In my music, I aim to strike a balance between the structural clarity of classical music and the moment-to-moment interaction of improvisation, between rhythmic complexity and groove. I like to draw connections between the seemingly disparate musical traditions of the Americas and revel in the multi-layered, color-rich, and unexpected hybrids resulting from combining ethnic rhythms, modern western harmony, and jazz improvisation. The resulting sound is sophisticated, energizing, uplifting, and grooving; one which evokes images in the listener.
Aesthetically, I'm most concerned with directness, simplicity, and economy. I strive to communicate concisely, to get to the heart of the matter by making every note count, just as every word counts in a good story. I think of music as a living art, something that is in constant evolution.
Three overarching interests and themes guide and inform my work as pianist, improviser, and composer: the varied and diverse musical traditions of the Americas, their interconnectedness and integration with the jazz tradition, numerology, and meditative practice. These interests are perhaps best reflected in three bodies of work: Venezuelan Suite, Sorrows & Triumphs, and House of Numbers. All three works I created with support from Chamber Music America's New Jazz Works program, funded by the generosity of the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation.
Heard in my work as pianist/improviser are the influences of modern master improvisers such as Miles Davis, Keith Jarret, and Chick Corea. Influential composers include minimalists such as Steve Reich and Phillip Glass, and Latin American composers such as Alberto Ginastera, Egberto Gismonti and Aldemaro Romero. The use of repetition and the idea of exploiting a simple motif to its fullest potential has always attracted me. I delight in the challenge presented by maintaining, with only minimal alterations, a simple, two or three-note idea through harmonic progressions, and the multiple rhythmic layers created by superimposing them over changing time meters.
The music of Latin America, with its infectious polyrhythms, poetry, and passion, has always been a great resource. It offers an ocean of rhythmic and melodic possibilities. In essence, I strive to create structures that set the stage for dynamic interactions from improvisers by combining grooves -which make listeners want to get up from their seat- with pure, singable melodies and contemporary harmonies.
A career-long growing interest in the folk music of Venezuela led to forming Ensemble Venezuela, a project for the exploration of the marriage between Venezuelan music and American jazz through the creation of new works and arrangements of existing works by Venezuelan masters such as Aldemaro Romero, Pedro Elias Gutierrez and Simón Díaz. Venezuelan Suite was born from a desire to consolidate my cultural heritage, love for classical music, and experience as a jazz musician. Through its four movements, each based on a different Venezuelan music genre: joropo, merengue, vals and gaita, the piece gives way to a rare meeting between virtuosic folk and jazz improvisers, while offering listeners a glimpse of the beauty in Venezuelan music. The rhythmic vitality of Venezuelan music and spirited abandonment of folk musicians inspires a most riveting exchange between improvisers, resulting in a captivating experience for Venezuelan and American audiences. "Venezuelan Suite" inspired the creation of a series of abstract paintings by artist Ellen Priest: "Jazz Paintings on Paper: Improvisations on the Venezuela Suite."
A long-held and continued interest in Theravada Buddhism and meditation practice has informed much of my work. The parallels between Buddhist and jazz practices, and the complimentariness of mindfulness and creative practices, as suggested by the surprisingly high number of practicing Buddhists among jazz musicians and musicians among monastics, is an area of research interest. When coming across the practices called the four Brahma Viharas, I began to consider for the first time how music could bring about more joy into the world. This notion inspired a collection of pieces for jazz ensemble that speak more directly to our hearts. Collectively called Sorrows and Triumphs, these pieces were created using simple, repeating riffs and harmonies, singable melodies, and lyrics reflecting Buddhist themes and principles.
Numbers play a significant role in our everyday lives, but do they really? Moreover, how? Do they evoke images of a time and space? Or perhaps of a particular event or emotion? These are some of the questions I seek to answer in House of Numbers, a series of pieces for jazz quartet and wind quintet, exploring what meaning a given number may have for me and its potential implications in musical composition. A given number frames each of the pieces. "Uninvited Thoughts" is based on the number 4, a number which evokes images of symmetrical forms and a sense of calmed solidity. "Triangle," is based on the number 5, which to me invites movement, playfulness, and suggests asymmetry and angularity.
My current project and newest recording Sorrows and Triumphs showcases the long-running virtuoso quartet Afinidad and the acclaimed chamber quintet Imani Winds, plus special guests including vocalist Gretchen Parlato. It brings together the distinct and often exclusive worlds of jazz and classical music, challenging chamber musicians to stretch their improvising and interpretive skills, while inviting jazz musicians into the formal structures of classical music.
"Venezuela Unida" reflects a growing concern for the social-political issues surrounding Venezuela. The people of Venezuela are undergoing a severe crisis. The Bolivarian Diaspora, the largest recorded refugee crisis in the Americas, refers to the emigration of millions of Venezuelans from their native country during the presidency of Hugo Chávez and Nicolas Maduro due to the Bolivarian Revolution. "Venezuela Unida," commissioned in 2015 by the Afro Latin Jazz Alliance for the Grammy Award-winning Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra, is a call for unity, freedom, peace, and justice. In this piece, I make use of indigenous musical instruments such as the Venezuelan maracas and the culo'e puya - a set of three drums found in Afro-Venezuelan music traditions. Following this theme, in the future, I envision a collaborative, multidisciplinary work incorporating Afro-Venezuelan dance, spoken word, and projected images to help convey the sharp divisiveness and class struggle in Venezuelan society. Potential funders for this project include Creative Capital and MAP Fund.
The years ahead will highlight my work as pianist and improviser through new works, performances and recordings of music ranging from classical, jazz, Venezuelan, improvised, and new music. In my role as curator for the San Francisco Performances Salon Series, in the spring of 2020, I will offer two solo piano performances, a duo concert with flutist Marco Granados and a chamber music concert. These programs will include the piano works of Federico Mompou, a solo piano jazz program of original and improvised music, a program of music by various Venezuelan composers arranged for piano and flute, and chamber works by Astor Piazzolla.
I am tremendously excited about the potential collaborations and projects that will come about as a result of a new role as Creative Advisor for the San Francisco Contemporary Music Players for the period of 2019-2021. SFCMP is one of the most active ensembles in the United States dedicated to contemporary music and play an important role in the regional and national cultural landscape. I will conceive a new work which blurs the lines between free improvisation and written material and explores the interplay between them. With me as featured improviser, I will explore new territory by allowing sonic environments to guide my improvisations. These sonic environments - created using electronics, sound samples, and loops in combination with acoustic instruments - will serve as points of origination/arrival for improvised sections. Continuing a now ten-year-long tenure with the all-star SFJAZZ Collective, I will be composing a self-featuring new work for their 2020-2021 season.