Different Roots: an espresso with Rodrigo Faina

Image Credits: Rodrigo Faina © Kaothic Alice

March 23, 2021

On February 12th Brooklyn based Red Piano Records released “Different Roots“, the new album of Rodrigo Faina and the Change Ensemble, the Argentinian composer based in the Netherlands told us about his new work.

> Ivano Rossato 

How were the compositions of “Different Roots” born? What composition and registration process did you follow?
Jazz had a very important place in my musical training and in my beginnings with music, but for many years it took a back seat and I was completely immersed in contemporary classical music. I owed it to myself to make an album for a large ensemble with a strong Jazzistic influence and that at the same time showed influences from other kinds of music that I really like and that to a greater or lesser extent are part of my musical language. From there arose the idea of making an album for a large ensemble that has a certain similarity to a Big Band but that includes other instruments and sonorities. Besides that I did not want to make use of any of the techniques and structures that one can hear over and over in so many big band composers and arrangers. So I set myself to create an ensemble with a high technical level that allows me to write freely, without worrying about the limitations that classical ensembles or ensembles of jazz tradition may have. 

The composition process was different for each piece. From the beginning It was clear that this had to be the case so that the album could have different colors and the pieces were different from each other. There are pieces that were born from small melodic fragments that I sing, others from harmonic ideas, from sequences of intervals, from more conceptual ideas. Anyway, beyond the initial idea, I am always very methodical and I conceive the piece in its entirety before starting to work on it more in detail.

The recording process was quite long, Change Ensemble is composed of musicians who have a very intense professional activity, so there were several sessions that were quite spaced in time. Anyway, many of the musicians had already played together in orchestras or other projects and that helped a lot when it came to interpreting and recording the music.

The music of “Different Roots” is very evocative, almost “cinematic”…what inspires you most in the creative act?
The album pieces were inspired by a deep sense of nostalgia. On the one hand, I could tell you that this feeling of nostalgia is associated with things that I miss about my country, in particular the place where I was born, my neighborhood, my mother’s house and a lot of images and memories of the suburbs of Buenos Aires, which are completely different from any European city. But on the other hand, I could tell you that this feeling of nostalgia or sadness is something deep within me and that has always accompanied me. It is a feeling that works like a lens through which I observe the things that surround me. I once read that Kenny Wheeler said that sad melodies make him happy. I think something similar happens to me.

Many people mention the word cinematic in relation to my music, however film music, except for very specific cases, is not something that excites me too much. What I think happens is that the music is evocative and that it somehow conveys certain images to the listener. The latter is something that I am proud of since all the music that I love takes me out of reality. I think that that is one of the wonderful things about music.We just played. The first 2 days were straight improvisation. We would just play for a whole reel of tape, but once we started bringing in more players some structure was needed so we would jam for a bit and find a motif and then discuss and do a few takes in that realm.
Jazz, classical music, electric guitar, voice, percussion, brass …What “sound” do you have in mind when composing? Is the final result an arrangement or do you conceive the works from the beginning in the form that the listener will hear on the record?
Since I started with music it has been always very clear that I wanted to have my own voice, I was never interested in copying or imitating other artists. So I have always liked to try different instrumentations, structures and different approaches to improvisation. That is the main reason why many years ago I decided to go deep into music composition. Besides that, I have always been interested in music that escapes categorization in terms of music genre. I think that is because this kind of music tends to be unpredictable and that is a quality that I cherish a lot.

Over the years I put together different ensembles with different combinations of instruments that I could not find in any other ensemble. With these ensembles I tried a lot of different ideas and that made me grow and helped me to find my own sound. So this album is the result of all those years of trying new things.

Regarding the arranging question. I always compose directly for the whole ensemble, I never make arrangements of my own music. I think that a Large ensemble, or any other ensemble, is an instrument on itself in the sense that it presents a series of possibilities in terms of timbre and texture that are unique for each ensemble. I think that if one composes something and later on it is arranged, the compositions can miss many of those possibilities.
From Argentina and the American continent to the Netherlands and Europe: stylistically speaking, what did you “bring” from your homeland and what “did you find” in Europe?
I have always liked tango and the folk music of my country, so those sounds and those melodies have always been present in my head and are part of my musical subconscious. Besides that, I think that at that time in Argentina, jazz was not so closely linked to the North American jazz tradition. Many of the professional musicians I saw playing when I was young were convinced that Jazz made in Argentina had to somehow differ from North American Jazz, so many artists took elements from tango, Argentine folklore or other Latin American music. That vision or that way of approaching jazz influenced me a lot.

In Europe, I was very impressed by European classical music, particularly contemporary classical music. It was something that I had already been exposed to in Argentina, but in Europe it is a living tradition that many feel closer to. Somehow it is breathed in their cities, and when listening to it performed by musicians of the highest level, everything changed for me. From there I think that many of my musical experiences took shape and made sense.
If there are, what differences have you encountered in the two continents regarding the way of approaching music?
In Europe the music scene is much bigger and each country has its own history and music scene, but musicians moves a lot from one country to another, so there are many different currents and ways of approaching music. In America the distances are longer so each country is much more isolated and the music scene, except for the US, tends to be smaller and more local.

Besides that, in Europe there is still public money that goes into arts and the music business is much bigger. That influences musicians directly and, in a good and bad ways, determines artistic decisions. In Argentina for example, making a consistent part of your income out of playing jazz gigs is out of the question, so many musicians only worry about what they want to express and what they want to say, and not so much about the business around it, and that sometimes is very positive for art.
Different Roots: an espresso with Rodrigo Faina copyright Jazzespresso 2021.
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