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Fabian Almazan began creating some buzz with his sparkling piano chops in trumpeter Terence Blanchard's group on Choices (Concord Music Group, 2009). Originally from Havana, Cuba, Almazan is not only one of the young rising stars in New York, but is also classically trained and has received a number of awards as a composer in film, chamber and orchestral projects.
Many of these disciplines come into play on this auspicious debut, which includes Almazan's equally convincing trio with bassist Linda May Han Oh and drummer Henry Cole, and a string quartet on two tracks. This is evident in Alamzan's emotive interpretation of Dmitri Shostakovich's "String Quartet No.10 Opus 118." While maintaining the austere beauty of the Russian composer's work, the music is enhanced with electronic colorationssplices of noise and sound effects that build to a breaking point at midpoint, right before the string quartet quietly resumes the theme.
If Shostakovich's third movement speaks of Almazan's interpretative daring then "The Vicarious Life" shouts his virtuosity as the trio works through the track's dizzying cadence. Almazan plays like a man possessed, at times flamboyantly, yet with masterful control, while his equally competent trio mates have their own bright moments such as Cole's intro on "H.U.Gs (Historically Under-Represented Groups)" and Oh's punchy solo in "Russian Love Story."
But there's more to Almazan's repertoire than just highbrow composition and swinging solos. There's a reverential tone in "Grandmother Song" that is tender yet powerful and tunes such as "Bola de Nieve" (by singer/songwriter Carlos Varela) and "Tres Lindas Cubanas" (textured with the sampling of a scratchy LP) cast shadows of Almazan's memories of Cuba. Personalities is a portrait of the people and sounds that have influenced Almazan, who like these ten compositions are multifaceted and intriguing.
Track Listing: 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).
As a songwriter and vocalist, I love jazz for the experience of being in the center of intense creativity. It is the most potent form of music for keeping the artist and the audience in the 'now. Being in the moment is essential for humans, and we need help in learning how to do that. As a songwriter, I need the depth of musicality that jazz voicings can give my stories. My songs seem light and whimsical, but the message is not.
I met my main collaborator, Mark Fitzgibbon, at one of his gigs. I needed to do my first original album, and his playing was masterful, robust, and beautiful. At the time, I didn't realize how suited we were as a team. We're onto our 4rth album together.
My advice to new listeners is to listen to a really clear and simple version of a song so you can then hear what the musicians are doing and enjoy their creativity and musicality. Also, you have to see jazz live to appreciate it fully. You'll never feel it the same way listening to a CD or online. You need the vibration to go through your body to really get it!
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