Debut releases can be feast or famine...Azul is a sonic feast. A brilliant expansive debut release from one of the Bay area if not this nations finest pianists. Anne Sajdera was kind enough to field a few questions for us!
Despite performing with and as a more Brazilian influenced artist you have a sound that is very distinctive in drawing from many different influences when it comes to this particular record. Was the influence by "intent" or would it be accurate to say that this is where you are as an artist that may be the end result of your own cultural experiences?
A.S. -"That's an interesting question because it goes to the heart of expression. I played for years with Brazilian pop and Brazilian jazz bands (folkloric ensembles too) and can play in a very authentically Brazilian way in terms of where to place the rhythm, how to shape melodic phrases and how to approach the harmony. Eventually it just seeped under my skin and became a part of my body I think ha ha! It mixed up with everything that was already under my skin and I began expressing from everything combined. So in answer to your question, it's the latter - it's an end result of my own cultural experience."
The use of percussion in a smaller ensemble; gives a very intimate "unplugged" approach that most pianist tend to shy away from. What made you go this route and is this a musical direction you think you will continue to explore?
A.S "I absolutely love playing with percussion and I can't help but continue to explore that direction. Piano is a percussion instrument and I really love to interact with the different timbres and play in and around with all of that rhythm. It makes me feel so good! The colors that percussionists have at their disposal, the things that shake and rattle and ring, all of that takes me back to the primal experience of "sound" and it connects the piano to its ancient roots. They are two sides of the same coin in my mind."
You play with harmony. Can "re-harming" some tunes be dangerous and where do you draw the line of where you feel safe in making artistic changes?
A.S. "Maybe it's just plain "harming" a tune ha ha! Truthfully, I really enjoy exploring all kinds of strange harmonic places as long as I can still connect emotionally to whatever is happening in the music. If the emotional connection disappears then it stops feeling human to me - so in that sense, I'm not opposed to wild harmonization's at all as long as there's a story to experience. It depends on context though - would an entire album of that be very satisfying? Possibly, but listeners love to be taken crazy places and then they love to come back again to the familiar after big adventures so it's all about balance, within the tune itself as well as how the tunes are grouped together."
I'm old school and i dig the cover art! What can you tell us about the cover art?
A.S. "The cover art is an actual oil painting created by this wonderful artist from Suriname named Eriq Riebeek. I was introduced to Eriq by some friends at a club and he showed me some work that he had uploaded to his phone. I thought it was really beautiful and either I asked him or he offered to create the artwork for the CD. Growing up in San Diego, the ocean was (and continues to be) a major feature in my personal landscape - whenever I'm happy, upset, content, angry, everything - I go down to the ocean (now in San Francisco) and whatever is in my heart at the time goes with me. This is what the CD is about. I gave Eriq the mixes to listen to and he created the image. The figure can be seen as Iemanjá who is the queen of the ocean."
Debut releases are a gamble.They can be stellar such as this project or so self indulgent as to make the average listener lose interest 30 seconds in. Was there a particular game plan going in or would you consider this more of an artistic self portrait?
A.S. "Actually, the first few tracks that we recorded were intended for use just as a demo and it was Ray Obiedo and Peter Horvath who said that it should be made into a CD. I guess you could say there was no game plan! After those tracks, I began to ask myself "what exactly do i need to say? what needs to be said right now?" and wrote the original tunes. There was more material but I trimmed it back by using only the tunes that created a natural group. So in a way, after the decision to create an entire album was made, a plan did take shape although it was intuitively developed. Only later did the concept reveal itself. I'm very thankful for Ray and Peter!"
There is a fusion of Indian and Brazilian culture giving a unique rhythmic sensitivity other pianists may be missing out on. and may account on why at the very least on my site your review is one the most popular pieces I've written. What do you think is the key ingredient that this release apart from others?
A.S. "That's very kind of you to say these things, and I really appreciate your support for this recording. It's funny, piano trios never bore me because I just love listening in on the conversation that happens. It's like incredible choreography happening in sound. But as for what sets this recording apart? It could be that my life experience is just different enough to make me come up with this particular perspective. I do remember thinking more than once "say what you have to say" which sounds a little inarticulate but this thought would come up during moments when I was wondering if the whole thing was getting too esoteric. In the end, the artist, the musician, the writer, we all have to say what we have to say, we can't convert it to any other more convenient or acceptable expression and we can't take on anyone else's perspective. It has to be completely authentic or it doesn't work and audiences can tell, consciously or unconsciously. In the case of this CD, the Brazilian and Indian elements were what had become part of me and what I could convey directly from my heart without regard to whether or not it was "correct." This might be what makes it different from other recordings because I'm not aware of very many other pianists with those same influences in the same ratios. Also, maybe that I use the rhythm a little differently and it's a little more highlighted than in other ensembles. There are so many thousands of things to do just with melody and harmony that a piano player can make profoundly captivating music just focusing on those two elements. But for this project I chose another path and it came out fairly distinct. I think this might be what you're hearing."
VERY SPECIAL THANKS TO ANNE SAJDERA!