Fabian Almazan

Recently nominated for a Grammy for his work on Terence Blanchard’s Breathless, pianist and composer Fabian Almazan found his musical roots as a child in his homeland of Havana where he first became involved in the classical piano tradition. When his parents could not afford to pay for private piano lessons and having migrated to Miami, Florida, pianist Conchita Betancourt was gracious enough to impart free lessons. Thanks to Mrs. Betancourt’s exceeding generosity, Fabian was able to audition for the New World School of the Arts High School in Miami where he studied from 1998 to 2002. In 2002 Fabian was selected for the piano chair in the National 2002 Grammy High School Jazz Combo. The following year, Almazan attended the newly up and running Brubeck Institute fellowship program based in northern California where he studied with Mark Levine and performed with Dave Brubeck and Christian McBride. In 2003, Fabian moved to New York City to study with Kenny Barron at the Manhattan School of Music.

Fabian was voted #1 Rising Piano Star in the Downbeat magazine’s Critics 2014 Poll and was granted the Chamber Music America 2014 New Jazz Works commission. Almazan received the Cintas Foundation 2010/11 Brandon Fradd Award in Music Composition, an award that has been granted to many Cuban artists who have gone on to play an influential role in the development of Cuban cultural heritage. Almazan was also selected as one of six composers to participate in the Sundance Composers’ Lab where he studied with such acclaimed film composers as Harry Gregson-Williams, Alan Silvestri, George S. Clinton, Christopher Young, Ed Shearmur and Peter Golub. His solo albums, Personalities, which Fabian Almazan released on his own record label, Biophilia Records, and Rhizome on AritstShare/BlueNote Records have garnered nationwide critical acclaim, including a glowing review in The New York Times. Interest in Almazan’s work was also bolstered by his performances at the historic Village Vanguard in New York City, which have been broadcasted live to a nationwide audience on National Public Radio’s Live from the Village Vanguard. Since 2007 Fabian has been the pianist for the Terence Blanchard’s various bands, including the E-Collective which was nominated for a Grammy in 2016. Mr. Almazan has toured North and South America, Asia, Africa, Australia and Europe extensively and has had the opportunity to perform with such artists as Linda May Han Oh, Gretchen Parlato, John Hollenbeck, Paquito D’Rivera, Mark Guiliana, Dave Douglass, Chris Dingman, David Sanchez and Ambrose Akinmusire, among others. 

Fabian has written several film scores and can be heard on several Spike Lee films as well as George Luca’s Red Tails among other films. Most recently, Fabian was selected to participate in the SWR New Jazz Meetings which took place in Germany.

We chatted with him about how he’s using the Mopho x4.

What made you choose the Mopho x4?

“In my pre-Mopho life, the emphasis had been more on sonic landscapes and ambient sounds. After a while though, I really wanted contrast and to find a way of incorporating something that allowed for me to play more articulated, clear lead lines, a fat bass and jabbing chords. Although you can definitely create ambient pads with the Mopho x4, in my opinion, it really shines with that piercing, direct, fat analog sound that can cut through anything.

How are you using it?

“On its own, I really gravitate towards the fat, piercing capability of the Mopho x4, but in addition to that, it is actually a great controller as well. In my setup, I use the Mopho’s USB and expression pedal inputs to control (via Ableton on my laptop and Lemur on my iPad) all sorts of things that I use to alter the sound of the acoustic piano (which I am processing with plug-ins and physical pedals). I also am able to combine the sound from the Mopho with Omnisphere on my laptop (via USB) to create an interesting marriage of the two worlds. I find the way that Jason Lindner sculpts his Mopho’s sound with pedals to be fascinating and has inspired me to dig a little deeper with pedals as well. The latest addition is Randy’s Revenge from Fairfield Circuitry but I’ve got my eye on Empress Echosystem and a few other pedals.”

What’s one of your favorite things about it?

“Its name, definitely. But the clear quality of the sound, the hands-on interaction, its on-the-fly morphing ability, and the portability of it are perfect for what I do. But again, you can’t beat the name. I love saying “Yup, you heard correctly… she’s a Mopho” when people ask me twice what the name is because they think they heard it wrong the first time.”

What does it give you that other synths don’t?

“Prior to using the Mopho x4 in my setup, I took a strict laptop driven, virtual instrument approach to my live performance electronic-music practicies. I would show up to the gig with a laptop, an audio interface and a MIDI controller which I would set up on top of a grand acoustic piano. Since almost all of the gigs I play require that I fly across the world, it is very easy for luggage and gear to get lost for days if not weeks on the road, which is why I took the software/plug-in approach- to minimize that risk. When I learned about the Mopho x4, it wasn’t more than an hour later that I got one. It may come in a small package, but it is immensely powerful. The sound quality is pristine and the ability to be able to sculpt the quality of the timbre immediately on the Mopho rather than having to go into a laptop feels conducive to in-the-moment creativity which is really refreshing when performing live, on stage.”

Any interesting tricks or techniques you’d like to share?

“You can access the fine frequency tuning either by pressing the Shift button and turning the Frequency knob, or by going into the Global menu and doing it globally from there. I like to sometimes use the Shift button approach and only select one of the oscillators at a time and go back and forth between -30 and +30 to create a sort of phasing/drifting-out-of-tune effect that feels to me almost like a record player slowing up and speeding up, messing with the pitch of the audio. It reminds me of old synth oscillators that would take a minute to get in tune or would go out of tune about half an hour into the show.”






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