The above video gives a compelling taste of the music on and story behind a terrific CD coming from pianist Fabian Almazan—“Rhizome,” due March 18, through Blue Note/ArtistShare.
As I wrote about Almazan in a 2012 Wall Street Journal profile, “Much like the best of his contemporaries, Almazan revels in the space between musical styles, and between form and improvisation.” I called his previous CD, “Personalities,” “a bracing blend of lyrical Modernism, modern-jazz improvisation and postmodern sonic disruption.”
This new one sound like it furthers and refines that quest. Here, Almazan augments his fine working trio (bassist Linda Oh and drummer Henry Cole) with a string quartet (violinists Sara Caswell and Tomoko Omura, violist Karen Waltuch, and cellist Noah Hoffeld). He’d used that blend before, but never in such fully integrated and fleshed-out fashion. And this CD features vocals from Chilean singer/guitarist Camila Meza, whose presence and musicality is stirring.
The music sound like it has a story—a point of view—and it does. Almazan explained the title in his video: “A rhizome is the subterranean part of plant, able to survive year after year regardless of the conditions above ground. And you’ll see new shoots come out… I find that similar to what we go through in life. We endure obstacles and we’re able to come back.”
Almazan conceived the album’s regenerative theme, he said, during the days following the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in Newtown, Connecticut. The title track is a response to the shooting and other contemporary manifestations of irrational violence and global strife. “I came to embrace the idea that humanity is somehow all connected; we’re all nourished from the same rhizome.”
Almazan’s artistry is one of many nourishing shoots on modern music’s landscape.
I’d first encountered him in trumpeter Terence Blanchard’s quintet (he’s still in that group). Even in that context, and back when Almazan was still a teenager (he’s 29 now), I was struck by the fearlessness and originality of his playing, and the deep well from which he draws.
Blanchard once recalled for me a Hollywood Bowl concert soon after Almazan joined his band: Almazan’s introduction to an opening tune brought audience members to their feet before Blanchard played a single note. “Fabian pushes the envelope in ways that excite people,” he said.
Almazan was born and raised in Havana, Cuba. He was nine when his family left Cuba, first for Mexico and then, six months later, for Miami. Once relocated to Miami, Almazan studied with Cuban pianist Conchita Betancourt, who he said taught him “above all else, music needs to be honest.” In high school at Miami’s New World School of the Arts, he grew fascinated with jazz. After attending the Brubeck Institute, an undergraduate program in California, he enrolled at the Manhattan School of Music, where he studied with standard-bearing jazz pianists of two different generations, Kenny Barron and Jason Moran.
As I mentioned in last week’s Wall Street Journal “Cultural Conversation” piece with Blue Note Records president Don Was, Almazan’s forthcoming album represents a new collaboration between the storied Blue Note label and the fan-funded ArtistShare platform (which is home to, among others, Maria Schneider’s Grammy-winning work).
I’m honestly not quite sure what that means in business terms. But if it helps bring artists like Almazan to wider audiences, more power to it.