In most musicians, just like nice ordinary people, molecules are made up of DNA just like the unique people that each is. But in the case of New-York-based, Cuban-born pianist and composer, Fabián Almazán, his human DNA is an almost spiritual one. His molecules are made up of real and spectral atoms combining to form beautifully ornate hydro-carbon like molecules that spin in the double helix, and are almost completely made up of art. This enables him to worship not only at the altar of creativity, but also music. He is not merely a pianist and composer, but appears to be an exquisite mythical creature that is made up of music’s more symphonic aspects. Thus the musician inhabits a world of tone textures of every timbre, colours and shades of every hue, where a heavenly host of strings might unfold polyphonically, sounds nestling happily cheek by jowl in his beautifully tuned grand piano, egged on by the majestically thunderous bass of Linda Oh and the mystical percussion of Henry Cole’s ensemble of percussion. The result is music that is woven into a very large tapestry which quickens the blood and sends its exquisite intellect of the soul soaring like some ancient condor, happily trapped on an eternal thermal.
As if that were not enough, Mr. Almazán’s music is luxurious and complex, forthright and masterful. While there are no overtly Afro-Cuban rhythms, folk-forms and dances, that music is de rigueur fused into his compositions and playing. Nor is he anything like any of the pianists who have come out recently from that beautiful island. For instance, he is a classical stylist, but also a two-handed conquistador. His left hand is capable of playing elaborate counter-melodies and is also informed by a killer “tumbao.” And while there is no overt sign of son montuno, danzón, guaguancó and others in the music, there are several pieces that are informed by the structures and strictures of these dances and folk-forms that bind him to his Afro-Cuban roots. Listen, for instance, to how he turns Wayne Shorter’s “The Elders” into something with exquisitely ghostly folk roots, delirious strings and electronics and hand claps and all. In a sense his music has, it seems, the broad hints of Clare Fischer’s in much of the work that Mr. Fischer wrote – for both classically and jazzically inclined large ensembles. But Mr. Almazán, magically does this with a string quartet. Then there is the folk form of the trovador, and also the thunderous roar of Afro-Cuban percussion. On the other hand, there is his breathtaking version of Harold Arlen’s “Stormy Weather” and Carlo Varela’s “Bola De Nieve”… both are almost classically inspired and written for the string section as such, with Mr. Almazán exploring the melodies in a grand, diaphanous manner. And then there is Shostakovich’s “String Quartet No. III Opus 118” wherein the adagio movement is so exquisitely deconstructed that it fills the heart with tears of joy. And this is only from one album.
Fabián Almazán – Personalities
This is a trio recording where the trio – including bassist Linda Oh and percussion colourist Henry Cole are frequently in conversation with Mr. Almazán’s busy electronics console, or the mighty string quartet. It attempts to paint impressionist portraits of the people, musicians or otherwise who have touched the life of the pianist. First of all this album is like no other that puts a jazz trio in an electronic situation together with an acoustic string quartet. The manner of thinking is so unique and original here and so meticulously crafted that it stands alone and elevated among almost all of the albums created in 2011. Secondly, like its concept, the album itself has a multi-layered personality. Finally, it is outright brilliant in the pianism of Fabián Almazán.
It would seem also highly improbable that someone as young as Mr. Almazán can make an album of such majesty and maturity. Here is where the pianist also displays such extraordinary virtuosity. But he is not merely a piano virtuoso. His technique and breathtaking use of it informs his music. On “Personality” for instance, he displays exquisite expression that arises from masterly manipulation not only of the concert grand, but of the terrific use of his long and slender and expressive fingers. This music is also executed with ingenuity because of Linda Oh and Henry Cole, who are exquisite listeners too. They are also masters of their instruments and play expressively and with integrity and beauty as well. There are not tricks or gimikery here. There are only heartfelt interpretations of beautiful and complex music, so artfully and profoundly produced.
Track List: Shostakovich String Quartet No.10 (3rd Movement) Opus 118; H.U.Gs (Historically Under-Represented Groups); Personalities; The Vicarious Life; Grandmother Song; Bola de Nieve; Russian Love Story; Sin Alma; Tres Lindas Cubanas; Una Foto.
Personnel: Fabian Almazan: piano, Fender Rhodes, electronics/audio manipulations; Linda Oh: bass; Henry Cole: drums; Meg Okura: violin I (1, 3); Megan Gould: violin II (1, 3); Karen Waltuch: viola I (1, 3); Noah Hoffeld: cello (1, 3).
Label: Palmetto Records | Release date: November 2011
Fabián Almazán – Rhizome
This is not only one of the best albums of 2014 – or even 2013, the year of its making; it is quite simply a staggering project. In its hypothesis Fabián Almazán – after the Swiss psychologist and philosopher, Carl Jung peers into life in the essence and totallity of a plant rhizome. This is not some quaint project or concept but it is a musical exploration of the very essence of the realm of creation. Mr. Almazán integrates this micro-cosmic life-form in to his music… the totality of modern music akin to exploring the life of a cell under an electronic microscope. But it is not only this fascinating enterprise that so mesmerises the listener. But rather it is the immensity of vision and absolute command of music and its idioms that informs the creative process.
Again, there seems no other musician who can transpose the art of music into something so large as the tapestry of life; and vice-versa. Perhaps only Wayne Shorter in his infinite wisdom can. Here too mr. Almazán’s music is conceived for and written into a score involving what appears to be Mr. Almazán regular trio, including bassist Linda Oh and drummer Henry Cole together with a string quartet. Here too, Mr. Almazán employs electronics, but they are present on lesser scale. Rather Fabián Almazán uses the marvelous voice of Camila Meza, who also plays acoustic and electric guitar on some tracks. Ms. meza is so enraptured by the music that she transfers its mystical beauty into the hearts’ ears of listeners and critics alike. With her involved in this music it is elevated to a rarefied realm where few recordings reside.
How can Fabián Almazán better what he has produced in 2011 and 2014? Only time will tell, but even Time waits on him with bated breath, for his next offering.
Track List: 1. Rhizome; 2. Jambo; 3. Espejos; 4. A New Child in a New Place; 5. Hacia el Aire. 6. The Elders; 7. Stormy Weather; 8. El Coqui’s Dream; 9. Sol del Mar.
Personnel: Fabián Almazán: piano; Camila Meza: guitar, vocals; Ben Street: bass; Henry Cole: drums; Megan Gould: violin; Tomoko Omura: violin; Karen Waltuch: viola; Noah Hoffeld: cello.
Label: Blue Note/ArtistShare | Release date: March 2014
About Fabián Almazán
Pianist and composer Fabian Almazan, a native of Cuba now residing in New York City, found his musical roots as a child in his homeland of Havana where he first became involved in the classical piano tradition. When his parents could not afford to pay for private piano lessons, having fled Cuba in political exile to Miami, FL, pianist Conchita Betancourt was gracious enough to impart free lessons for over three years. Thanks to Mrs. Betancourt’s exceeding generosity, Fabian was able to audition for the New World School of the Arts High School in Miami, FL where he studied from 1998 to 2002. Read more…