Q:I learnt from your past interview that you first got interested in jazz in mid-teens. What kind of jazz were you listening that time until today ? in your teens, I heard you mesmerized by Gonzalo Rubalcaba.
FA:The very first jazz albums I heard were actually those of Weather Report when we lived in Cuba. My father played the bass and was a huge Jaco Pastorious fan. I was quite young (5-8 years old) though and I wasn’t listening as a musician yet. In my mid-teens I started actively listening and analyzing the music more critically and I gravitated towards Oscar Peterson, Keith Jarrett, Duke Ellington, Coltrane, Gonzalo and Miles the most. I soon started branching out but those were my first influences. Also, there was a Diana Krall album with Christian McBride on it that I loved- I think it’s called Love Scenes. I also loved Danilo Perez’s “Motherland”
Q:You studied under Kenny Barron at Manhattan School of Music, and have also received private lessons from Jason Moran post-graduation. Please tell us what you learnt from these two musicians?
FA:From Mr.Barron, I learned what it meant to be a jazz pianist. All we did the entire time I studied with him was to play duos. It was very enlightening to hear him every week never miss a note and all of the vocabulary and tradition that he has is equally enhanced by his unique, cultivated and mature voice on the instrument. He taught me to aspire towards clarity and conviction. Jason Moran taught me to jump off a cliff and try to fly. Mr. Moran has no fear and he encouraged all of his students to embrace the piano as an instrument of expression. He always wanted us to respect the tradition but also honor our unique conditions onto the music. I should also mention that I was very fortunate to study with Garry Dial as well. Mr. Dial did everything within his power to teach me the foundations of the jazz piano tradition and was a mentor and friend who encouraged me and kept me in a positive state of mind. I’m eternally grateful to him.
Q:When playing improvised, often your right hand and left hand are independently playing different lines, which I be fascinated. Does this come from the influence of classical music, such as Bach’s Fugue?
FA:Although I did study some Bach keyboard music at one point, I think I tend to use my left hand to play melodies some times because of my love for orchestral music. In the symphonic world, there are bassoons and french horns and trombones and cellos that play just as equal a role as the violins when it comes to lyrically conveying a melody and so I think I hear that when I play and try to emulate the spectrum of range that an orchestra can accomplish.)
Q:Many of your songs are emotional, though on the other hand, there are tracks that come with complicated irregular meters, such as “H.U.Gs”. Do you get those ideas from composers such as Stravinsky? Or are there any influences from Latin music such as clave?
FA:I’m constantly trying to tear down boundaries when it comes to music. I feel that every art form exists to express our human condition. Although I have studied many types of compositional approaches and continue to, ultimately my final determining factor when I compose is how it makes me feel as a human being, not as much as a musician.
Q:Your works are open, beautiful, picturesque and cinematic, though the themes of the music often seem to be rooted in complicated issues of the society (“Arab Spring”, shooting incident, Historically Underrepresented Groups). Do you have these themes in mind before composing and you try to transpose these themes into music, or is it that such themes suddenly come to mind by the voicing or rhythm while composing ?
FA:It’s a combination of things. The world is in a strange state right now that can use help from artists and scientists. Society as a whole seems to me to be changing. Historically speaking, it used to be that the most heroic figures would be the stalwart and the knowledge seekers. Nowadays, it seems like narcissism is claiming itself where intellectual growth once lived. Because of that, I feel a sense of urgency to share beauty with the world through music. As an artist, I feel like I am attempting to reflect what I see and observe back to the listener as well as convey what I consider to be beautiful. All I am trying to do is help make things better for us all.
Q:It was very interesting to learn that the electronic sounds featured in “String Quartet No.10 (Shostakovich)” of your debut album “Personalities” was looking at Jonny Greenwood as reference. Also, I see you mentioning him in other interviews. How do you be inspired by him?
FA:I am inspired by Jonny Greenwood because he seems to be one of those fearless musicians who refuses to be categorized as only one thing. He is a rock musicians but he is also a film composer as well as an imaginative orchestral and electronic musicians. He doesn’t seem to have any barriers and I find that very inspiring and reassuring.
Q:In your latest album, “Rhizome”, the melodies or rhythms of all instruments, including the strings, are organically and interactively connected. It is amazing. It like a watch, every gear is connected. Still, there are rich spaces in your music left for the performers or listeners to freely expand their imaginations. What are your thoughts on this kind of balance between composition and space. I am thinking that the impressionist styles such as Ravell and Debussy or film music may serve as good ‘hints’ when thinking about these.
FA:Thank you for the complements. When I compose for Rhizome I am trying to embrace the fluidity and spontaneity of a piano trio yet still have meaningful string parts as well. Jason Moran told me early on, “if you’re gonna do the string thing, don’t let me hear footballs, write somethin!” And I agreed whole heartedly, often times, stings are used as secondary colors in the jazz world and I think that is a disservice to the rich history of the string quartet repertoire. I am simply trying to make rich, meaningful music with the instruments at hand that both the listener and performers can enjoy.
Q:Your shows this time are in a trio formation with you, Alan Hampton and Dan Weiss. Could you first tell us what kind of musicians the two members are? In Japan, Alan is also popular to fans of indie rock and folk music. Dan is not famous as much as Alan, but his works are highly regarded among Japanese fans of NY’s jazz scene.
FA:I have played with Alan many times and I think people forget how incredible and solid of a bass player he is because he is such a great singer/songwriter as well. I simply love his bass playing and am excited that we will have a chance to play again in Japan at the Cotton Club. Dan Wiess is one of those mythical figures in the New York jazz scene right now. When j say no one in the entire universe plays like him, I mean it. He is a singular voice and I have no doubt that when the audience hears him in Japan, they will agree. I had the pleasure of playing with him for the first time on a Dar Douglass gig this year and have wanted to play again ever since. I can’t wait to play with this trio!
Q:What kind of performance can we expect from the live show by your trio feat. Alan Hampton & Dan Weiss?
FA:We will perform some of the music from my previous two albums, Personalities and Rhizome as well as some from my upcoming album, Alcanza, which I recently recorded in New York with the same musicians that were on Rhizome. I am working on composing some new music right now as well so in the spirit of jazz and improvised music, we shall see what surprises the music brings us!