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Gabriel Szternsztejn: A Different Kind of Fusion

Javier AQ Ortiz By

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Everything worsened for music in Argentina--which is a lot to say since the previous situation wasn't that good to begin with. Recession stops people from investing money in music, whether it is live or recorded, or in taking classes.

Researching a project for Jazz in Norway, Gabriel Szternsztejn—an Argentinean guitarist living in Spain—appeared featured on a Norwegian website. He is a musician's musician, with a singular compositional voice and a varied conceptual—as well as experiential—background.

AAJ Contributor Javier Antonio Quiñones Ortiz spoke with Szternsztejn about his music and self-titled release.

All About Jazz: What brought you out of Argentina?

Gabriel Szternsztejn: In reality, my musical life in Argentina was becoming quite monotonous, aside from a couple of truly interesting projects in which I was participating, and the recording of my album. I was already longing to spend time in Europe and was interested in the possibilities that my musical endeavor could facilitate. Once out of the country, the crisis that further defined things added itself to the exit equation.

AAJ: How are things going for you in Spain?

GS: I am in the initial stage of adaptation, getting to know and letting myself be known. Professionally, things work out slowly. I am participating in some projects and giving classes. I put together a quartet with good musicians to play the music on my album. I am rehearsing, playing and moving the material in Spain and the rest of Europe. I can't complain but one has to be patient.

AAJ: In brief, what can you tell me about Spain's musical life?

GS: I believe there is an interesting jazz movement with good musicians and places to play, as well as many festivals. Aside from Madrid, there are many musicians in Barcelona, Valencia and the Basque Country. The circuits is a bit small given the number of musicians available. The flamenco environment is another thing altogether. It has much to offer. It is still difficult for me, however, to find more alternative music. It's too soon to have a more complete panorama.

AAJ: Given the social and economic circumstances in Argentina, the cultural industries are suffering what I consider their worst reversal. Any comments on how such circumstances affect musical life in Argentina?

GS: Obviously, everything worsened for music in Argentina—which is a lot to say since the previous situation wasn't that good to begin with. I left the country just before the crisis. The news I get from musician friends, however, is bad. Most popular items for daily use are imported and costly after devaluation. Recession stops people from investing money in music, whether it is live or recorded, or in taking classes. It is logical, therefore, that the already meager governmental budget for culture would decay. It is also difficult to bring foreign artists in, which will limit information and interchange. The saddest thing is to see so many musicians fleeing the country. Countervailing that, I think, self-reliant and independent productions are growing, which is very positive.

AAJ: How did the Norwegian contact come up?

GS: I met Ole Amund through a common friend during a trip he made to Buenos Aires. He's particularly interested in Argentinean music and exchanges. Luckily, he really liked my music.

AAJ: How is your music being labeled?

GS: It is rather complicated. Generally, it shows up, as world Music—which doesn't please me much—or jazz, which it's not.

AAJ: How would you describe your music?

GS: For me, it's original acoustic instrumental music that fuses different rhythms and has elements from contemporary jazz. There's space for improvisation and the guitar is a leading character. Indeed, it is hard to find a category that fits it well.

AAJ: How difficult is it to find musicians that can back you up?

GS: It is a bit difficult. Although the music does not represent serious technical difficulties, I am interested in musicians with what I call a mixed background: in contact with the classical tradition—mostly for the interpretation—and a jazz background, in order to play freer; hence the need to be able to improvise and understand the more functional harmony that appears all the time. I assembled a quartet with very good musicians, with these characteristics.

AAJ: Could you tell me about the public's reaction to your music?

GS: Live, this music is almost virgin. I came to Spain with an Argentinean group under formation and recently debuted the quartet to good reviews and appreciation. I appeared in Buenos Aires before finishing the album and people responded very well. The album has received a good response from musicians and the public, which pleases me. I also had the big satisfaction of being praised by Egberto Gismonti, who is a monster as far as I am concerned.

AAJ: How about your formative musical experiences?

GS: It is a long list because I have an eclectic background and have been exposed to very diverse music throughout my life. I had many incentives at home and an early contact with classical music, folk, tango and popular music in general. As a child, I studied three years at the Collegium Musicum, a private traditional institution in Buenos Aires, and at a very good level. Later, as any guitarist from my generation, I heard and played rock and pop. Having done conservatory studies for the next seven years served me well technically and offered training in reading and composition, although I always felt a bit out of place in that environment. Even later, with things clearer, I began to study jazz—improvisation in particular—and to listen and play a different type of music.

If I had to name guitarists who influenced me, at first you have different artists like David Gilmour, Andy Summers , Van Halen and Brian May. Later, already interested in jazz and fusion, I started listening to Pat Metheny, John Scofield, Jim Hall, Mike Stern, Scott Henderson and Allan Holdsworth . Artists including Egberto Gismonti, Ralph Towner and John McLaughlin were—and are—fundamental. Beyond the guitar, I listened to a lot of Miles Davis, Bill Evans, Coltrane and Weather Report, amongst many others, and quite a bit of Brazilian music. The Beatles and Astor Piazzolla have been significant throughout my life. Despite listening to a lot of Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, Wagner and some contemporaries, and having interpreted a conservatory's repertoire, I heard less classical music than I wanted.


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