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A look inside The Jazz Gallery

Photo by Mark Niskanen, courtesy of the artist

Photo by Mark Niskanen, courtesy of the artist

When bassist Alexis Cuadrado last played at The Jazz Gallery, about a year ago, he performed his song cycle A Lorca Soundscape, which set to music the work of the great Spanish poet Federico García Lorca. This Friday and Saturday, September 12th and 13th, 2014, Cuadrado brings another words-and-music project to the Gallery. Though “pre-premiered” at SEEDS::Brooklyn in the spring, the new project called POETICA will make its official premiere this weekend.

Whereas A Lorca Soundscape drew on jazz, Latin, and flamenco traditions, POETICA cultivates a grittier sound, distorted and dissonant and based more squarely in contemporary experimental jazz. Another key difference is that the songs in A Lorca Soundscape were musical settings of poems; this project concentrates on integrating spoken-word poetry and the work of poets Rowan Ricardo Phillips and Melcion Mateu.

Melcion, like Cuadrado, hails from Barcelona and lives in New York. Phillips, a native New Yorker, won the 2013 PEN/Joyce Osterweil Award for his book of poems, The Ground. Both are also translators—Mateu from English into Catalan, Phillips from Catalan into English—and evince a deep love and understanding of music in their writings. The poets display comfort and authority in this multimedia, multilingual setting.

In one piece, “Balada de Matt Sweeney,” Mateu recites a poem in Catalan and is later joined by Phillips in a chant of lyrics from “I Got Life,” which comes from the musical Hair and was a mainstay of Nina Simone’s repertoire. In another piece, the poets simultaneously recite the same poem, Mateu in Catalan and Phillips in English, before chanting a chorus in unison: advertisements in Spanish and English that, perhaps, cap taxi cabs or fill subway cars.

Cuadrado’s compositions suit not only the moods of the poems, but also their subjects and themes: urban life, synesthetic revelation, artistic striving. This stellar band—Cuadrado on bass, Andy Milne on keyboard, Miles Okazaki on guitar and Tyshawn Sorey on drums—sets up loose vamps and ostinati behind the poets or improvises freely around them. When the music sounds more composed, the group remains alert to the rhythm and cadences of the speaker, and spoken sections give way to improvisations that feel like natural extensions of the poetry. The result is roiling, impassioned music that evokes the rhythms and interruptions of New York City.

In an interview with Jazz Speaks, Cuadrado said, “For me it’s been important to let the music dictate where it was going rather than me trying to be in control all the time.” In POETICA, he’s created a way for the music and words to determine mutually where the piece will go. No single element dominates; each illuminates the other.

Alexis Cuadrado Group premieres POETICA this Friday and Saturday, September 12th and 13th, 2014, at The Jazz Gallery. The performances will feature Cuadrado on bass and compositions, Rowan Ricardo Phillips and Melcion Mateu on poetry, Miles Okazaki on guitar, Andy Milne on keyboards, and Tyshawn Sorey on drums. $22 general admission, $12 for Members. Purchase tickets here.

Please note that sets are at 8 and 10 p.m., our new set times starting in September.