Vignettes on the Frets – with Javier Subatin

Javier Subatin 1 (credits_photo by Raquel Nobre G).png
Photos: Raquel Nobre G.

A new CD is in the works from Argentinian guitar player Javier Subatin and it’s dreamy. Not in the pop culture way. In “Solo” (from the upcoming CD “Autotelic”), there comes from the piano a sensation of running up and down hills, exploring, turning rocks over, maybe; Javier’s stringwork complements this with noodlings, small expressions and micro-melodies on the fret board. It’s a lot like parallel play with delightful intersections of unity before each musician resumes and goes off anew over the knolls.

How old when you realized you wanted to be a musician? 

I’m not completely sure, but I think it happened when I was 10. I remember I saw a friend playing The Beatles’ “Blackbird” on his guitar and I thought that I would like to do it.  

By the time I started studies on guitar, many teachers told me that it would be impossible to play due to the disability in my right hand. On those terms, my mother tried to convince me to play drums or trumpet. Anyway, it was useless – I already had chosen the guitar. 

What is the music scene like in Lisbon? 

It’s little but great. Portuguese musicians are very good. In jazz, they have their own way to play and they are always open to meeting musicians from other parts of the world. I’m very happy to live in Lisbon! 

What do you like about the guitar? 

The guitar is the way that I approach music, composition, improvisation and artistic expression. 

How did it feel to be a finalist at Montreux? 

At that time, I was completely amazed by the situation.

How has your music evolved from the time of your first recordings to today? 

I’m going to record my first album. So, there are no previous recordings. But I was always composing and playing my music, sometimes with other musicians.

My music has evolved; I know how to compose and what I want for the final result.  

What is the meaning of “autotelic”?

Autotelic is a word of Greek origins that means something is an end in itself. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi uses it in his theory of flow and psychology of creativity to explain activities like art that seem to have no other reason to do them other than to have the experience of doing it, which is directly related to the way I think of composition. That’s why my compositions have numbers and no names. I want them to be an expression of the language of music. Its exploration, development and creation are the activity, the process and the final goal at the same time. 

How did you meet João Paulo Esteves da Silva and what’s it like to collaborate with him? 

I met him at the university. He is my counselor for one of the masters’ degree subjects.

I really like to work with him. Because of that, I started to compose for piano and guitar. He is an experienced musician and improviser with a quite impressive background, and he knows how to interpret the music from the composer’s perspective. All wins.  

What inspired this CD?

This CD is the result of the work and study I’ve done since I started to work with music seriously. These series of “autotelic” compositions are the best way of representing what I do.  

How would you characterize the music on this CD?

The music of “Autotelic” is varied. It is the place of encounter for many aspects of my relationship with music. It has many improvised passages, some in a traditional jazz way and some in the contemporary improvised music way. It also has a lot of Latin-American rhythms influences, like “chacarera” (from Argentina) and “candombe” (from Uruguay).  

“Solo” sounds very thoughtful and ethereal; is that your intention?

My intention was to explore a harmonic cycle for a guitar solo that afterwards became a trio. 

What is your favorite track on it or are you still composing for it? 

I just finished composing this album. I like all the compositions, but they are not tracks yet. So, it is difficult to answer. And I think that it is going to be always difficult, if not impossible, to answer that question. 

What are you planning for a release-day event?

I am grateful to work in collaboration with Raquel Nobre G., an artist who makes part of this project. She does the videos, most of the pictures and allows me to use some of her art on my singles. For this album, we will have a selection of her works – trying to combine the visual and auditory senses. In that way, I’m thinking – besides some concerts I’m in the process of booking – of doing a showcase with an exposition and a little concert.

When you compose, what themes are in your head?

I am thinking about music. I don’t want to represent an idea…after, it is the listener that will have his own impressions of the music. There is a difference between what a musician does and the interpretation of the listener.  

Talk about your personnel, what they play and their strengths?

Mainly, it is a duo with João Paulo. Among the invited musicians I have confirmed Diogo Alexandre on drums and Desidéro Lázaro on the tenor sax. 

What do you hope is the reaction to “Autotelic”? 

To be listened to. 

How do you keep your improv fresh?

Improvising, to me, is a compromise between structures and spontaneity. So, I practice a lot and I am always looking for new structures and different personal ways to approach the basic elements.

How do your audiences react to your performances?

It’s been a long time since I performed, and I am now in a completely new stage as guitarist, composer and performer. So, we will see… 

What is left to be done on production of the new CD?

Almost everything. I am now rehearsing and planning dates for recording in February. After, as usual, we have to do the mix and mastering and the design and impressions. I hope it is going to be released by the end of March [2018]. 

Do you have plans for touring in 2018? How will you promote the new CD?

Yes, I am working on the presentation concert booking, contacting venues and festivals in Portugal and Europe. I don’t know yet where and when. It takes time and patience. 

What would you like to do more of, or do differently, in 2018?

I would like to do concerts and present my new album as much as possible. 

For more information, visit

Photos (c) Raquel Nobre G.

Photos courtesy of and with permission of Javier Subatin.

(c) Debbie Burke 2017

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