We recently reviewed “Of the Musical,” the latest album from Joan Torres’ All is Fused. It is a jazz record, but draws on latin, rock and other genres. Torres spoke about the songwriting process for the album’s opening tracks, the musical influences on the group and future plans.
An interview with Joan Torres
Jordan Smith: The two opening tracks on “Of the Musical,” “Invaded” and “Demiurge,” really stood out for me. Could you talk about those tracks and how they emerged?
Joan Torres: As with every tune on the album and most of the music I write, these tunes come from a scene that I’m painting in my head. “Invaded” started from the concept of being invaded by seemingly foreign ideas. The song started building up as several sections because each section is, in a way, invaded by another idea. I also allowed myself more freedom for “Invaded” because this track would ultimately play the role of the overture for the musical within the album. After having a general idea for where I wanted to go, I started diving deep into character and story development through melodies, harmonies, rhythms.
The story ended up being one of tribes attacking one another over their differences. There’s the on-cue opening which symbolizes the sneaking around before the full-fledged attack. This is followed by a calm period before a foreigner joins them bringing gifts and good times, then finally betraying their trust by attacking their most loved tribesman. This betrayal brings an abrupt change that echoes with the start of the tune. The slow, trimmed down midsection symbolizes their mourning over their lost one, their funeral of sorts, which is immediately followed by their arguing over how to take revenge. The last part is the attack/battle between this tribe and the foreigner’s tribe. So there are several layers of invasion going on throughout the piece.
“Demiurge” is a different scene altogether. After working with the concept of ideas invading us, I started to think about how sometimes I feel as though an entity of some sort, perhaps indifferent or deliberately cruel, created these unnecessary ideas to begin with. This tune started with me picturing what it would sound like to witness this demiurge at work during the creation of a universe; during the creation of these ideas.
It is darker, mostly minor chords, aggressive given the tempo and use of 8th notes, and it can be puzzling due to the odd time signature and signature changes. I imagine this as a scene where the demiurge walks onto its “stage” and through hand movements starts shaping the world. The tutti we all play through the solos are like incomplete phrases that are being completed by the soloists. In this case Fernando and me solo on drums and bass because I imagine an entity such as a demiurge, which is beyond our scope of understanding, being capable of drum and bass-like sounds while at work.
JS: It’s clear from listening to the album that you draw on a variety of genres. Could you tell me a bit about your musical influences and any musicians you have drawn inspiration from?
JT: This is sometimes a tough question for me to answer. There are so many artists that I have listened to, whose journeys I’ve studied, and from whom I’ve learned a bunch that I feel I could talk for hours about this.
There’s Weather Report, Miguel Zenón, Rush, Bob Marley, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Astor Piazzolla, Dream Theater, Koji Kondo, Igor Stravinsky, John Coltrane, Vijay Iyer, Juan Luis Guerra, Ben Monger, Dafnis Prieto, Daft Punk… each of those and many more were prominent for a period of time in my life.
Think of it as having to drive for an hour or two most days, having three CDs in your car at a time, and only changing those three for some other three albums once a year for the past 17+ years. You would have spent hundreds of hours listening to each one of these albums, and that’s not even counting the hours spent listening to music outside of the car. Put this way, you can see how deeply you can get to know each artist’s style and approach. You can’t help but assimilate it given your familiarity with their work.
In similar fashion, my journey exploring musical genres is anything but single tracked. I started out liking rock, gravitated towards 80s rock, then progressive rock, and eventually landed in Jazz. I unknowingly isolated myself in Jazz for quite some time because there was so much to learn. When I came up for air I decided it would be beneficial to learn how other genres relate to Jazz. Some I picked up purposely, such as Salsa, Plena, Merengue. Others I stumbled upon, such as Reggae, Motown-era R&B, Post-rock. In the end, I learned to love so much of each kind of music that it makes very little sense to try to separate them from my own musical voice. If they can coexist within me, they can certainly coexist externally. That is what “All Is Fused” is about.
JS: How would you compare “Of the Musical” with All is Fused’s previous two albums?
JT: I believe each album paints a different picture musically. Each one serves as a snapshot of All Is Fused showcasing our growth over time. “Before”, our first album, is the more traditional of the three looking back on it, even though it shaped by a lot of influences. You could say it came before I understood where to take my compositional voice.
“The Beginning” was a lot darker, more personal, and more experimental. One track has two drum sets, because I wanted to get a more tribal sound without using hand percussion. There is also a lengthy three-tune suite, three tracks that seamlessly flow one into the other, each representing different stages within the same situation. Another one of the tunes is a noir exploration with only string instruments, two guitars and bass. I was definitely open to bringing more ideas together on this album, which could have been seen as risky as I was moving away from rules of thumb or traditions.
“Of the Musical” is the most unapologetic album so far. We are making music, and we’ll go wherever the music takes us with fewer filters or pretenses, while keeping musicality in mind. The title of this album is not just because this is an instrumental musical where each instrument is a character, it is also about making sure the music stays musical, regardless of how complicated it might become.
JS: I enjoyed listening to how all of the instrumentalists combined together really well on the album. I would be interested to hear you talk about what it’s like collaborating with the other members of All is Fused?
JT: Working with all of these guys has been amazing. I’ve known these guys for years now. I’ve known Gabriel, Fernando, and Sergio for over a decade; Emanuel and Jonathan I’ve played with in plenty of other settings before working with them as part of All Is Fused. That has allowed me to understand their musical voices well enough to arrange with them in mind.
This goes both ways, as I believe they’ve understood my approach and know what I’m looking for with each tune. They know it so well that they feel comfortable suggesting ideas about how to perform these tunes in ways that really shape the music. It’s amazing at times because I hear them say something that I might have been wanting to do, but had not thought of a way to articulate it yet. Not only have they figured it out but they care enough to work through it and help make it happen. It makes me feel very grateful to be working with people who operate in congruent wavelengths to mine, who treat the music with the same care and respect that I do, if not more.
JS: What is next for you? Do you plan further recordings with All is Fused?
JT: A west coast tour or concert series is what we’re working towards in 2017.
If all goes well, we’ll do venues, festivals, and such. We are working hard to make that happen not just because we want to but because a lot of people keep asking about it. Beyond that, if all goes well, there could be a new recording perhaps sometime in late 2018.