Agustí Fernandez, A Portrait In Words For An Artist Of Sounds: a discussion with Ken Vandermark

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Agustí Fernandez, A Portrait In Words For An Artist Of Sounds: a discussion with Ken Vandermark during August//September, 2014

I first heard Agustí Fernandez not long after he joined the Barry Guy New Orchestra in 2002.  Previously, I had seen the group perform a number of times with Marilyn Crispell and when the band appeared with a new pianist, who I wasn’t yet familiar with, I wondered how he’d be able to follow such a formidable predecessor in the piano chair.  Moments after the concert started with Agustí in the band it was clear why he had been chosen for the task- his creativity, intensity, and range of skills were awe inspiring.  Since then I have listened to Agustí’s music many, many times, live and on record.  He is one of my favorite contemporary musicians and I feel lucky to have played with him on a few occasions in the last couple of years.  Our meeting in Barcelona on May 15th, 2013 was released on Discordian Records, and is included in the upcoming box set on Not Two Records, Nine Ways To Read A Bridge.

In retrospect, I feel that when I heard Agustí back in the early years of this century, it was my first encounter with a new type of improviser that the drummer Paul Lytton indicated was coming (perhaps Paul’s awareness of this fact was due to his playing with Agustí)- a musician with extraordinary technical skills who could also improvise at the highest level.  Until experiencing Agustí’s playing, I always felt that the development of such a player was doubtful, that the combination Paul was talking about was unlikely to occur because the amount of time needed to develop the technique to perform music by composers like Elliot Carter and Iannis Xenakis, and the mindset necessary to work as an interpreter of such material, seemed very distant from the effort needed to evolve contemporary improvising skills.  It was a range of premeditated skills versus those that were utilized spontaneously.

As I hear it now, the music of Agustí Fernandez proved Paul Lytton right, there is a new kind of improviser working today, and I feel this development is one of the most exciting aspects of working on contemporary music in the 21st century.  The following interview took place though an email exchange during September, 2014.  My thanks to Alex Sanchez for the invitation to discuss these ideas with Agustí, and to Agustí for all of his patience and insights during our discourse.  I hope the reader will come away from this dialog with as much inspiration as I did.

-Ken Vandermark, September 14th, 2014, Amsterdam

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