Homero Alvarez Sep7ett Pulls You in from the Jump

Guitarist, composer and leader Homero Alvarez calls his ensemble “some of the best musicians in Stockholm playing new Latin jazz.” This is no lie. His combo has just released its self-named EP where the musical intelligence is strong, the sound is imaginative and the vibe is spirited. There are only three songs but they pack… Continue Reading →

Homero Alvarez c Nina Varumo2

Guitarist, composer and leader Homero Alvarez calls his ensemble “some of the best musicians in Stockholm playing new Latin jazz.”

This is no lie. His combo has just released its self-named EP where the musical intelligence is strong, the sound is imaginative and the vibe is spirited.

There are only three songs but they pack a punch (and more is promised this fall). “Blanca” is light and fizzy, inviting feet to dance without self-consciousness. It has a definitive Latin vibe while breaking ranks with a thick-and-kickin’ keyboard solo. Digging deeper, the assertive rhythm of “Life Hack” flirts with a minor mode, adds unexpected chord changes, and emerges into horn-driven brilliance, but deceptive cadences abound and more modulations bubble up; maybe the “hack” here is taking new routes. “Sӧdermalm” (an island in central Stockholm) is cohesive, bubbly and fun.

The group consists of:

Homero Alvarez on guitar; Karl Olandersson – trumpet; Karin Hammar – trombone; Arnold Rodriguez – piano; Juan Patricio Mendoza – bass; Ola Bothzén – drums and Andreas Ekstedt – percussion.

How does the Latin jazz vibe go so well in the Swedish market?

We are just about to see!

Latin jazz is more considered to be a mix of jazz and rhythms from Cuba or Puerto Rico. Our thing is more general – the whole continent. We’ve done a lot of Brazilian music thoughout the years, samba, Baião and mixes with rhythms from Colombia and Uruguay (Cumbia & Candombe), everything blended with our compositions and improvisations.. So how will it work in Sweden? 

Sweden has an open heart to South America since the 70s, at least. Musically Sweden also has many famous artists like Cornelis Vreeswijk and Lill Lindfors who’ve had important collaborations with Latin American musicians in the 1960s. I believe I follow this tradition and will probably make some genuine stuff of it. 

What’s the biggest challenge of running a jazz club?

Mornington LIVE is situated in the great Mornington Hotel. I handle the programming, choose the bands and keep it alive in every way. We’ve been presenting shows for six years now and I would easily say that it is the second biggest in Stockholm. The biggest challenge in the beginning was simply to get people there and I would say that we managed it all through social media and friends. 

However, due to the pandemic, we shut down in the middle of March and plan to open again in September, which would be wonderful. 

What’s the first song you wrote for the new EP? What emotions do you want to communicate?

I think “Blanca” was the first one. It’s my first daughter’s middle name. I wrote the song many years ago but did the arrangement for the septet just before entering the studio. 

I wanted to create an up-tempo feeling for all three songs.

What was the production process like?

Not tough at all. The recordings went well. We recorded first as a quartet with guitar, keys, bass and drums. Then we added the horns and percussion. But they all played so well that it’s been more a pleasure than anything else. 

Your favorite thing about being a composer, band leader and guitarist?

Being in strong contact with music is my ultimate top. It’s the best thing there is. And the combination of all these roles is the best.

I’m just miss playing live. That’s what we all are longing for. Our first planned gig will be at the Stockholm Jazz festival in October. 

How did the musicians help you achieve the right sound?

I’ve worked for many years with a quartet called Latin the Mood that had a similar approach. There we had alto saxophone and we added trombone and trumpet to the combo.

It’s important to choose people you’ve worked with for many years.

Other comments?

We are struggling to reach out. As an independent label during this pandemic period it’s very much about the internet. We are just now recording four new songs which we plan to release in September or October.

My idea is one more digital release digital and after that a full length vinyl to offer the audiences when we go live. 

For more information, visit www.homeroalvarez.com.

Photos courtesy of and with permission of Homero Alvarez. Second photo (c) Nina Varumo.
© Debbie Burke 2020

COATNEY 6x9 front cover FINAL

 

Beauty Tinged with Hope: Hannah Baiardi’s “What Will Our Children Say”

A soft and sweet piano intro sweeps open the curtains, allowing vocalist Hannah Baiardi to sing her latest release, “What Will Our Children Say.” A paean of positivity, the song is socially current and pointedly asks what kind of world we are leaving to our progeny. Baiardi deftly navigates this simple melody with imaginative lyrics… Continue Reading →

Hannah Baiardi CD

A soft and sweet piano intro sweeps open the curtains, allowing vocalist Hannah Baiardi to sing her latest release, “What Will Our Children Say.” A paean of positivity, the song is socially current and pointedly asks what kind of world we are leaving to our progeny. Baiardi deftly navigates this simple melody with imaginative lyrics and a catchy chord progression. If you look to her 2018 EP “The Quietest Place” her versatility is plain to see: she can go funky, bluesy and hip, playing originals and standards alike, one shining example being “The Nearness of You” which brims with emotion and is full of her trademark phrasing.

Why did you write “What Will Our Children Say”?

I wanted to use this song to point out the volatile times we’re living in and how sometimes one can take solace in looking to the next generation. I see young climate activists and social/civil right leaders emerge fiery and ready for change. Their drive inspired me to write this rally cry – this song to encourage people to take action and listen to the children and young leaders for solutions and optimism. This song asks us to acknowledge that decades of climate leadership inaction add up.

The message hits home when you stop and consider our survival and our children’s survival – right down to the air we breathe.

I believe we are truly living in a new age. We’ve turned a corner in history. Look at the nature of our responses to elections, pandemics and environmental/political crises. You see rallies, emerging leaders, group meditations, mobilizing social media campaigns, and musicians who are advocates as much as artists. Look at the number of young leaders emerging like Greta Thunberg and Helena Gualinga. I tried to hear their voices in my head as I wrote the lyrics.

What are your favorite types of songs for performance- ballads, torch songs, etc.?

In college, I was known as the B&B girl – I loved bossas and ballads – that’s my wheelhouse in the jazz idiom. The unique arrangements, like throwing in a conga instead of a drum set, are my favorite types of switch-ups. I also love oldies from the 80s and creating unique arrangements of them, the music my mom and dad grew up listening to and was blasted on the boombox when I was a toddler. Childhood nostalgia informs so much of my music. 

How would you describe your voice?

I began studying voice much later than piano, when I was in high school. From a teen until now, my voice has changed dramatically. In my 20s, I think I am finally learning how to find my voice and my style which is very exciting, thanks to the excellent mentorship I’ve received. I would describe it as soulful and sultry with tinges of Sadé, Norah Jones and a hint of Sarah MacLachlan, depending on the style. 

 In your earlier work, “The Quieter Place,” how did you choose the songs?

It was a compilation of mostly original compositions written during my time as a college student at the University of Michigan. A collaborative effort of U-M music students, it was a very special experience to produce an album as an undergraduate using the University’s famed Duderstadt recording studio. The songs each told a story or shared a message about spreading unity, sharing our light and coming together. Other songs stemmed from personal stories and coming-of-age experiences. 

What was it like to work surrounded by such instrumentally diverse talent on this EP?

“The Quietest Place” was a highly collaborative effort. The producer, Avery Bruni, is now out in California and has gone on to be a successful audio engineer and producer. At the time, everyone was a student. My mission was to collaborate across the genre-divide, with musicians from classical backgrounds and jazz alike. In keeping with the theme of unity, cross-discipline improvisation played a large part in the creation of the album. Each collaborator was also a friend and well-respected colleague of varying degrees, ages and backgrounds. It was quite a unique project and I’m grateful for everyone’s contributions.

What do you want for audiences to get out of your music?

My goal as an artist is to lighten someone’s day through sonic escape. If my music can alleviate stress, strengthen relationships or provide a moment of joy or wonder or pause, then I am happy. Music is such a mysterious and personal experience and is different for everyone, I just hope my lyrics and melodies can bring about a sense of heightened awareness and peace.

What other projects are you working on?

Currently, I am wrapping up the recording for my upcoming album “Straight from the Soul,” which will debut late fall 2020. It is entirely self-produced and will be recorded at Ann Arbor’s one-and-only Solid Sound Studio. Again, collaboration plays a large role in the album. Re-imagined arrangements, original songs and an homage to Carole Bayer Sager, Alan and Marilyn Bergman and Michel LeGrand, it will feature songs near and dear to my heart with a fresh, modern twist. I am very excited to release this album!

Other comments?

I try to reach a diverse cross-section of listeners and adapt my music for different contexts, such as live performance, rally songs, television and movie, and podcasts. I try to create music that is listenable and accessible to a diverse cross-section of music lovers. I also try to remain original to my voice and sound, and yet it is increasingly challenging to be original these days, as young artists are so often compared to another artist, genre or “put in a box.”

My mission is to be true to my ever-evolving sound and channel the purest form of my musicality. While I can’t control how I’m categorized or who I am compared to, I hope my music helps listeners cope, moves them or brings them some measure of joy.

For more information, visit www.hannahbaiardi.com/

Photos courtesy of and with permission of Hannah Baiardi.
© Debbie Burke 2020

Glissando ad McAllister

Deep Breath, Fresh Air up on “Lilac Hill” with Sukyung Kim

Don’t let the delicate title fool you. Yes, there is a very pretty grace about the music on Sukyung Kim’s newest album “Lilac Hill,” but she can pivot and deliver hearty and hale, confident and stately. Warm vibes flow off “Stargazers” which swings and meanders. Her piano is focal but inclusive, proving tight interplay with… Continue Reading →

Sukyung Kim CD Cover Lilac Hill

Don’t let the delicate title fool you. Yes, there is a very pretty grace about the music on Sukyung Kim’s newest album “Lilac Hill,” but she can pivot and deliver hearty and hale, confident and stately.

Warm vibes flow off “Stargazers” which swings and meanders. Her piano is focal but inclusive, proving tight interplay with all voices is easily accomplished. The more pensive “Summer Days” has a drifting, muted quality, smooth and light. Wait for “Bluebird” to break out: the sax firmly takes its space and again, Kim on piano is able to express herself with an intimate understanding of every key, both the black and white ones and the chordal ones. Stirring it up even more, the sax the grabs the melody and runs with it. There’s some counterpoint going on in the second half of the title song “Lilac Hill” where each layer is tasted all at once until a quick surprise stop. The music resumes for a short bit, then ends almost mid-phrase, leaving the palate still wanting.

When and how did you first have the thought to make this album?

I’ve always liked composing and wanted to share my music with a broader audience. One of the classes that I took at NYU was a studio recording class. Each student gets a day to use the Dolan studio at NYU and needs to turn in the results as the final project. I thought it could be an opportunity to finally record what I want and make it into an album.

Is there an overall theme throughout these tracks, or are they related in some other way?

I wanted to write about the feelings and images that I’ve had for a while. I am inspired by the things that really happened to me. Composing feels very similar to writing a diary, except that I can express things that I can’t describe with words. All five tracks are very nostalgic in that sense.

What was the biggest challenge during production?

Self-doubt. I remember that I was scared to listen to my playing after the studio recording session. Even in the process of mixing and mastering, I kept asking myself why I should release the album. I was afraid that I might regret later about releasing the album. Then I took some time off from listening to the tracks so that I could stop judging myself. After a few months, I simply decided to share them.

Why do you find the piano the right instrument for self-expression?

The piano feels very natural to me, probably because I’ve played the piano since I was very young. The more I play, the more I like the feel of touching the wood in certain ways and what a good piano sounds like. It’s satisfying and therapeutic in a special way. I also like that it is a melodic, rhythmic and harmonic instrument and it has the widest range of all instruments. I like that it makes me learn new possibilities.

What do the musicians contribute to the overall flavor of this CD?

I remember changing the arrangements every time we had rehearsal. Each of these musicians had qualities that I admire so much and I wanted to find ways that would really display them. They suggested ideas that I would not have thought of and some of the tunes sound totally different from the way I imagined when I was writing them, but I really like the results.

What was the most useful part of your early music training that you’ve never forgotten?

One of my early classical piano teachers always told me to sing the melodies when I was playing the piano. I remember that I hated this exercise because I was very shy. But later on, I realized that singing while playing the piano really helped me to be more musical and lyrical. Also, I always start by singing a melody in the composition process.

How did you find yourself moving from classical to jazz and what do you like most about improvisation?

My mindset has changed a lot. I used to have a lot of pressure to play written music without missing a note because I was a piano player playing someone else’s compositions.

As a jazz musician, however, there is so much more freedom in making choices. Jazz to me is about communicating with other musicians and with audiences and learning the language and history. I was first interested in jazz because I was simply drawn towards the liveliness and intuitiveness that jazz had. I like that there is not a distinction between composing and playing in improvisation. And I’ve always wanted to be both a player and a composer.

How do you feel about releasing this, your first CD?

Honestly, I am both happy and nervous to share my music with the world, knowing that it will be the first thing that somebody will hear when they click my name. I’ve decided to consider it as just the beginning. Getting feedback from listeners has been a great experience and I want to use that energy to keep moving forward.

For more information, visit www.suekimmusic.com.

Photos courtesy of and with permission of Sukyung Kim.

© Debbie Burke 2020

2 book ad

Tribute to a Friend: Alfred Sergel IV Remembers “Brother John”

John Alexander The just-released single “Brother John” from composer and drummer Alfred Sergel IV is a broth of inspiration, affection and the acknowledgement of a unique talent not to be forgotten. Released as an entry into the tiny desk concert contest in April of this year, the song soars with hope as it celebrates his… Continue Reading →

Alfred Sergel single cover

John Alexander from Alfred Sergel interview

John Alexander

The just-released single “Brother John” from composer and drummer Alfred Sergel IV is a broth of inspiration, affection and the acknowledgement of a unique talent not to be forgotten.

Released as an entry into the tiny desk concert contest in April of this year, the song soars with hope as it celebrates his friend and fellow musician John Alexander, who passed away in 2017. The song has a world music feel where intelligent percussion is woven with clean vocal harmonies. It shimmers in its simplicity and peaceably emits rays of light and love outward.

How would you describe the effect John Alexander’s music has had on your own career and your sound in jazz?

John was one of the top players in Charlotte, NC. He and Ron Brendle (bassist) gave me my start in the jazz scene in Charlotte. His band “Brothers” played the Piccolo Spoleto festival and many others. It was a great experience because, in that band, we played John’s original music and I think that planted a seed within me to continue promoting original jazz music within the Charlotte scene.

What did you want to communicate in this new release?

“Brother John” is me, musically, processing life and death.  The song writing process started spontaneously the morning I got the news that John was diagnosed with cancer. I went to pray for John and his family and I felt compelled to sit at my old upright piano. Within a minute or so, the left-hand piano line just wrote itself. As a contemplative person, I often have more questions than answers, but ultimately, in this process, I started to embrace both the joy and sorrow of my emotions as a growing process; a way of growing as a human being. 

Why did you collab with these musicians in particular?

It made sense to use John Ray on bass. John played bass on my EP and my single “Y Closed”. He has a great recording setup at his house and he knows my vibe.  Martin Bejerano and I were scheduled to play a trio concert together back in May. It got canceled due to COVID, so I thought it was perfect timing to collaborate with him. Martin and I were roommates in college and played nonstop back then. We’ve always had a natural connection musically and I was thrilled they he could record on this single. His solo gives me chill bumps.

How do the drums speak through you?

Short answer, I don’t really know.

With my original music, the drum parts are usually the toughest part for me. I want them to make musical sense and work well with the composition. In that way, I think more like a pop drummer than a jazz drummer. I want the main drum parts to have a signature of sorts. There are times that I am spontaneous, but “Brother John” had a lot of re-writes in the drum parts. 

Are there particular melodic or rhythmic elements that are important to you that you like to use in your music?

Melody is everything to me. When I hear a beautiful melody by an artist, I am inspired and my imagination soars. Melody for me is like words to a storyteller. I’m trying to tell a story with my melodies. More often than not, it’s a story of hope.

What excites you most about being a jazz musician today?

What excites me the most about being a musician today – in any genre – is the diversity of expression. I constantly have to remind myself to “take the lid off” of my thinking; that I’m not bound by any formulas or standards. 

My only limitation is me and knowing that inspires me to try new ways of expressing myself through my music.

For more information, visit https://mailchi.mp/200a44966506/alfredsergeliv.
Photos courtesy of and with permission of Alfred Sergel IV. Third photo John Alexander © WFAE/Charlotte, NC.
© Debbie Burke 2020

2 book ad

The Steps of a Life’s Journey: “Totem” with Ferdinando Romano

Bassist Ferdinando Romano’s debut as a front man in the new CD called “Totem” is proof he has the chops to create a variety of textures and flavors, coaxing the very best from his ensemble. “Mirrors” has the quality of a band tuning up/coming together, its independent melodic fragments sprinkled skillfully;  “Evocation” gives Romano the… Continue Reading →

Ferdinando Romano CD cover

Bassist Ferdinando Romano’s debut as a front man in the new CD called “Totem” is proof he has the chops to create a variety of textures and flavors, coaxing the very best from his ensemble.

“Mirrors” has the quality of a band tuning up/coming together, its independent melodic fragments sprinkled skillfully;  “Evocation” gives Romano the floor and airspace to explore – serene and measured – the fretboard’s full bounty. “Wolf Totem” graces the listener with a gentle piano intro which blooms into fullness as the horns enter like a sunrise. The song finally takes on more energy, bursting out jaggedly from the now sharp, sibilant horns. “Curly” keeps its identity as a thought piece, ethereal and calm.

“Totem” is a kind of sonic diary of who Romano is and where he’s been, and if this music is that true representation, he has visited some lovely and unexpected places.

What inspired you to re-imagine yourself as a front man on this CD?

This album comes from a very personal creative process. I’ve been part of many musical projects as a sideman or as a co-leader, but I felt the need to create something that could really represent me. My musical experiences are varied with classical, jazz, baroque, rock, and I wanted to write music that synthesized them all. I wanted to write completely freely and with no limitations.

That’s how I chose this name for the album, because I think that artistically each of us has his own totems, references and musical experiences. A single “totem” can give life to a much bigger one, something that is much more than the sum of the parts and that represents the creative synthesis of our musical personality, giving birth to something new.

How does your perspective as a bassist help you compose for the whole ensemble?

When you are a bassist you see everything in music from the bottom, that means that you think strongly in terms of harmony, take good care of the bass lines and give importance to counterpoint. Basically these are the pillars of my music writing. In this band I concentrated more in driving the band in the directions that I wanted as a composer more than putting the bass in the first place. But still the choice of arranging for horns that are mostly in the high register kept a whole range of frequencies in the bottom and middle register free for my bass playing.

Also, being a bass player, I wanted most of the tunes to have a certain groove or definite bass line as a reference, even in the freer moments.

Do you write around a melody first, or around a chordal structure, or a rhythm or something else?

It depends. I may start from a melodic idea, a harmonic set or a bass line. Most of the times I sit at the piano, especially for harmonic writing and arranging, and then I develop the ideas on paper or on a notation software in my computer.

It also depends on where I am in that specific moment. If I am at home I have all my instruments at my disposal but if I am touring I don’t have a piano and sometimes I can play bass only at the performance at night. In these cases I usually try to think of the music and write it down on my computer, and sometimes the result is even better. I also keep a notebook where I write down my melodic and harmonic ideas or arrangement tips I find by listening to an album or a song.

What was the best part of production of your new CD?

I had a very intense time writing the music but the best part was when we got to the recording session. We were in Stefano Amerio’s amazing studio in Udine and the atmosphere was very creative and relaxed. We had great fun together and the music came out with no effort. The vibe with Ralph was great and we found a good feeling inside and outside the studio. He’s really a great musician. I also enjoyed, in the process of the production, choosing the artwork and writing the liner notes to tell the stories behind the music. I like to think about an album as an artistic creation in its totality, not only the music but also the design and the stories you want to tell people.

What is your advice to new bassists?

Well, studying is very important, it’s a never-ending process that always feeds you with new ideas. And the more you go on, the more you realize how many new things you discover and want to get better at.

As my academic studies were mostly classical I think that it’s very important for any bassist to dig into it, for the instrumental technique of course, but also for developing your ear and musicality.

In jazz I would suggest not to focus only on the great musicians of our time that fascinate us but to go deep in the knowledge of the jazz tradition. It’s very interesting because you discover how the language on your instrument developed and changed in time and very often you are surprised about how much “old” bass players where incredibly modern. Every great musician of our days comes from there and it’s a fundamental process to find your own voice.

Also never forget to follow your instincts and play the music that lights a fire in you, and never give up.

Other comments?

It’s certainly a strange moment for releasing music. All the concerts are cancelled and we don’t know when we will actually be able to start playing live again. I believe though that especially in these moments music can be very important to relieve people. When I speak with friends or neighbors, especially non-musicians, very often they tell me how much they need music, art and beauty in these days to feel good in their homes.

As musicians we have to think about new strategies for surviving. Giving lesson online can be very important of course, but we also need to find new ways to get music around and maybe we should try to push the streaming services to give us more money for the copyright. Many ideas are on the table, and everything is still in process, but for sure, nothing can ever substitute the joy of playing live so we hope that things will get better soon for everybody.

For more information, visit www.ferdinandoromano.com.

Photos courtesy of and with permission of Ferdinando Romano.
(c) Debbie Burke 2020

2 book ad