Alex Conde’s Flamenco-Tinged Jazz for Bud Powell

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​Alex Conde’s new album is titled Descarga For Bud.

(Photo: Tom Elrich)

On Descarga For Bud (Sedajazz), pianist Alex Conde brilliantly extrapolates the complex beats and duende-suffused ambiance of flamenco music onto the sublime, turbulent compositions of Bud Powell, who transferred the linear innovations of Charlie Parker onto the piano. Throughout the nine-piece tour de force, Conde interprets with keen intention and an orchestral conception, authoritatively molding and signifying upon the harmonic and rhythmic codes of swing and flamenco in ways that channel and illuminate the passion and structural coherence of Powell’s miniatures.

“I’ve been playing flamenco my entire life, with lots of dancers and singers,” Conde said from Valencia, Spain, his home town, where local saxophonist Joan Girones introduced him to Powell and Thelonious Monk during aspirant years. He returned there last July to ride out the COVID-19 pandemic after 15 years in the United States. The son of a well-known copla singer, Conde moved to the States in 2007 with a scholarship to Berklee College of Music, after developing a comprehensive technique through 14 years in conservatory, whence he emerged with a mighty left hand that he uses to articulate melodies and shape contrapuntal passages.

One consequential mentor at Berklee was pianist Danilo Pérez, whose 1996 CD Panamonk had influenced Conde towards pursuing an admixture of flamenco and hardcore jazz in which both dialects are rendered “without an accent.” Asked for other inspirations, Conde cited Cádiz-born jazz-flamenco avatar Chano Dominguez, Conrad Herwig’s various Latin Side projects and Rumba Para Monk by Jerry Gonzalez (who collaborated with various hardcore flamenco luminaries after moving to Madrid in 2002).

“When I met Danilo, he told me, ‘Play whatever you want,’” Conde recalled. “I played some flamenco stuff and he started dancing. Then he said, ‘Play some jazz.’ He said, ‘This is nice, but it doesn’t really make me move.’ My goal ever since is to play jazz with the energy and assurance I bring to flamenco. For me, the visual image of dancers drives directly to the music.”

Post-Berklee, Conde opted for the more temperate climate of the Bay Area, which, he notes, is home base for four major flamenco companies. There he remained the next seven years, paying the rent via flamenco tours and abundant local gigs with several Afro-Caribbean ensembles. In 2015, he recorded a well-wrought jazz-flamenco recital, Descarga For Monk (Zoho), with the late bassist Jeff Chambers and drummer Colin Douglas (who reconvened in Oakland in February 2020 for Descarga For Bud).

After the final concert of a summer 2016 flamenco tour, Conde, determined to focus on his own projects, applied to the master’s program in jazz studies at the Aaron Copland School of Music at Queens College. During the next two years, he studied closely with piano master Jeb Patton (and attended Barry Harris’ weekly workshops), earning credits by teaching flamenco, but primarily immersing himself in Powell’s music. “My master’s was based on Bud,” Conde said. “I had time to transcribe, to dig into his style and names and dates and life. I had all this repertoire, which was the perfect excuse for a second Descarga album.”

The material includes Conde’s informed refractions of Powell’s solo and trio tracks for Norgran between 1949 and 1951 — among them “Oblivion,” “Celia,” “The Fruit,” “Hallucinations,” “Parisian Thoroughfare” and “Dusk In Sandi” — and of Powell’s immortal 1949 quintets for Blue Note (“Bouncing With Bud” and “Wail”). “Bud’s piano solos feel like he’s dancing — grooving and syncopating like Latin music does,” Conde said. “I never felt that with any other jazz pianist. You can feel the excitement on every single line, he’s singing everything, and you don’t know where the syncopations and accents are going to fall.

“Making Descarga For Monk, I learned that you don’t need complicated arrangements to express yourself. On Descarga For Bud, I wanted to play a lot over different rhythms and see which ones feel right. Try to play ‘Hallucinations’ in bulería rhythm, or in rumba or tango or soleá or alegría until you find the one that feels right, and then explore through there. The musicians don’t need to rehearse as much or think as much; they can explore more.” DB



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