Duende Libre Brings Brand of Progressive Latin Jazz to Rainier Arts Center

by Gus Marshall

On Friday evening Duende Libre, a contemporary Latin jazz ensemble, will take the stage of Columbia City’s historic Rainier Arts Center, in an effort to promote and celebrate the release of their new album, Drift.

A progressive jazz outfit comprised of technical counter rhythms, intricate melodies, complicated harmonies and interesting chord progressions.

Duende Libre is a Latin-tinged, funk-infused power trio, bursting with busy basslines and a constant onslaught of impressive grooves.

Alex Chadsey, the group’s founder, and pianist spoke with The South Seattle Emerald about his musical experiences and South Seattle ties.

How long have you been playing music?

I started piano lessons at age 7 or 8, but was fooling around at the piano, pots and pans, whatever I could find way before that. My parents even had this weird and awesome tiny electric keyboard from Goodwill with “auto chord” and I used to love messing around with that and making up songs. I wish I still had it haha…

Where did you grow up and how did you end up in Seattle?

I grew up in Everett, WA and lived there until ’99 when I graduated from Everett High School. Moved to Ann Arbor, MI to attend the University of Michigan, then moved to Seattle in 2004. I thought I would just stay for a summer but I’m still here!  🙂

Who are some musicians or bands that have influenced you as a musician and a bandleader?

So many…Miles for sure. Not only for his playing but also as a bandleader. I think he really understood how to choose musicians to create new and interesting sounds. For me, one of his greatest strengths was that he also knew when to get out of the way and let his sidemen really shine, which is something I also aspire to do. 

I’ve also been influenced by Chick Corea and Joe Zawinul. For me, both are great examples of artists who are thoroughly steeped in the jazz tradition yet recognize the significance of other traditions from around the world and integrate these influences into their music.

Quetzal Flores (of the LA-band Quetzal) and Clinton Fearon have been two very important mentors and influences. They both taught me a lot about music and also about being a bandleader.

What speaks to you about Latin Jazz?

I think the rhythm and groove were what drew me at first. Eddie Palmieri and Arturo Sandoval were the first “Latin” artists I got into. Then I started playing in salsa bands here in Seattle and the bandleaders and musicians I met hipped me to many many other artists. I also hung out with bass master Joe Santiago for a few years and he was a walking encyclopedia of salsa and its roots (Cuban son, danzon, cha cha cha, etc etc).

I think I’m like many artists in the sense that I don’t tend to think or listen to music in terms of what we call “genres.” For me, labeling music by genre is mostly a commercial convention, not an artistic or musical one. Which is not to say there aren’t distinct musical traditions and heritages. But the more you get into a given “genre,” the more you realize how fluid the boundaries really are, and it becomes difficult to see where one ends and the other begins.

But I’ll try to answer your question by using an example. Arsenio Rodriquez was a blind Cuban tres player and bandleader from the 40s and 50s who developed the conjunto format, which became the template for modern salsa. He had a band back then with a genius virtuoso pianist and arranger named Lili Martinez. I could listen to this music all day every day for the rest of my life. For me, it’s the perfect blend of accessibility (its extremely danceable and fun to listen to) but they make zero compromises musically…it’s all there, sophisticated rhythm and phrasing, groove, tight arrangements and the band plays it all so fluidly. You can even hear references to Afro-Cuban religious and folkloric music. The guy was way ahead of his time.

How did you come to form Duende Libre?

Jeff Busch and Farko Dosumov were actually two of the first musicians I really connected with after began to play out in Seattle. Jeff and I played in a band called Sambatuque with vocalist Mikhaila Romero, bassist Tim Carey and percussionist Denny Stern. We mostly played covers by Brazilian artists from the 60s and 70s, songs by artists like Elis Regina and Gilberto Gil and recorded a CD called Brazilian Songbird.

I played in Farko’s band the Farko Collective for several years and we also recorded an album of Farko’s originals. We had a weekly gig at the Owl & Thistle for a while and would rehearse all night at the old Rainier Brewery.

When the time came for me to form my band, I knew I wanted to work with Jeff and Farko. I felt like we already had chemistry from all the years of playing together, and you couldn’t ask for two nicer people. Plus they are both obviously amazing players who are hungry, adventurous and are truly passionate about music.

How do you feel your band has grown since its inception?

We spent several years casually meeting when time allowed to jam and workshop ideas (many of these ideas later became tunes which we recorded on our two albums). Our first “official gig” was opening for Sam Boshnack Quintet at The Royal Room on February 18, 2016. I would say things moved quickly after that, and I think it’s because we already had something, I guess you could call it simpatico, established from our years of playing in various bands and project. I think it’s also a testament to the Seattle music scene, which I feel is open to musicians trying out new things and playing original music, as we and many other bands here have done. We’ve gotten a lot of support and encouragement from our community since the beginning, which has been amazing.

I think if you listen to our first album (released May 5 of last year) and then listen to Drift, which just came out, you will hear how our sound has evolved. In my opinion, this is a result of us having the opportunity to play, rehearse, and record as consistently as possible. Music is like a garden, you have to tend to it constantly. I think now we’re getting to a point where we have the trust and comfort to listen more deeply, push each other’s edges, and have more interesting musical conversations, which for me is an exciting place to be!

What are some of Duende Libre’s goals and musical aspirations?

We basically want to continue to play regularly, develop new material, and grow as a band and individuals. Over the last year, we’ve expanded collaboration with Chava Mirel, who is an amazing vocalist, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist based here in Seattle. We want to deepen and expand this collaboration. I want to feature vocals more prominently on our next record.

Where is Duende Libre heading next musically and physically?

I’m excited about our upcoming shows this summer. Of course, we have our Album Release Show at Rainier Arts Center coming up on Friday, June 29. This special event is presented by KEXP’s WO’ Pop in partnership with Rainier Arts Center and will feature vocalists Chava Mirel & Frank Anderson, who specializes in classic R&B, Gospel and Soul.

Tickets and more info at Brown Paper Tickets here.

We’re also playing the Downtown Summer Sound series at Pike’s Market on Wednesday, July 11th at 4:00pm and Jazz in the Valley in Ellensburg on Friday, July 27th (8:00pm at Fitterer’s Furniture). Both shows will feature Chava Mirel.

There’s a lot more coming up please check out http://www.duendelibre.com for details!

How did you get involved with the Rainier Arts Center?

It was quite serendipitous actually. An acquaintance introduced me to Lance Randall, who is a musician and the Director of Economic Development at SEED, the Southend non-profit who owns the Rainier Arts Center. I told Lance we were looking for a venue for our Album Release and we ended up partnering with Rainier Arts Center, which has been a cool experience!

Do you have any ties/experiences with South Seattle?

I’ve lived in the South End since 2010 or 11 (give or take) so by now it feels like home. I’ve lived in the Mount Baker Artist Lofts since it opened in 2014, which has been an amazing opportunity. I’ve met many life-long friends living here, including Craig Cundiff (who did the art for our first album) and Ari Glass (who contributed the cover art for Drift).

I also starting training capoeira at The Seattle Capoeria Center shortly after moving into the Lofts, which has been a life-changing experience in many ways.

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