Neither folkloric nor avant-garde, straight ahead or Latin jazz, Coplas Escondidas is a singular creation by Argentine-born vocalist Sofia Rei and Peruvian-reared bassist Jorge Roeder, two of the foremost cosmopolitan improvisers on the international jazz scene. Slated for release on Friday, August 25, 2023, the duo project celebrates the depth of Latin American song forms, and it’s wonderfully original — unlike anything in their varied discographies.
Seizing a moment afforded by the pandemic shutdown, Rei and Roeder met up in Brooklyn at Mark Goodell’s studio for a musical communion drawing on two decades of oft-intersecting exploration. Coplas Escondidas continues a creatively charged musical conversation between two longtime friends and intermittent collaborators who’ve been influencing and inspiring one another since they met two decades ago at New England Conservatory. The songs and rhythmic settings span South America, drawing on an array of styles and traditions interpreted through an improvisational jazz ethos.
A classically trained mezzo-soprano, Rei has earned numerous awards and widespread esteem with five albums under her own name, most recently 2021’s electronica-laced Umbral. But she’s equally hailed for her collaborations with masters such as Brazilian composer Clarice Assad, guitarist Marc Ribot, vocal wizard Bobby McFerrin, composer/arranger Maria Schneider, and, most prolifically, John Zorn, including 2018’s acclaimed, The Book Beri’ah: Keter, with JC Maillard. Born and raised in Buenos Aires and based in New York since 2005, Rei was singled out by the Boston Globe for “possessing a voluptuously full voice, comprehensive command of Latin American rhythms, and encyclopedic knowledge of folkloric forms from Argentina, Peru, Colombia, and Uruguay.”
Like Rei, Jorge Roeder is a conservatory-trained artist who was only 20 when the Lima Philharmonic and Opera orchestras appointed him assistant principal bassist in 2001 (while he also played electric bass with the Lima heavy metal band Ni Voz ni Voto). Since moving to the U.S. to study at NEC in 2002, he’s forged deep and lasting ties to several extraordinary artists, performing widely and recording with saxophonist/composer John Zorn, guitarist Julian Lage, Israeli-born pianist Shai Maestro, and trombonist Ryan Keberle. Among the busiest bassists in jazz, he’s also collaborated with vibes legend Gary Burton, guitarist Nels Cline, vocalist Thana Alexa, guitarist Brad Shepik, and saxophonist Dan Blake, among many others.
Coplas Escondidas— Featured Compositions
Coplas Escondidas extends a dialogue that started almost the moment Roeder and Rei met at NEC, where they were “two of just three Latin Americans in the entire program, so it was easy to make a first connection,” Rei recalls. “I invited him to a session to try songs, ideas and improvisations just the two of us. We felt a strong musical connection and kept playing together ever since.”
Both players contribute an original piece to the program, which also features two jazz standards, Thelonious Monk‘s “Ask Me Now” (lyric by Jon Hendricks) and Jimmy Rowles‘ “The Peacocks” (lyrics by Norma Winstone). A brief first take with no solos, the former dances on a precipice to a 5/8 Venezuelan merengue, distilling a tale of regret. “We always feel we are about to crash and fall into the abyss, but we tend to manage each time,” Rei says. “There is humor, regret, conflicted thoughts and feelings, all going at light speed.”
Over the past few decades “The Peacocks” has become a proving ground for jazz’s most adventurous vocalists, but even by that daunting standard there’s nothing quite like Rei and Roeder’s high wire act, which calls to mind legendary Sheila Jordan‘s early duo adventures with bassist Harvie S (then known as Swartz). “It’s hard enough for a vocalist to perform it with a fixed-intonation chordal instrument like a piano or guitar,” Roeder says, marveling at Rei’s navigational skills. “It’s a double layer of difficulty when the accompanying instrument is a double bass!”
Ruffling through the Latin American Songbook, they transform one gem after another. The songs often directly reflect and celebrate the lives of working people so often overlooked and neglected by governments. The classic Peruvian waltz “Callejón de un solo caño” (One-faucet Alley) by the Afro-Peruvian siblings Nicomedes and Victoria Santa Cruz captures the joyful camaraderie of an informal alley jam session, while Jorge Fandermole‘s “Oración del remanso” (Backwater Prayer) describes the hard life of fishermen on the Paraná river. It’s a graceful example of chamamé, a folk tradition from northeastern Argentina combining schottische and indigenous Guaraní influences.
“Since we were students in Boston we’ve always wanted to show our American and international peers and audiences that there was much more variety in musical styles in Latin America than what they had been exposed to,” Rei says. “In a way this record, even as a snapshot, fulfills that goal given the intimate, non-traditional setting in which we framed them.”
The duo draws generously from Argentina’s deep trove of anthems, from Eduardo Lagos‘s harmonically expansive chacarera “La Oncena” (The 11th) to Argentine poet and composer Maria Elena Walsh‘s “Serenata para la tierra de uno” (Serenade For One’s Own Land), a stirring song indelibly linked to Mercedes Sosa and resistance to military repression delivered with quiet passion by both Roeder and Rei. With every track offering a series of decisions each song contains surprising moments, like Roeder dropping away in the midst of “Gallo Camarón” (Feisty Rooster) by the great Peruvian poet, singer and composer Chabuca Granda, then coming back in with hand claps.
Two of Brazil’s foundational songwriters are represented by masterworks. The duo deliver an exquisite take on the heartbroken lament “Silencio De Um Minuto” (One Minute Silence) by the prolific but short-lived Noel Rosa (1910 – 1937), while Pixinguina “Rosa” retains its joyous bounce even as they subtly recast the Brazilian waltz into a Peruvian vals. “I fell in love with the melody of this song and realized how challenging it was when I learned it,” Rei says. “Then it became part of a series of technical exercises for my advanced students at Berklee.”
Both artists contribute deeply personal original pieces. An anxious, existential reflection on Roeder’s experience of lockdown in New York, “Días de Sitio” (Siege Days) generates delicious tension with Rei’s rising vocals soaring over his headlong, double time bass line, which he composed “as a direct consequence of having so much time to practice,” he says. And Rei’s “Prestados” (Borrowed) fulfills her longtime ambition to introduce tango into her repertoire. “The lyrics talk about a sense of exhaustion about political manipulation,” she says, offering her own reflection on our recent civic traumas.
In an encore to the Brooklyn session, Rei and Roeder met in Buenos Aires to record a live session with audio and video, capturing the essence of the project, live, intimate, free, and minimalistic. Working with Eric Dawidson’s production crew they recorded three songs from Coplas Escondidas at one of the city’s iconic recording studios, Romaphonic (formerly Circo Beat) in one-shoot takes. It’s an invaluable addition to a project that brings to fruition a seed planted on Rei’s debut album, 2006’s Ojalá, which included their duo performance on the Argentine chacarera “Alma del Pueblo.”
Fully exploring the potential of the duo setting, “there is trust,” Rei says. “There is freedom. There is enough space and silence. There is the possibility of hearing every nuance, every detail that both the bass and the voice are making.”
Sofia Rei and Jorge Roeder will celebrate the release of Coplas Escondidas at Joe’s Pub on Friday, August 25, 2023 >>> VIEW