A Tonal Cohesion: “Different Roots” from Rodrigo Faina and the Change Ensemble

A new CD from Rodrigo Faina called “Different Roots” shows his chops in composing for a wide swath of musicians. The swell and tension of the opening chords of the track “Deep, Dark and Blue” are capped off by simmering cymbals and suspenseful vocals in unison with the horns; an orchestral piece that breaks its stride for a luminous piano solo. Embracing the dissonant, “Dreams” piles on the musical subplots, the emphasis on horns driving the piece tensely, jaggedly forward; note the sharpness of the electric guitar vibe. There is something abstract and pre-melodic about these sonic expositions that use the different timbres of a rich instrumentation to provide the listener a full and fascinating experience. Credit that to the foresight of Faina in including such diverse voices as cello, tuba, bassoon, saxes and many more.

Why did you move from Argentina to the Netherlands, and how do you find the music scene to be different?

Manly because of economic reasons. I moved to the Netherlands in 2002, a few months after the big economic crisis that hit Argentina in 2001. It was a very bad moment for the country and I could not see any future there, especially as a musician. 

The music scene in the Netherlands was very different from what I was used to in Argentina, it was way bigger and much more diverse, so I was immediately exposed to a lot of new music. Besides that, Amsterdam is a very international city, so I had the chance of playing and writing music for a lot of great musicians from all over the world, and since each of them had their own musical and cultural background, I learned a lot from those early experiences. But the most important thing about it was that it made me reflect a lot about who I was and what I wanted to pursue as a composer.

What opportunities have you had for streaming live and other performances while venues are closed? 

I finished recording the album in January 2020 and in February I got COVID. It took me months to fully recover, and when I did, I put all my energy into finishing the mixing, mastering and taking care of the release.

The process of making an album with an ensemble of 23 musicians is very complex and it takes an insane amount of time and energy. I wrote it, produced it, conducted and I performed on it. So all my time and concentration went into finishing the album and it was impossible to do anything else. Now that the album is finished and will soon be released, I thought about other possibilities, but streaming this kind of project with good quality is very hard and it requires quite an expensive production.

How did you identify which other artists you wanted on your CD, and how did you get everyone together on the same page with rehearsals and recording?

For this project I had the pleasure to bring together some of the finest musicians in the Dutch music scene and I cannot be happier about it. Amazing improvisers, jazz players and some of the finest instrumental voices in the country who regularly perform with top orchestras such as the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra, Rotterdam Philharmonic, Ludwig Orchestra, Metropole Orchestra, etc.

I heard them play many times over the years, and when I decided to put together the ensemble, I did not doubt who the right musicians were. I personally knew many of them from previous projects, and I called some others for the first time. I was very lucky that everyone said yes. It is really a dream team.

Putting everyone together was very hard, it took a lot of emails, phone calls and planning several months in advance, so I just had to work hard on it and be patient.

Why do you call yourselves “Change Ensemble”?

It has to do with one of the possible definitions of the word change, which is to make the form, nature, content, future course, etc., of (something) different from what it is. In this case, that something is music. It is a kind of motto, since as a composer I aim to develop and renew musical heritage and traditions. To me, aiming for originality should be a must for each artist, so when I compose I always try to avoid clichés and common places.

Besides that, it sets the premise that the music of the ensemble will change substantially from one project to another.

Was it a challenge to compose and arrange for a large ensemble?

Composition has been always my main focus, and for the last 15 years I have been working exclusively as a composer in both classical contemporary and jazz fields. I have written a lot of music, from solos to large orchestral works, so the number of players was not really a challenge.

Regarding arranging, I do not arrange. I think that each ensemble is an instrument in itself, so I write directly for the ensemble.

What inspired “Different Roots”? Did this take on a new meaning since the pandemic hit?

The album was inspired by memories of my childhood and adolescence in Argentina, where the literature of Julio Cortazar and Jorge Luis Borges went hand-in-hand with jazz music, so each piece is inspired by literature and incorporates some form of improvisation.

I wanted the music to evoke the feelings and sensations that stayed with me after reading each story, and I aim to take the listener to a fantastic place that exists only in my mind. It is something very personal, and because of that, the pandemic did not change the meaning of it.

How long had you been working on the music before you completed it?

It is hard to say because most of the music was commissioned and performed a few years ago for a project I did with the David Kweksilber Big Band, a band that toured quite a lot performing my music. After that, I had to finish some other projects and at the end of it I had some health problems that did not allow me to work for a long time. When I recovered I started to work again on this project, which it has a very special place in my heart. I re-wrote most of the music and I also composed some new music for it.

What was the most challenging part of production?

It was definitely mixing. If you are used to the sound of a large ensemble playing live, you always have the feeling that it sounds too small on the recording and that there are a lot of things missing.

Why did you go with Red Piano Records?

I feel that I identified with the aesthetic of the label, and there are some great artists on it, such as Ran Blake, Frank Carlberg, Guillermo Celano, David Bixler, David Berkman, Gerard Kleijn and many others.

What would you say is the flavor of the music?

It is hard to say, because it is an album that has a lot of different influences, although the main ones are jazz and contemporary classical. I think that some listener might hear other influences in a very subtle way, such as an Argentinean Tango or other “popular” genres. I believe that one of the nicest things about the album is that each listener will perceive different influences depending on his taste and musical background.

Name your current favorite track at the moment and why.

It is hard to choose, but it is probably At Night.

Perhaps because it encloses a lot of fantasy and at the same time awakens in me a deep feeling of nostalgia.

Talk about the next project in the series, and how you think it might differ. Will you have the same musicians?

I have been working on a few different ideas but it is still the beginning of a process, so I cannot say much about it yet. I do know that most probably it will have a sonority and aesthetic that moves even further away from the large jazz ensemble tradition. And the idea is to keep on working with the same musicians.

What is at the very heart of your compositions: are you looking for mood, vibe, melody, harmony…?

My music always grows out of a concrete feeling that seems to be locked inside of me, and that sometimes feelings come accompanied by an abstract image that I cannot fully understand. So I take the guitar or I sit at the piano and I start to improvise, trying to catch that feeling or to paint with sound those images. On a more “terrestrial level” I can say that long melodic lines are probably the most recognizable feature of my music, but also, to me, harmony and melody are two sides of the same coin. I look for the sound possibilities that every chord and every melody has in a vertical and horizontal way.

For more information visit https://rodrigofaina.com.

Photos courtesy of and with permission of the artist.

(c) 2021 Debbie Burke

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