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Alexis Cuadrado: A Bassist in New York

By Published: September 30, 2013
AAJ: Can you explain what the term "duende" means and why it is important for Lorca?

AC: Lorca wrote an essay explaining what "duende" is. It is something inexplicable, like many things in life. "Duende" is the magic that happens when something artistically beautiful just happens to be. It is a flamenco term. When a singer, or guitarist, or dancer is really happening, they say he or she has "duende." They have that spark, that magic.

AAJ: My loose understanding is that at least from Lorca's perspective it has an element of beauty and sorrow coming together. Similar concepts come up in certain cultures, Japanese has one, Fado has one. There seems to be a commonality there. It seems to be an important element of Lorca's style. How did you bring it into your work?

AC: I see what you are saying. It is kind of like the blues, in a way. It is kind of like when you hear an old Delta blues musician, maybe not trained in any way, but it has that raw soul to it. "Duende" is exactly that. For me, the music that I write, in general not just for this [project], has to have that element. I am very demanding with that. It has to impact me emotionally because my hope is that it will impact the listener emotionally too. I almost use this emotional filter: is it hitting me enough? That is what I strive for.

AAJ: Are there specific formal elements—either from flamenco or other traditions—that you use in a setting like this to achieve that goal?

AC: For me the concept of "duende" goes beyond flamenco. I think of it like this: the film maker Werner Herzog has this thing that he calls the ecstatic truth, which is something that you see which you can't explain but it hits you emotionally. That is what I am after. "Duende" is just a representation of that..."Duende" is one more way of describing what you were saying, this Japanese form, or the ecstatic truth.

AAJ: The colleagues you worked with for this project were clearly a critical choice. How did you put the ensemble together?

AC: For the rhythm section, I've played with Mark Ferber
Mark Ferber
Mark Ferber

forever. Ever since I came to New York 15 years ago. We have almost a telepathic communication. We rehearsed all the music in 40 minutes, and that was it. I just told him a little bit, this is the vibe here, this is the groove there, and that was that.

Dan Tepfer
Dan Tepfer
Dan Tepfer
is someone I really like because he is kind of like a classical musician and a jazz musician in one. In this work the piano has a very important role. The saxophone and the voice are the two voices, the drums and bass are the rhythm and the energy, and the piano is the glue that keeps it all together. I think the piano part is super challenging in this work and he did an amazing job.

I chose Miguel Zenon
Miguel Zenon
Miguel Zenon
because he has a very strong voice...and a lot of the music is written for two voices. And the way that Miguel blends with Claudia is just incredible. I think it is really unique and I could not be more grateful and happy he was in the project.

I chose Claudia Acuna
Claudia Acuna
Claudia Acuna

because she is simply the one. I could not think of anyone else who could do it. I heard her voice and I just asked her and she said yes.

AAJ: Her contribution to the final result is immense. She's at the top of her form. Had you worked together before?

AC: No, we knew each other a little bit, but I had never worked with her before. The two of us worked really hard at it, almost phrase by phrase. I actually demoed every single piece singing myself, which no one is every going to listen to that! And she listened to the demos a lot—and we got together often and worked almost on every inflection of every verse. Tried things, technically, let's change the key. She was very helpful to me.

AAJ: It sounded like it went beyond a technically masterful delivery of the music to a shared understanding of the poems themselves.

AC: Yes. I bought the books for everyone so they could read them. And when I got together with Claudia we really tried together to understand what the poem meant, what it was about. She stayed very faithful to what I wrote. Every time we went to a new piece she would call [and] tell me I was crazy. But we tried it and didn't really change that much. It was challenging. It is more than just reading the music. What was amazing is she made the music a part of herself. That is why she can do what she does. It's unbelievable. She really made it hers.

AAJ: Do you have any closing thoughts about the piece or advice for listeners who are approaching the album?

AC: There are different levels of involvement that you can get into. I don't think either are good or bad. Someone can put it on and not understand any of the lyrics and just like the music and I think that is great. Or you can read the linear notes, read the book, find out more about Lorca, about myself, try to dive into it. I kinda enjoy both approaches myself! Sometimes I go to see a concert or an exhibition and just enjoy—it is eye-candy or ear-candy. It is very hard for me to say how it should be listened to or perceived. I just hope people like it—or not. Just react to it. You can hate it to, that is also good.

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