by Stamish Malcuss
James Fernando began his music exploration at an early age. Playing classical piano at the age of five. It was in middle school that his first exposure to jazz transpired. The connection was immediate. Working tirelessly to develop his skills Fernando received awards from both Downbeat Magazine and the National Young Arts Foundation and was nominated for the Jazz Fellowship Awards of the American Pianists Association. He was also selected for the prestigious Jazz Band of America and Berklee Summer Jazz Workshop. Fernando then attended Berklee College of Music on scholarship, where he graduated summa cum laude after only three years of study.
Shortly after graduating, Fernando earned his touring stripes with legendary saxophonist Chris Cheek (Paul Motion, Charlie Haden, Steve Swallow, Bill Frisell). After returning from that tour, Fernando attended the historic Banff International Workshop in Jazz & Creative Music. It was at this workshop he met Toronto-based vocalist and composer Mingjia Chen, with whom he recorded and released his debut album Extended Layover. Fast forward to 2019 and Fernando is set to release his first solo album, The Lonely Sailor, on February 8, 2019.
Fernando begins the journey with the title track, “The Lonely Sailor.” With two themes being presented, Fernando’s playing, and composing is a wonderful combination of classical and jazz. In fact, in the bridge section, one can clearly hear references to the great pianist and composer, Fredric Chopin. Fernando’s sense of shapes and spaces is excellent, a very hard balance to achieve when presenting a solo composition. His technique is immense, he is able to keep multiple themes clearly flowing, even during his improvisations, Fernando’s multiple layers shine through with power and lyricism.
Fernando also experiments with the sonic possibilities of combining the acoustic sounds of the piano with electronics. Thereby expanding the sonics of the piano itself and creating what Fernando calls, “the electronically augmented piano.” Contact microphones are placed on the piano and their signals are then put through a computer with software that Fernando can control via a foot pedal during his performance. The effect is that the acoustic piano is always audible, but there are electronic elements that enter and exit throughout the course of the song. “The Other Side of the Storm” finds this technique to be a very musical and hauntingly beautiful sonority. The acoustic piano can still be heard as swells of sounds and expands to piano to create ethereal sounds and colors. Fernando’s touch and relaxed performance allows the two sounds time to interact and be appreciated. The middle section and ending is a grand melody surrounded by multiple octave arpeggios, for this section, Fernando only speaks through the acoustic piano, giving the composition many colors and emotions.
Fernando’s sense of creativity is vibrant, he is limitless in his ability to articulate his ideas. His use of the piano is a broad-spectrum approach filled with textural sophistication and immense technical prowess. Each time you pass through a listen of The Lonely Sailor, more is revealed each time. The breadth of what Fernando puts forth is stunning. Highly recommended.