I’ve been doing here and there. I also wrote music and did one gig with another formation, a quartet with two voices, so it has been something progressive.
TJG: I just want to clarify, all the poems that you’ve chosen for the project have been written into the compositions, or are some of them going to be read along with the compositions?
MS: They are all going to be sung. The way I compose is there is a melody, and the singer is singing the lyrics that work with that melody, but there are a lot of contrapuntal ideas also, and a lot of textural things happening. There are two voices because it’s not just a melody with some harmony underneath, but yes, the poems are going to be sung; they’re not going to be read.
TJG: On your last record Danza Imposible, your composition titled “Nebulosa” has a free verse poem quality to it. As an artist who plays around with time and use of different metrics within your compositions, in what ways do you feel incorporating these free verse poems affects the sound you’re seeking to create, including your melodies, textures and harmonic decisions for Room Tales?
MS: The influence is mostly on the melodies, more than in the harmony or textures. Actually, it is a challenge sometimes, because I hear a clear melody in my head that perfectly serves what we heard before but sometimes the words can’t fit on that perfect melody I have in my head. So I have to rethink a lot, look for new melodies that serve the words but also the whole tune, to the whole musical idea! Actually for me, it’s the hardest part and, at the same time, the most interesting.
I have to say, most of this music was written before I wrote “Nebulosa.” So it’s true that actually my music is evolving a little bit more. It still has metrics, etc., but new music that we are already playing with the quintet is kind of more related to “Nebulosa.” I don’t know exactly the time, but with the same vibe. So this music is written before “Nebulosa” and pretty much related to other songs on Danza Imposible, with different rhythms and irregular metrics. It has a lot of indie pop influences like Dirty Projectors and Tune-Yards—these kinds of bands. So I feel like it’s related to other tunes, like “El Girasol,” for example, more than “Nebulosa.”
TJG: Do you think then writing for Room Tales had an unintended influence on writing Nebulosa?
MS: No, I don’t think so. I think that came later out of other things. I don’t know—I see actually that most of the music I wrote for [Danza Imposible] was written after this project, but did that influence it? I don’t think so. Probably my influence came more from these bands I’ve been listening to.
TJG: In the past, you’ve used multiple horns and other “instrumental voices” to create not only harmonic tension but distinctive textures in your music. For Room Tales, you’ve chosen one horn and two voices, Charlotte Greve being both a horn player and singer; what inspired this combination for this particular project?
MS: It helps a lot that Charlotte sings and also plays saxophone because it gives me one more instrument to create different textures. Also the bass player [Matt Aronoff] is singing some of it. It seems like singing harmony—more than one voice together—is kind of magical. It’s beautiful when you have two instruments that are the same—two saxophones or two voices—and they’re kind of similar but they’re not the same. You can kind of mix them and create harmony—I think it’s beautiful. Also the original singer Camila Meza, she also plays guitar, so there’ a little bit of guitar in her arrangements. I like the sort of person who can play different instruments. But mostly I wanted the second voice to kind of generate the aesthetic that I have with the quintet with two horns, and then it’s a traditional rhythm section.
TJG: For this project, you’re using texts in both English and Spanish. As a bilingual New York artist who grew up in Spain, do you believe you have a different relationship to language and incorporating language in your music than you would if you spoke only Spanish or only English?
MS: Yes, because I can read Bukowski in its original language and I can read Maya Angelou in its original language and they can touch me. I can put them to music because I can access them—it’s the same thing in Spanish. If I had to read a poem [that’s been] translated, I feel like you’re losing 75 percent of what it is. So yes, because I have access to both languages and I can be touched by both languages.
TJG: Is there anything you’d like to add for those looking forward to attending your performance?
MS: I think these texts are really relevant nowadays. And I think musically, there’s a lot of textures and contrapuntal ideas and there are a lot of rock rhythms. It’s really influenced by these indie bands—there’s a lot of that influence. And there’s a lot of improvisation. It’s a little bit of everything, mixed.
Marta Sánchez presents Room Tales at The Jazz Gallery this Thursday, April 19, 2018. The group features Ms. Sánchez on piano, Sara Serpa on vocals, Charlotte Greve on saxophone & vocals, Matt Aronoff on bass, and Jason Burger on drums. Sets are at 7:30 and 9:30 P.M. $15 general admission (FREE for members), $20 reserved cabaret seating ($10 for members) for each set. Purchase tickets here.