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Elio Villafranca: The Source In Between

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AAJ: Your recent album, The Source In Between, there were about four or five years in between albums and there's a big stylistic change on this album. It's much more focused on swing and has a much more modern jazz compositional approach. What inspired you to move in that direction?

EV: Well after the Encantations CD, I started working with Pat Martino. I was touring with him with Marc Egan on bass and Eric Alexander on sax—that's how I met Eric. And then, you know, working with Pat is kind of like a tough seat. Pat's compositions are challenging in his own "Pat" way. Very challenging, and they make you think; make you consider music in a different way. Not only by playing, but always when we finished a show, we'd sit down at the hotel. And, I don't know, it could be in Belgium or whatever, in Italy. We'd sit down in the lobby and then Pat would launch into talking to us and telling us about what his musical approach is, or what his experience was, painting diagrams and it's very interesting. We're just sitting around trying to understand his head.

And then at the same time, I started listening more and more to Ornette Coleman. I got his whole compilation, and I started to listen. And not only listen, but I started to read the things that he would say, and there was something that really, really impressed me about his approach. He said that he was more interested in hearing everybody's independent voice than making all his music even. He didn't say it specifically in those words, but basically, that's what he was trying to say. If you have a quintet with two horns, they're trying to match the melody and make it sound like one voice. But he had completely the opposite philosophy. He thought, when I give you the melody, I want you to play the it the way that you play it. And I want the other instruments to play the melody the way that they play it.

I don't want you to sound like me, I want you to sound like you. And in terms of music, he wasn't really so much caught up into perfection in that way. He always wanted to be really spontaneous, he wanted to be really organic—what you play is what you play. And I really like that approach, especially his harmonic approach and everything.

I was also really thinking, the whole thing about Latin jazz, jazz, and all that—I always felt that I could feel the music both ways. Take for example, "Cacique," from my first CD. You've got all those batas behind it. But if you eliminate the bata, it's like a jazz feel type of situation.

And that's how I usually play around with music, and that's how I started to really write the album. Between the concepts of letting everybody just play the music and just feel the music in whatever way they wanted to feel it and not to write a lot of complicated parts. Write the parts more in a way that people could have their own way of playing it. And also at the same time, create a music that's in my head, I could feel it both ways. The whole entire album, I could do a completely different version—a straight ahead Latin jazz version with the conga and everybody else. And I could do that with most of the music in the album, and I would feel very comfortable. There's nothing that I would have to change. I wouldn't need to change the phrasing from the melody, I wouldn't need to change anything, I'd just do it. And that's why I did two takes of "The Source In Between," and I put the percussion on the second track, to kind of make people think that, oh yeah, wow, this could be also heard this way.

AAJ: I thought that was a really interesting contrast. You got such as perfect title for that—"The Source In Between"—where the music does kind of flow between and the way that it's made clear between the two tracks is incredible. Another track that I saw balancing these two worlds is the "Oddua Suite," because I really hear that distinct connection to a Coltrane spirituality, and at the same time, you're referencing Santeria in there. Is there a background behind that piece?

EV: The background behind that piece is exactly that. There was a time that I wanted to do an album of solely Afro-Cuban pieces like that and just put them into jazz. And I started doing that—I started writing a few pieces, but somewhere down the line I abandoned that. Not that I abandoned that concept, but I didn't really finish. But I always wanted to do a whole album that is based on Afro-Cuban music, but transfer those melodies into jazz. Actually, I did a show in Philadelphia that was called Dahomenian Kututo Suite—that was one of the concerts that I played at The Painted Bride where there was a really big ensemble.

I played all music from Arara but put it into jazz; you know, with guitar, trumpet, sax, percussion, and drums, and everything. It was mostly done in Cuban jazz style. I changed the harmonies of the songs, I kind of completely changed everything, but using the same concept of the Arara music. I always have been interested in doing that, because that's the way that I hear the music. I don't hear it one way or another, I kind of hear it both ways. And you know, Cuban music and jazz have a very close relationship. Because, when you hear jazz, you basically hear the subdivision of the three—the 6/8 subdivision type. Sometimes we say like, "Oh yeah, jazz, it has a background in African music." But a lot of people never really think how that connection works. You know, and they just see it as a separate thing. Everybody knows that it's connected, but they just refer to it as that. In terms of music, a lot of people don't really know why this is connected to that, and they don't realize it's because of the way that it feels, you know. It has the same feeling.

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