Home Interviews In Conversation with Guitarist, Composer, Improviser, Painter Gabriel Vicéns

In Conversation with Guitarist, Composer, Improviser, Painter Gabriel Vicéns

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TOMAS PEÑA: Greetings, Gabriel! Congratulations on The Way We are Created. I trust you and your loved ones are well. 

GABRIEL VICÉNS: Like everyone else, I’m home, taking the necessary precautions. For obvious reasons, I’m reluctant to perform in a live setting. Also, I’m teaching online. 

TP: This is your second album for Greg Osby’s Inner Circle music, a label dedicated to the “promotion and cultivation of individualism through inspired, self-produced works.” 
 
GV: Yes, my first album for Inner Circle is Days. When I presented the concept for The Way We are Created, Greg OK’d it, no questions asked.
 
TP: You are fortunate to have the support and creative freedom! Also, you receive support from Jochi Davila’s non-profit San Juan-based organization, 71 Associates, which specializes in “helping experimental musicians.” Why did you chose to release The Way We Are Created at this particular time?
 
GV: There were moments when I asked myself if this was the right time, but I arrived at the idea art is a relieving outlet for people. Also, it builds community and comforts pain. I feel good about it.
 
TP: As well you should. Music is a healer. What’s the significance of the title?
 
GV: It’s a reflection of how all living beings (humans) are created to be naturally inventive, imaginative, and creative.
 
TP: The Press Release says, “The guitarist expands his musical expression by mixing bomba and plena rhythms from his native Puerto Rico with his unique brand of jazz.”
 
GV: Yes, it’s a project I’ve wanted to do. The music you hear on this record is authentic to my roots and comes directly from my life 
 
TP: Obviously, artists such as William Cepeda, Papo Vazquez, David Sanchez, and Furito Rios (among others) mix traditional Puerto Rican rhythms with jazz. What strikes me about your interpretation is, with the exception of a few tracks, the percussive elements (barriles de Bomba) are perceptible but not dominant. Let’s analyze Caribeño Pensador and City of Many Mysteries.
 
GV: Caribeño Pensador is one of three interludes. It’s a duet between the electric guitar and the Barril de Bomba. The guitar is improvising over a bomba rhythm called Yubá Masón. For me, Caribeño Pensador and (the track) Retorno are important because it’s the most direct interaction between the electric guitar and the Barril de Bomba. When I close my eyes, and I hear the sound of the Barril, it brings me instantly to Puerto Rico. Even though these instruments come from different places, you can hear how well they relate to one another and because I’m from Puerto Rico, my way of playing the guitar is connected to my roots. The last composition, The Mystery of S.T., has elements of (Cuban) Changüí not only in improvisation but also in composition. For example, when I start with the montuno on the guitar and other sections of the piece, the Changui influence is evident. I’ve been studying Changui since I came to NY. When I arrived here, I played with (bassist) John Benitez. He talked a lot about the genre, which motivated me to study it since there aren’t any jazz guitarists doing that. So there is a lot of influence from Changüí in the improvisations where I use the guajeo/montuno to improvise on The Upcoming, A City of Many Mysteries, Definite Purpose, To The Unknown, and The Mystery of S.T.
 
Pat Lipsky, my mentor at The Art Students League teaches, “all the parts of the canvas are equal.” Also, Schoenberg speaks of creating music without hierarchy and using serialism, which is another style of music I love. I feel the same way about music. Even though the compositions are based on bomba and plena folklore, the percussion is on the same plane as the instruments. Also, the listener hears a wide range of dynamics. I like to think of it as musical democracy!
 
TP: Well said! I should mention, you composed all the tracks. Also, saxophonist, composer, arranger, Grammy Award nominee, and Mac Arthur Fellow, Miguel Zenon, is the co-producer.
 
GV: Yes, Miguel co-produced and mixed the album.
 
TP: Tell me about the band.
 
GV: On the alto saxophone is Roman Filiú. He’s one of the first musicians I met when I arrived in NYC, so we connected and became friends. Also, he has been a member of my group since 2017. On the piano is Glenn Zaleski, an amazing pianist and composer. I really like his touch on the piano and his sensibility, and he is always listening and reacting. On bass is Rick Rosato. I met Rick through Roman Filiu, who spoke highly of him. Rick is amazing because he is solid with the time and very creative, and always listening and supportive. On drums is E.J. StricklandI knew about E.J. before I came to NY. Also, I’ve been listening to him and his music so he is one of those musicians I’ve always wanted to play with and also I knew he’s been checking the bomba and plena thing for a while which was very important to me. Last but not least, Victor Román in the percussion. Victor is from Puerto Rico, but we met in NYC during a recording session with drummer Fernando GarcíaWe both play in Fernando’s group as sidemen and other groups. Vic is an amazing percussionist and a friend. He is creative and a hard worker.
 
TP: As evidenced by the powerful cover art, which is your creation. 
 
GV: As a child, I loved the arts. In New York, I joined the Arts Student League of New York and worked with the renowned artist Pat Lipsky. In 2018, I was invited to participate in the group exhibition Dislexia Geografica at The Clemente Soto Velez Cultural and Educational Center, which featured a wide variety of artists from Latin America. Currently, I’m working on a project where I’m composing music inspired by my paintings.
 
TP: No doubt, you are familiar with the series, Pintando Al Ritmo de Jazz, where musicians and painters interact on the same stage. I’m curious to know what drew you to the guitar?
 
VG: I grew up listening to Soda Stereo, Gustavo Cerati, The Smashing Pumpkins, Pearl Jam, Nine Inch Nails, Nirvana, the Stone Temple Pilots, and The Cranberries. The electric guitar came because rock bands feature electric guitars. I thought it looked cool and sounded terrific. Also, since my brother played (classical) piano, I wanted to learn another instrument. I have vivid memories of walking around at 6 am every day and watching MTV and VH1 music videos. Also, I bought a lot of soundtracks. My mom took me to the movies every Saturday, and cinema has always been a big part of my life. My dad listened to Ismael Rivera, Frankie Ruiz, Hector Lavoe, and Willie Colon. These experiences were a significant influence on my musical sensitivity and taste. When I was about sixteen, I discovered jazz. My first albums were Joe Pass’s Virtuoso and John Coltrane’s Blue Train. I fell in love with the music and especially with the idea the solos were improvised. For me, improvisation was the most important fact. 
 
TP: I understand you are working towards a Doctorate.
 
GV: Yes, I’m working on my Doctorate at Stony Brook University. It’s a D.M.A. in Performance, in electric guitar, but I’m also concentrating on contemporary classical composition. My mentors are trombonist Ray Anderson (Performance) and Daria Semegen (Composition). I’m also studying independently with the Puerto Rican composer Carlos Cabrer and Lois V. Vierk and working on my next album, which is on the classical side.
 
TP: Looking forward! The Way We are Created will be released on January 15, 2021 (see Bandcamp pre-order link below). Thank you for speaking with Jazzdelapena.com.
 
RECOMMENDED LISTENING
  • G. Vicéns – Point in Time (Independent, 2012)
  • G. Vicéns – Days (Inner Circle, 2015)
  • No Base Trio (Setola de Maiale, 2020)
  • Fernando Garcia – Guasabara Puerto Rico (Zoho, 2018)
TRACKS: The Way We are Created; It Doesn’t Matter; Caribeno Pensador; The Upcoming; A City of Many Mysteries; Fuera de Mi Cuerpo; Definite Purpose; To the Unknown; Retorno; The Mystery of S.T.

PERSONNEL: Gabriel Vicens (guitar), Roman Filiu (alto-sax), Glenn Zaleski (piano), Rick Rosato (bass), E. J. Strickland (drums), Victor Pablo (percussion).

LABEL: Inner Circle

PRE-ORDER (via Bandcamp): https://gabrielvicens.bandcamp.com/album/the-way-we-are-created

RELEASE DATE: JANUARY 15, 2020

ARTIST WEBSITE: http://www.gabrielvicens.com

© 2020 Tomas Peńa – ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

 

A graduate of Empire State College with a dual major in journalism and Latin American studies, Editor-in-Chief Tomas Peña has spent years applying his knowledge and writing skills to the promotion of great musicians. A specialist in the crossroads between jazz and Latin music, Peña has written extensively on the subject. His writing appears on Latin Jazz Network; Chamber Music America magazine and numerous other publications.

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