In light of pianist, composer Alex Conde’s upcoming performance at Subrosa on May 22, 2017, I am reprinting an interview I conducted with him in 2015.
Tomas Peña: What attracted you to Thelonious Monk’s music?
Alex Conde: Monk is the most popular jazz musician of all time. He was the first jazz musician to appear on the cover of Time Magazine! And his music is unique. During the bebop era, many jazz musicians were imitating Charlie Parker’s high-speed style. Monk came out with a unique sound – medium up tempos, never too fast, and with the most special touch, the chord in cluster! His compositions are harmonically complex, but they always have a clear direction. What he created was unique; it set him apart from the jazz composers of his time. Although it took awhile for Monk’s music to receive the recognition it deserved, history finally recognized him as the most popular jazz pianist of all time.
As I understand it, the concept seeks to adapt Monk’s music to a “Buleria de Jerez” style.
Yes, it began with the tune, Played Twice. The “buleria de jerez” is the way bulerias are played in the region of Jerez, Cadiz (Spain). Not too fast, with a feel on the 3/4 combined with a 6/8, it’s hard to explain in words. Bulerias are free forms, improvised and played at parties; they are the most joyful palos in the flamenco style.
In the liner-notes, you state, “It would be sweet to see those 16th notes on the B section with a flamenco tap dancer!”
Yes. It’s something I would love to see one day. Monk’s rhythms and pulse are as unique as a flamenco dancer’s footwork – strong and tight.
What kind of challenges did you face?
Finding the right musicians, figuring out the versatility between musical styles and creating a coherent album that respects tradition. We play swing up-tempo, medium tempo, buleria, solea, Afro-Cuban 6/8 and Latin jazz. I was fortunate to have some of the best musicians in the Bay Area – Bassist Jeff Chambers, drummer John Arkin and special guest percussionist who plays on three tracks.
Tell me about the repertoire …
I chose the compositions because I connected with them and made them my own. As a result, I was able to reimagine them naturally.
I’m particularly fond of the way you interpret, “Round Midnight” and “Evidence.”
Thank you. It took me awhile to decide how to arrange the songs. On certain occasions, the music came to me quickly, which is always a good sign. On other times, finding an alternative interpretation was a process. In a case like that, I usually drop the song and move on to something else. If it takes too much time to arrange a song, it tends to sound forced and unnatural.
Tell me about the supporting cast and what each brought to the project.
Jon Arkin is a versatile drummer. He’s creative; his tempos are solid, and he plays on top of the beat, which is very important for me because it’s the way I like to “feel” the drums. He’s also an excellent Latin jazz player; his playing is flexible and in clave with a natural expression that blended perfectly with John Santos. Jeff Chambers is a veteran; he’s recorded and toured with Ahmad Jamal, Gonzalo Rubalcaba, Benny Golson and McCoy Tyner. He can play swing and Latin jazz like no one else, and his bebop solos are authentic. I feel honored to have him on the recording. John Santos is a master of percussion and the Afro-Cuban style. I collaborated with John and his sextet at a jazz venue in San Francisco, and I loved the vibe, and the energy, he projects. He puts the band in a comfortable mood to create music on the spot. We had a great time, and I can’t wait to share the stage with him again.
John Santos is an interesting choice, he’s not typically known for playing in this context.
I looked John up on the Internet, and I found an album he recorded at La Peña Cultural Center, where he played the cajon. His playing was extraordinary! It wasn’t the traditional Peruvian sound; it had a shaker sound, which is produced by putting guitars strings into the cajon. I totally fell in love with his sound! So, I just asked him to perform the cajon on that track, and he played great!
I believe the album, you’re referring to, is: “Musica Afro Caribeña, Cubana, and Peruana … 4 Maestros,” featuring Tito Gonzalez, Coco Linares, Pedro Rosales and John Santos. I’ll give it a listen.
Your mother and sister provide the compass (handclaps) and a little touch of home.
Yes, flamenco music is based on two elements, cante and voice (singing) and compas, which is palmas and jaleos. We recorded the claps on two tracks.
The sessions took place at the world-renowned Fantasy Studios, where Mc Coy Tyner, Bill Evans, Chick Corea and others have recorded in the past.
The pianos at Fantasy have such an old, beautiful sound. It’s so inspiring to be playing where these legends have recorded. Also, the staff is highly professional. In many situations our sound engineer, Adam Muñoz read my mind. The staff makes you feel at home; they have a long history and experience.
In retrospect, is there anything you would change?
I’m rarely satisfied with the results, but I’m happy with the recording. We had so much fun I would gladly do it all again!
Your take on the commonalities between American Blues and Spanish Flamenco is interesting.
Both came out of slavery and oppression; both come from vague resources of instrumentation. You can feel the black rhythm and the swing is the same.
Thank you, Alex. “Descarga for Monk” is an exceptional recording. I’ll close with Bill Minkowski’s liner notes, which sum up the album nicely, “This re-imagining of Monk’s music awakens the senses in a very profound way. It will make you sit up and shout “Ole!”
ALEX CONDE DISCOGRAPHY
Descarga for Monk (Zoho, 2015)
Barrio del Carmen (CD Baby, 2013)
Jazz & Claps (Contrasena Records, 2011)
ABOUT ALEX CONDE
Alex Conde was born into a family of artists indigenous to Spain. His father, Alejandro Conde, is a superstar singer in the style of “Cancion Española.”
Conde graduated in Classical music from the Jose Iturbi Conservatory of Music in Valencia, Spain and Piano Jazz by El Liceu de Barcelona. He moved to Boston in 2007 to attend the prestigious Berklee College of Music on a scholarship. While there, he studied with Danilo Perez, Wayne Shorter, Maria Schnieder, Joe Lovano, George Garzone, David Santor and Esperanza Spalding among others.
Conde released his first album, Jazz and Claps with artists from all over the world (Greece, U.S., Japan, Spain). In 2008, he was the recipient of the Berklee College of Music’s Jazz Revelation Award.
In 2009, after graduating from Berklee, Conde moved to San Francisco, where he collaborates with many Flamenco companies and artists such as Nino de Los Reyes, Jose Luis Rodriguez, Kina Mendez, Coral de Los Reyes and Jose Valle “Chuscales” among others.
Alex Conde has performed in Jazz and World Music festivals with top jazz artists such as John Pattituci, Danilo Perez, Dave Samuels, The Bad Plus and Wayne Shorter among others.
His unique style of traditional flamenco, classical technique and jazz makes him one of the foremost exponents of the genre.
Date – 05/22/2017
7:00 PM & 9:00 PM
Doors open at 6pm
Alex Conde – Leader, Piano
Luques Curtis – Bass
Jose Moreno – Percussion/Singer
Guillermo Barron – Percussion
Neli Tirado – Flamenco Dancer
ARTIST WEBSITE: www.alexconde.com