Fabian Almazan & Rhizome
Tuesday, March 6th, 8 p.m.| Fulkerson Recital Hall, HSU
"Very pretty and wildly ambitious."
—Ben Ratliff, New York Times
Like roots seeking water, the music of Fabian Almazan ventures beyond the jazz club and the concert hall and into the streets, forests, and subterranean worlds. The Cuban-born, Miami-raised, New York-based composer’s daredevil piano technique has supported established bandleaders like Terence Blanchard, Paquito D’Rivera, and David Sanchez. But in the context of his unique chamber ensemble Rhizome, Almazan’s adventurous sensibilities truly take flight, soaring through peaks and valleys as complex and sublime as the deep organic networks that give the band its name.
In botany, a rhizome is an underground stem that retains proteins and nutrients through the winter, sending out horizontal roots and shoots to create new plants above ground. It’s an unseen maze of movement, an intricate trove of nourishment and resilience. No surprise, then, that Almazan founded a record label, the Harlem-based Biophilia, that reflects not just his dedication to conservation and sustainability (the label’s motto is “Spinning Records Without the Vinyl,” and its artists commit to volunteering for local organizations that promote environmental causes) but also his fascination with living systems. “In school, teachers were kind of shocked when I brought up the fact that I cared about the environment and played jazz and classical music,” he told DownBeat magazine late last year. “Those things just weren’t encouraged in young, Hispanic men.”
His bent towards social and environmental justice is evident in Rhizome’s latest release, the breathtaking nine-movement suite Alcanza. Although the album encompasses a variety of musical influences, Almazan points specifically to the nueva trova, a lesser-known style of politically-oriented, post-revolution Cuban folk music typified by its egalitarian and anti-colonial themes. Alcanza translates as “Reach,” and its Spanish-language lyrics are a call to do just that. While they reflect on moments of self-discovery and personal change in relation to the natural world, they also raise more basic issues of identity. “I hope that young Latino and Hispanic boys and girls view this album as an inspiration to aspire towards everything in life they want to,” Almazan says, in a recent interview with Latin Jazz Corner. “They should not have to think of themselves as anything other than equal to every single other human being in the world.”
A spirit of synergism also informs Almazan’s compositional and performance ethic. “A rhizome,” he says, “is a metaphor for life. As people, we are individual and unique, yet we are all connected in a way that is not visible on the surface of things. We are all Espejos (the title of one of Almazan’s compositions), or reflections of each other.” In the band Rhizome, then, no instrument is relegated to a subaltern role; each takes a turn at reaching out, leading, and guiding; all are subsumed into a single glorious ecology. Chilean guitarist and vocalist Camila Meza (of Ryan Keberle & Catharsis) has won international acclaim for her expressive blend of folk-infused jazz. Australian bassist Linda May Han Oh—a rising star who brought her own “Sun Pictures” quartet to Arcata a few years back (and who has since filled the bass chair in groups led by Dave Douglas and Pat Metheny) and Puerto Rican drummer Henry Cole (first seen in these parts as a member of the Miguel Zenón Quartet) add an even greater diversity of cosmopolitan influences and experiences. For this concert, co-presented with the HSU Department of Music, Rhizome is rounded out by the Arcata Bay String Quartet: Cindy Moyer, Karen Davy, Sherry Hansen, and Garrick Woods.
Almazan, who has training in both classical and jazz traditions, studied with the great jazz pianist Kenny Barron at the Manhattan School of Music. He has scored films for Spike Lee and George Lucas, and he topped the “Rising Star Pianist” category in the prestigious DownBeat Critics’ Poll in 2014, the same year he was awarded a “New Jazz Works” grant from Chamber Music America. In Alcanza, he works to unite nature, humanity, and music in a common goal. “My hope with this music,” he says, “is the same as it has always been: to try to help people. I simply want to provide listeners with an opportunity to open up their hearts and minds and feel something. The subtleties and intricacies of human emotion find their path through music.”
Tickets ($15 General Admission, $10 Students & Seniors) are available here at our website and at People's Records, Wildwood Music, Wildberries, and The Works.
Fabian Almazan & Rhizome will also present an open, pre-concert public workshop at 1:00 p.m. on Tuesday, March 6th in Music 131 (across the walkway from Fulkerson Recital Hall). People of all levels of experience are welcome to attend, and admission is FREE.
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