Having graduated from the University of Michigan with a degree in Jazz Studies in 2003, keyboardist Alex Chadsey, like many new graduates, found himself wondering what the future held for him? He was a talented and versatile musician who was fluent in jazz and classical music, and was one of the beneficiaries and success stories of the conservatory-style music education. This would stand him in good stead as he embarked upon his music career. That was the theory. The only problem was Alex Chadsey was still undecided about his future. Eventually, he decided to head to Seattle, home of the Seahawks and Storm, and the birthplace of Jimi Hendrix, Ray Charles and grunge.
After arriving in The Emerald City, Alex Chadsey’s career took an expected twist. He turned his back on jazz and classical music, and joined a salsa band. Soon, he was a familiar face within Seattle’s salsa scene, playing in various bands. It was through playing in the salsa bands that Alex saw firsthand how music creates a sense of community. Soon, Alex was accepted into Seattle’s vibrant Latin music community, and his love of Latin music blossomed.
Salsa was merely a starting point for Alex, ands soon, he was digging deeper and deeper into the various sub-genres of Latin music. Alex remembers: “that started me on a steady diet of Latin music. I got to know and play with Joe Santiago, who’d worked with artists like Eddie Palmieri, Tito Puente, and Celia Cruz…That’s when it grabbed me. That’s almost all I played for several years. I really fell in love with it.” This was a turning point for Alex who now had a sense of purpose musically.
He had arrived in his Seattle looking for musical direction, and found it within the Latin music community. That was also where he met two likeminded musicians, Farko Dosumov and Jeff Busch, who both shared Alex’s love of Afro-Caribbean music. This was the start of a friendship and musical partnership.
Over the next few years, the three friends would often play and collaborate together.This included on Alex’s latest musical project Duende Libre, who will self-release their eponymous debut album on the ‘5th’ of May 2017 via the band’s website. Duende Libre is the first album from the multitalented triumvirate of Alex Chadsey, Farko Dosumov and Jeff Busch. Having met his future band mates, Alex’s career took an unexpected twist.
Not long after meeting Farko Dosumov and Jeff Busch, Alex got involved with the Seattle Fandango Project, which was originally founded by members of the Chicano rock band Quetzal. They’re one of the most innovative bands of all the Chicano bands. Through his work with the Seattle Fandango Project, Alex got to know the members of Quetzal, who invited him to share a stage with them. This lead to Alex contributing to Quetzal’s 2012 album Imaginaries. It was nominated for, and won the Grammy Award for the Best Latin Rock, Urban or Alternative Album in 2013. For Alex, the opportunity to work with Quetzal was in important part in his musical development.
“They opened my mind to the possibility that there’s so much more beyond the music itself. What a musician can do and say and the role they play. Reclaiming some of the power that the professionalisation and commodification of music has taken away.” With this in mind, Alex took a different approach after this.
Up until he played with Quetzal, Alex had relied upon his formal musical education. Soon, this began to change and his approach to music making moved away from his formal musical training, towards tradition, community and collective expression. This was partly the influence of his musical mentors from Mexico, Cuba, and Los Angeles” who “had a big impact on my music.” Through working and talking to them, Alex realised that they hadn’t benefited from the education he had.
“These mentors often had no formal training. That was not an impediment. They could express themselves in interesting and creative ways. There was a process of me, humbling myself to try to get past some of my training. I put myself in a position of learning from these folks, these keepers of strong and rich musical traditions.” This would influence Alex’s musical future and especially, his latest project Duende Libre.
Alex decided to found Duende Libre when he decided that he wanted to play more of his own compositions. Some of these compositions had been inspired and influenced by the Afro-Cuban and Latin music that Alex had studied and had grown to love over the last few years. All these traditional types of music would play their part in the musical tapestry that he would weave with Duende Libre over the next few weeks and months.
Joining Alex, who would play piano and keyboards in Duende Libre, were two of two of his closest friends from the Seattle music scene, bassist and vocalist Farko Dosumov and drummer and percussionist Jeff Busch. They had been invited to join the band, and were excited by Alex’s latest musical venture.
The three members of Duende Libre spent the next few months working on ideas for new songs. To do this, they used a digital audio workstation and loops. This allowed the three musicians to create the framework for songs that they were composing. Gradually, these songs started to take shape and Duende Libre began to demo them. Eventually, they became full-fledged songs, that would feature on Duende Libre. However, Alex’s approach to composition and arranging was quite different to what he had learnt at the University of Michigan.
He recounts: “I knew I didn’t want to come in with an 8-page score. In fact, I didn’t want the guys to have to read anything if possible. I wanted them to approach the music more intuitively.” This was no surprise, given his experience working with different bands and musicians.
This included the time Alex had spent working with Grammy Award winning band Quetzal. He had also worked extensively with legendary songwriter and reggae roots artist Clinton Fearon. Alex explains: “they don’t rely on notation. I eliminated the barrier. Reading music changes the way you play.” With that in mind, the three members of Duende Libre began preparing to record their debut album.
Eventually, Duende Libre were ready to record what would become their eponymous debut album. They booked two days at Studio Litho, and on the ‘5th’ of May 2016, Duende Libre arrived at the studio. Duende Libre planned to record eleven tracks that Alex had written over the course of the next two days. Joining them, was engineer Floyd Reitsma who would later mix the album. Before that, Alex also took charge of the production of Duende Libre’s eponymous genre-melting debut album. It was completed on schedule on the ‘6th’ of May 2016.
Another year will have passed before Duende Libre is eventually released. Just like many bands, Duende Libre decided to self-release their eponymous debut album through their own website on ‘7th’ of May 2017. It showcases Duende Libre’s unique brand of genre-melting music.
Alex was inspired to write Rio Pescadores which opens Duende Libre, after a trip to Veracruz, in Mexico. Straight away, Alex’s fingers fly across the piano, before the rhythm section provide the backdrop for the piano as it takes centre-stage. It’s joined by percussion and a bubbling bass as briefly, jazz gives way to Afro-Cuban music. Soon, it’s all change and the arrangement flows along as Duende Libre paint pictures with their music. Later, the tempo drops and the arrangement is almost stripped bare, as the music becomes ruminative. Gradually, it rebuilds, and soon, Duende Libre are in full flight, showcasing their considerable skills. They feed off each other and play with freedom on this uplifting track that’s a reminder of the musical relationship between Veracruz and Cuba.
Joining Duende Libre on Forgotten Well, is singer, songwriter and musician Chava Mirel. As she harmonises, the arrangement has a mesmeric sound. This changes when the piano enters and is played with confidence. Still, Chava adds harmonies, until the tempo drops and the piano takes centre-stage, adding a quite beautiful, wistful backdrop. Meanwhile, the arrangement is understated. That changes midway through the track, when the bass and percussion play a more prominent role. By then, Alex adds flamboyant flourishes of piano as the rhythm section accompany him. He passes the baton, and the rest of Duende Libre enjoy their chance to shine, before the track reaches a wistful crescendo.
The introduction to Michel was inspired by a rhythm Duende Libre heard on a mid 20th-century Cuban record by blind pianist Frank Emilio Flynn. Soon, it’s all change as the rhythm section propel the arrangement along and jazz gives way to jazz funk and later, fusion. Meanwhile, Alex adds twinkling keyboards which adds a mid-seventies sound, as the arrangement breezes along. Later, the arrangement becomes understated, before Farko adds a fleet fingered bass solo. Then the arrangement rebuilds and Duende Libre are in full flight. Alex’s piano takes centre-stage, and is augmented by the rhythm section. Jeff
concentrates on the cymbals and percussion, and later enjoy his moment in the spotlight when the band improvise. He pounds his drums before twinkling keyboards disappear into the distance on this genre-melting epic.
Funkination pays homage to the eighties, when 808s keyboard-driven riffs were the order of the day. Shimmering keyboards reverberate, providing a spacey backdrop before the rhythm section, complete with bubbling bass, lock into a groove. Alex’s glistening keyboards join the rhythm section and percussion, before the keyboards takes on an eighties sound. It’s the musical equivalent of time-travel, as the arrangement flows along to the beat of the drum. After a brief pause, shimmering seventies keyboards join with the rest of Duende Libre. They flit between jazz funk an fusion, before a harder funky sound emerges. This comes courtesy of the unmistakable sound of an 808. Proving a contrast, are synth strings, which are another reminder of the eighties, as Duende Libre’ revisit the past on this captivating musical adventure.
Razzle Dazzle is a much more experimental sounding track Alex eplains: “I was trying to see if I could write something in an odd meter that still grooves hard, that didn’t feel mathematical.” That isn’t the case, the tempo drops and glistening keyboards join the pedestrian rhythm section. Although they play slowly, there’s still a fluidity and freedom in their playing. When the time signature changes, there’s still a fluidity as the arrangement swings. Meanwhile, Alex unleashes a solo on his keyboards and is joined by the rhythm section. Soon, they drop the tempo, before the keyboards then bass enjoy their moment in the sun and showcase their skill and versatility. Later, a four second pause allows Duende Libre to regroup, before they reach a crescendo on what’s without doubt one of the most innovative and experimental tracks on the album, and one that grooves hard.
There’s an element of drama as Sevilla unfolds, with Alex’s piano joining the rhythm section and percussion. Soon, jazz and Afro-Cuban combine to create expressive, emotive and dramatic music as the arrangement ebbs and flows. For the first three minutes, the piano takes centre-stage, before the baton passes bassist Farko Dosumov. He scats above his tight, propulsive bass line while percussion and piano accompany him. After this, the band reunite and Afro-Cuban rhythms give way to jazz as the music becomes dreamy and flows along. That’s until the next irresistible excursion into Afro-Cuban music where Duende Libre again, showcase their talent and versatility.
From the opening bars of Moon Waltz, it’s apparent that a beautiful track is about to unfold. The piano leads the way, while the rhythm section provide an understated accompaniment. That is all that’s required, even when Alex plays the tempo rises and Alex adds flamboyant flourishes of piano. Still, the rhythm section take care not to overpower the piano. Later it leaves space for Farko to scat, before he adds one of his bubbling bass solos. Meanwhile, Jeff flits between percussion and drums, before the piano returns and takes centre-stage. Its played with confidence, before joining with the rhythm section to produce a ruminative backdrop to this beautiful track.
Chava Mirel returns on the joyous sounding For The Rekkerd. It bursts into life, with the rhythm section and keyboards powering the arrangement along. Meanwhile, Chava adds an ethereal and soulful scat, while Alex’s keyboards provide the perfect accompaniment. When the vocal drops out, the arrangement heads in the direction of jazz funk and even fusion. Soon, though, bassist Farko is adding one of his finest solos. When the baton passes to Alex, he’s inspired and plays with speed and accuracy as percussion accompanies him. Later, Chava returns and with Duende Libre powering the arrangement along, delivers her most soulful scat.
The influence of a track by Salif Keita provided the initial inspiration for Salif. It’s a wistful, ruminative track which features a lone piano. Then midway through the track, the piano gives way to shakers and bass. When the piano returns, it plays a supporting role, before taking centre-stage playing in this beautiful, mediative, melancholy and cinematic track.
Still shows yet another side to musical chameleons Duende Libre. The introduction gives no hint of what’s about to unfold. A scrabbled bass teases the listener as the arrangement meanders along. Then at 1.22 Duende Libre kick loose. The rhythm section provide the backdrop for the glistening keyboards, before the Hammond organ takes charge and powers the genre-melting arrangement. It already features elements of jazz, jazz funk, funk and soul jazz. Sometimes, flamboyant flourishes of Hammond organ are added, as genres melt into one. Later, though, the arrangement takes on a much more understated sound as Farko’s bass and scat take centre-stage. Gradually, the irresistible arrangement rebuilds, as Afro-Cuban rhythms are added. They’re the final piece of the musical jigsaw, which is akin to a call to dance.
Sinister Minister which closes Duende Libre, sees the tempo drop. Jangling, angular percussion joins the rhythm section glistening keyboards. Duende Libre play with a freedom and fluidity, as the mid-tempo arrangement ebbs and flows. It veers between jazz to jazz funk and fusion. By then, the keyboards lock into a groove with the bass and create an edgy backdrop for Farko’s distant scat. Soon, galloping percussion appears, disappears and reappears as the rhythm section join with the keyboards. Later, though, it’s all change as the piano makes a welcome appearance, and is played confidently, as it dominates the arrangement. The rhythm section lift their game, and join with the piano in powering the arrangement along. Then with thirty-seconds remaining, the arrangements dissipates, leaving just a memory of what’s one of the highlights of Duende Libre.
After eleven genre-melting tracks lasting nearly sixty-eight minutes, Duende Libre’s eponymous is over. It showcases the considerable talent and versatility of three experienced musicians. They seamlessly flit between musical genres, and play with freedom and fluidity throughout Duende Libre. There’s also an intuitiveness to Duende Libre’s playing.
That is a result of Alex’s determination to eliminate barriers, which would allow the members of Duende Libre to express themselves. To do this, Alex didn’t want the other members of Duende Libre reading music, which could stifle their performance. Instead, he encouraged his bandmates to rely on their intuition and play with an inventiveness, freedom and fluidity. This succeed in doing throughout Duende Libre, which is a truly eclectic and groundbreaking album.
Duende Libre features a myriad of disparate genres, which can be heard throughout the album. This ranges from Afro-Cuban and experimental to funk, fusion and jazz. There’s also elements jazz funk, Latin, soul and soul jazz on Duende Libre. Sometimes, several genres melt into one in the one track. However, this all makes perfect musical sense, and is all part of Duende Libre’s captivating musical journey.
Sometimes, this musical journey becomes a magical mystery tour, as Duende Libre throw curveballs and spring surprises. It’s a case of expect the unexpected, as Duende Libre keep the listener on their toes. Other times, the music is variously beautiful, cinematic, melodic, ruminative and wistful. Sometimes, though, the music is inspirational, irresistible and joyous on an album where no two tracks are same.
What all the tracks on Duende Libre have in common, is that Alex Chadsey, Farko Dosumov and Jeff Busch have pushed musical boundaries to their limits in the pursuit of an album of groundbreaking and genre-melting music. This they succeed in doing on Duende Libre, which is a heady and irresistible musical brew.