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Gabriel Szternsztejn: A Different Kind of Fusion

By Published: January 15, 2003
AAJ: How do you compose?

GS: I have no method; I try to begin with some melodic motif that interests me, a sequence of chords or some rhythmic idea. Afterwards, it is all about evaluation and not entangling yourself with whatever looks good at first. I seek to never lose sight of the melodic aspect. I try to record or write things that come up and revisit them later. Some things come up through the guitar and others do not—the search is always intuitive and from listening, followed by analysis.

AAJ: What difficulties do you face when composing?

GS: It is rather common to get stuck in some cyclical idea, or not being able to find a good B part or an interesting bridge, although in general many things come out of me in one shot. When composing, undoubtedly, the most difficult thing for me is to find the same dedication normally invested in the study of the instrument.

AAJ: Any anecdotes concerning the compositions on your record?

GS: It is difficult to remember any concrete anecdote, but I can tell you that the tunes I had little faith in, generally speaking, became the most popular ones. Actually, naming them was quite a hassle.

AAJ: You colored your recording with several percussive effects. Would you tell me a little bit about them and their function within the musical vision of your CD?

GS: Although not present on every tune, percussion is fundamental on the album. I did not want a classic set up with drums. I needed to preserve the occasional intimate acoustic color of the tunes. The grooves needed to be defined, with interacting melodies of varied timbres, generating interesting climates. The contribution of Santiago Vázquez was very important in this regard.

AAJ: Is there a common thread throughout the production?

GS: The idea was to look for a homogenous sound, different instrumentation notwithstanding. We tried to make it sound warm and open, with setting and depth, without loosing definition. Mixing and recording everything in the same studio with Sergio Liszweski helped. Aside from managing his own studio, he's a great musician and guitarist. We had a very special vibe, working and experimenting a lot. Furthermore, all the musicians that collaborated played very well, with much enthusiasm and the ability to get in synch.

AAJ: Musically speaking, what are you searching for in this recording? Do you think you found it?

GS: Since it is my first album—after so many years as a musician—I could've put in everything I've accumulated thus far, which I avoided—as luck would have it. I took this album as the beginning of both a way and reencounter with the acoustic. In hindsight, it is logical to want to better some things, but I feel good about the album and I think it represents me faithfully as a musician. I am very happy with the sound we achieved and, in general, find it to be balanced in terms of the compositions and their interpretations. The experience was intense and enriching.

AAJ: Could you talk, briefly, about each of the songs in the CD?

GS: "Tan bien was among the last to be composed. It is based in ternary rhythms that give a folkloric air to it. With defined A and B parts, it has a guitar solo over a fusion modal harmony. It has a fresh character and it suited me for opening the album.

"Dias [sic.] de lluvia sounds a bit ethnic and has a tango sort-of-melody. It is built over an aleatory harmony that comes from experimenting with chords. The main section is in 15/8 (4+4+4+3). It is one of the first songs I composed. It sounds ECM-ish and is one of the two tunes from the album where the melody is carried by the soprano sax.

"Trenes pasados has a song format with quite a melancholic air. It has a certain Latin flavor in the groove, and is one of the tunes I like the most. It reflects that warm sound that I mentioned to you before.

"El compartimiento is an instrumental song that I originally composed as the title track for a short film. It has the typical acoustic sound of a guitar duo (although there are several overdubs) with short alternate solos. It is one of the other oldest tunes.

"El viento is one of the denser ones; at times, it features a Piazzolla-esque air. The first section has quite a contemporary harmony and the development is a bit more song-like. Since it is a duo, Mario Herrerias' piano part is quite fundamental. He's an impressive composer with whom I played for six years. .

"Tanto tiempo has, at times, a Spanish air. Rhythmically it is quite complex, with many amalgamated bars and changing accents. It is from the latest batch of tunes I wrote and it resembles the format I am thinking of using live. The bass and the Peruvian cajón parts are extremely good.

"Una vez, una tarde is a ballad composed as the title track for another short film. It has the kind of atmosphere conceived for a movie. It is another guitar duo, although with some overdubs and synthesized parts.

"Remar is a chacarera, an Argentinean dance folkloric rhythm in 3/4-6/8, in the form of a song. It is from the latest batch of tunes I composed and the only one recorded with the current quartet of guitar, piano, bass and percussion.

"Farol has the same instrumentation and ethnic color as "Dias [sic.] de lluvia. It is based on several amalgamated bars from guitar arpeggios that sound a bit like a milonga, an Argentinean rhythm, and a bit like Leo Brouwer . It is the only one conceived more as an ambience, where the melody doesn't tower over everything else.

"Estrella de piedra is the only guitar solo and it suited me well for closing the album. I think of it as a ballad that has the air of a movie. The name is related to my last name.

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