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Woven Threads

by Stu Mindeman

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It is remarkable how people and places from one’s past may become intertwined down the line. The Chicago based pianist and composer Stu Mindeman spent his toddler years in Chile. As an adult Mindeman revisited Chile, became tied to the culture, and decided to embark upon a project celebrating Chile’s musicians and legendary wordsmiths on his new recording, Woven Threads.

When Mindeman was very young, his father took a job with a symphony orchestra in Chile; the family lived there for several years. Mindeman was too young to have received much direct influence, but he did grow accustomed to hearing the sounds of Chilean folk music from the records his mother and father brought home, and he began learning Spanish from Chilean close family friends he spent time with.

The pianist grew up to become a busy composer, arranger and producer. Mindeman has performed all over the world, most notably with Branford Marsalis, Kurt Elling, and Antonio Sanchez, among many others. His debut recording, In Your Waking Eyes: Poems by Langston Hughes, was released in 2014 to critical acclaim.

In 2017 Mindeman returned to Chile. He immediately became immersed in the modern Chilean music scene, where he met a number of like-minded musicians who use Chilean folk, jazz and other Latin music to express themselves. These musicians subsequently became the core of Mindeman’s upcoming project. The celebrated vocalist Francesca Ancarola stood out for her interest in jazz and Latin music. Bassist Milton Russell and drummer Carlos Cortez Diaz rounded out the rhythm section.

As his ideas progressed, Mindeman began to focus on the poetry of two revolutionary Chileans, Violeta Parra and Víctor Jara. Parra and Jara were titanic figures in their country’s Nueva Canción Chilena and for their stance against the dictator Augusto Pinochet. A brilliant singer, composer, and teacher, Jara was arrested, tortured and killed by the Pinochet regime, shortly after the US-backed military coup. Parra was known for her poetry, songs and visual artwork. She also met a sad end, committing suicide in 1967.

Parra’s famous tapestries and the idea of blending the music and musicians from Chile and the United States led to Mindeman’s idea of Woven Threads. Mindeman had worked in the realms of Latin jazz and Latin American music in the past and wanted to preserve the textures of the South American influences as they melded with North American jazz. The composer utilized his connections in Chile and Chicago, along with special guests, to record eight pieces with an incredible emotional scope. The Chicago contingent was made up of bassist Matt Ulery, drummer Makaya McCraven, guitarist Matt Gold, and saxophonists Geof Bradfield and Greg Ward.

The program begins with a folk song from the Altiplano region of northern Chile entitled “Casi, Casi,” featuring a cueca/chacarera rhythm and Ancarola’s persuasive vocals. Jara’s homage to Che Guevara, “El Aparecido,” follows with its moving lyrics touching on rebellion and human rights, passionately wrought by Ancarola with an incredible rhythmic underpinning. French-Chilean hip-hop artist Ana Tijoux lends her powerful voice to Mindeman’s “Sin Sentido,” which features a wonderful back and forth between the vocals and Marquis Hill’s sublime trumpet. Mindeman’s churning “La Rueda” generates steam over a compound 5-metered groove and features the fiery alto of Miguel Zenón. The ballad “La Casa de al Lado” comes from the pen of Uruguayan songwriter Fernando Cabrera and is adapted with a new harmonic palette and structure based on candomblé and timba.

The next two pieces are a tribute to Violeta Parra, with lyrics inspired by her poetry, penned by poet Tim Stiles and performed by the great Kurt Elling. Mindeman felt that trying to translate poems directly into English, namely “Qué Palabra Te Dijera” and “Como el Roble en el Verano,” would be a disservice to the work, so the lyrics are reimagined, based on Parra’s original imagery and emotion evoked. The introspective “What Word” is a beautifully swelling piece that highlights Elling’s emotive breath and Zenón’s plainchant tone. “A Thousand Stars” is equally stirring, with its full harmonic wealth and Elling at his heartbreaking best. The recording finds a perfect conclusion in Jara’s bittersweet “No Puedes Volver Atrás,” a song about desperation and losing hope, that entreats the listener to have faith and move forward, because there is no going back.

Completing a circle of sorts, Stu Mindeman returned to a source of inspiration he never quite fully grasped in his early home of Chile. On his recording, Woven Threads, the pianist/composer is able to reach out to old and new friends on two continents to create passionate music that speaks to the triumph of heart over the elements.


released September 14, 2018

Stu Mindeman - piano, keyboards, organ
Francesca Ancarola - vocals (1, 2, 5, 8)
Ana Tijoux - vocals (3)
Kurt Elling - vocals (6, 7)
Milton Russell - bass (1, 2, 5, 6, 7)
Matt Ulery - bass (3, 4, 8)
Carlos Cortes Diaz - drums (2)
Malaya McCraven - drums (1, 3, 6, 7)
Juan Pastor - drums (4, 5, 8), percussion (1-6)
Yuri Hevia - bombo legüero (1, 8), percussion (5)
Matt Gold - guitar
Quentin Coaxum - trumpet (7)
Victor Garcia - trumpet (1, 3, 5), percussion (5)
Marquis Hill - trumpet solo (3)
Geof Bradfield - tenor saxophone, bass clarinet
Greg Ward - alto saxophone (1, 2, 3, 5)
Miguel Zenón - alto saxophone (4, 6)
Sally Blandon - background vocals (2, 5)
Devin Velez - background vocals (2)
Sarah Marie Young - background vocals (3, 4, 7)


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