In May 2017, Seattle-based Duende Libre who are led by bandleader, composer and keyboardist Alex Chadsey, self-released their genre-melting eponymous debut album. Buoyed by the response and reception to Duende Libre, the trio began work on the followup, Drift, which has just been self-released, and is the latest chapter in the story of Duende Libre.
Duende Libre was founded by keyboardist Alex Chadsey, who graduated from the University of Michigan with a degree in Jazz Studies in 2003. Like many new graduates, Alex Chadsey 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 was meant to stand graduates in good stead as they 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 move to Seattle, the birthplace of Jimi Hendrix, Ray Charles and grunge,
After arriving in Seattle, Alex Chadsey’s career took an expected twist when he turned his back on jazz and classical music, and joined a salsa band. Before long, he was a familiar face within Seattle’s salsa scene, playing in various bands. It was through playing in the salsa bands that Alex Chadsey saw firsthand how music creates a sense of community. By then, Alex Chadsey had been accepted into Seattle’s vibrant Latin music community, and his love of Latin music blossomed.
Salsa was merely a starting point for Alex Chadsey, ands soon, he was digging deeper and deeper into the various sub-genres of Latin music. This was a turning point for Alex Chadsey who now had a sense of purpose musically.
He had arrived in 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.When Alex Chadsey founded Duende Libre, he brought Farko Dosumov and Jeff Busch onboard. Before that, his career took an unexpected twist when got involved in the Seattle Fandango Project.
It was originally founded by members of the Chicano rock band Quetzal, who are regarded as one of the most innovative bands of all the Chicano bands. Through his work with the Seattle Fandango Project, Alex Chadsey got to know the members of Quetzal, who invited him to share a stage with them. This lead to him contributing to Quetzal’s 2012 album Imaginaries which won the Grammy Award for the Best Latin Rock, Urban or Alternative Album in 2013. For Alex Chadsey, the opportunity to work with Quetzal was in important part in his musical development.
Up until he played with Quetzal, Alex Chadsey 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 would influence Alex Chadsey’s musical future and especially, his latest project Duende Libre.
Alex Chadsey founded 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 he 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 month
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. Initially, the new band took a different approach to music making, using a digital audio workstation and loops. This allowed the three musicians to create the framework for the songs that they were composing. Gradually, these songs started to take shape and Duende Libre began to demo them.
Eventually, the time had come for Duende Libre to record their eponymous debut album debut album, which was completed on schedule in May 2016. Another year passed before Duende Libre self-released the genre-melting debut Duende Libre in May 2017. The album was well received by critics, and to promote the album, Duende Libre embarked upon a lengthy tour.
After leaving their hometown of Seattle, the three members of Duende Libre crisscrossed America, and got as far as Alaska on the tour. Many bands have struggled to survive such a gruelling tour, it brought the three members of Duende Libre closer, as they spent time with each other, which meant they became a tighter band. Alex Chadsey remembers: “It’s osmosis.You’re just hanging out together more than you’re actually playing. You’re sitting in the bus, hanging out with the people you meet. Time spent together on the road impacts the music in interesting and surprising ways.”
When Duende Libre returned home to Seattle from the tour, they were keen to build on the momentum created by the tour and began work on their sophomore album Drift.
On Drift, Duende Libre takes the listener back in time to when there were no continents to divide this huge mass of land which was assembled from earlier continental units 335 million years ago. Instead, there was one supercontinent Pangaea, that existed during the late Paleozoic and early Mesozoic eras. Duende Libre set out explore this concept, while charting and imagining the music of the supercontinent Pangaea.
To do this, Duende Libre tale elements of the music of The Puget Sound the Bosphorus, Cuba and Jamaica and combine this jazz and pop pleasures on Drift. Alex Chadsey explains:“We draw influences from many different cultures and countries and parts of the world, and the album’s title is a tribute and invocation of these influences. We explored using different rhythmic feels and styles as a way to meld those sensibilities. That’s what I was going for: a musical pangea where borders become less rigid, and where surprising new sounds emerge in the grey areas between traditions.”
Alex Chadsey decision to combine music from different parts of the world comes as no surprise to those that know him. Growing up, he was always interested in music from different parts of the world. However, his first love was Western classical and jazz music, and a favourite piece was Chick Corea’s Spain which is covered on Drift. It’s one of many things that influence Alex Chadsey musically.
This includes his musical education, lifelong love of jazz and music from all over the world and his experience playing with Quetzal and roots reggae musician Clinton Fearon’s Boogie Brown Band. All this has been part of Alex Chadsey’s wider musical education, which would help him when he came to write and record Drift.
For Duende Libre’s sophomore album Drift, Alex Chadsey wrote six of the seven tracks and decided that his band should cover Chick Corea’s Spain. This meant a new addition to Duende Libre when the recording of Drift began.
Just like on Duende Libre, the core lineup of the band was keyboardist Alex Chadsey, who was joined by drummer Jeff “Bongo” Busch and bassist Farko Dosumov. The new addition to Duende Libre’s lineup for the Drift sessions was singer and songwriter Chava Mirel who Alex Chadsey knew from Clinton Fearon’s Boogie Brown Band. Chava Mirel featured on several tracks including the cover of Spain and the elegiac Zephyr. They’re just two of the seven tracks that Duende Libre recorded and made their way onto Drift.
The poignant piano led Zephyr opens Drift and initially,is a showcase for the talents of Alex Chadsey as the rhythm section play a supporting role as the arrangement ebbs and flows. Later, Chava Mirel’s ethereal, elegiac vocal enters and plays a starring role in the sound and success of the album opener.
Drummer Jeff “Bongo” Busch and keyboardist Alex Chadsey play leading roles from the opening bars of Drift, which it soon become apparent is a carefully crafted and complex instrumental. Later, bassist Farko Dosumov enjoys his moment in the sun, and after that, the three members of Duende Libre raise their game and reach new heights. Especially Alex Chadsey as he unleashes a flawless, fleet-fingered keyboard solo before the group jam, and as this genre-melting, progressive and percussive track reaches a crescendo.
The problems with covering such a well known track as Chick Corea’s Spain, is that the cover will always be compared to the original which is the definitive version. With the help of Chava Mirel’s soulful vocal, and an arrangement that fuses elements of jazz, fusion, funk and Latin percussion, to create joyous, melodic sounding track that paints pictures of summer nights as the sun sets in Spain.
Very different is Subway which has a tough and gritty sound as Duende Libre combine funk, fusion and jazz to create a memorable what’s initially a cinematic track, but later is transformed into a soulful slice of slinky jazz as Chava Mirel adds her trademark vocal. Later, the tempo increases as Duende Libre enjoy the opportunity to showcase their skills, before returning to the earlier, tough and funky sound, which briefly becomes percussive, before becoming dramatic as the trio jam for the remainder of this eventful journey on the Subway.
Choro, which is a fusion of jazz and Brazilian music, finds Duende Libre paying tribute to composer and pianist Jovino Santos Neto, whose work inspired Alex Chadsey. Fittingly, his piano plays a starring for much of the track.
Duende Libre lock into a groove on Kiki and tip their hat to the son of Cuban cuatro musician Kiki Valera Alarcon and his family’s band La Familia Valera Miranda during the track. It’s a fusion of Afro-Cuban and jazz and finds Duende Libre playing with a freedom and fluidity.
Closing Drift is Bosphorus, which starts off slowly, with just the piano taking centre-stage before Jeff “Bongo” Busch enters and together, the pair play their part in a track that sometimes is ruminative, tinged with sadness and tugs at the heartstrings. This changes, and later, the music becomes hopeful and is full of imagery, as it conjures up pictures of the narrow continental boundary that has separated Europe and Asia after the demise of Pangaea. Later, bassist and vocalist Farko Dosumov plays a leading role as the music is transformed, and there’s a sense of expectation and an anticipation of something new in Bosphorus.
Just seven months after Duende Libre completed Drift in December 2017, the Seattle-based trio self-released their sophomore album Drift, which is the followup to their eponymous debut album. Drift is another album where Duende Libre combine elements of different musical genres, including African, Afro-Cuban, funk, fusion, jazz, Latin and soul.
The soulfulness comes courtesy of vocalist Chava Mirel’s trademark style who joins Duende Libre on several tracks. Her vocals are a welcome addition, and add the finishing touches to several tracks. They wouldn’t have worked without the addition of a vocal.
Other tracks work well as instrumentals, and showcase a talented and versatile trio who are capable of switching between and fusing musical genres. This they do seamlessly on Drift as they recreate the classic jazz trio. However, it’s given a modern-day makeover with an electric bass and keyboards featuring on some tracks. Maybe deep down, Alex Chadsey and Co. are traditionalists and jazz purists?
That would certainly explain the lack of a guitar in Duende Libre. On a couple of occasions, the addition of an electric guitar would totally transform what is already carefully a crafted track. Given that Duende Libre brought Chava Mirel onboard for a several tracks on Drift, maybe guitar parts could be written for some of the tracks on the band’s third album? That would be an interesting addition to a group who are open to experimenting
The members of Duende Libre experimented musically on their eponymous debut album, and continued to do that on Drift. Unlike many groups, Duende Libre realise their music has to evolve in an attempt to stay relevant. Drift finds Duende Libre’s music evolving and heading in new directions, partly thanks to the addition of vocalist Chava Mirel, and features Alex Chadsey, Jeff “Bongo” Busch and Farko Dosumov as they continue to push musical boundaries on an ambitious and genre-melting album which certainly isn’t lacking in hooks.