SONiC Composer Spotlight – Clarice Assad

Brazilian-American Clarice Assad is a Grammy-nominated composer, pianist, and vocalist of a wide variety of styles of music, including her own original concepts. Described by the San Francisco Chronicle as “a serious triple threat,” Clarice is equally comfortable as a performer, a band leader, and a composer. ACO’s SONiC Festival is excited to present Clarice in all these roles at its final AfterHours concert, Wednesday, 10pm at Drom in the East Village, along with dynamic jazz ensemble Eco-Music Big Band.

Clarice was kind enough to answer some questions about her upcoming performance.

Composer/performer/bandleader Clarice Assad

American Composers Orchestra: As a composer you bridge gaps between jazz, classical, avant garde, Brazilian and world music. Is there any one style that you think serves as the basis for your program with Off The Cliff, or are they equal influences?
Clarice Assad: I chose Vem pro Rio as a starting point. It is a simple, straight-forward samba that serves as a nice contrast between the styles that follow, which are nothing like the samba / Brazilian bossa nova rhythms that most people know. We will be performing music from some of Brazil’s most interesting young contemporary composers/songwriters, who are searching for new sounds in their own unique ways. For example, in Thiago Amud’s political piece A Marcha dos Desacontecimentos, he builds this complex, chromatic harmonic world that floats atop a simple rhythmic style that originated in the early 1920’s, known as the carnival march. It sounds really interesting. Gabriel Levy’s Baião de Cinco is also quite innovative, because he combines melodic fragments found in forró music with Arabic overtones. As a composer who enjoys bringing musical styles together, I have great appreciation for what these artists are doing, and I am also really excited to share this music with people who might not normally come across anything like this.

ACO: Your ensemble, Off The Cliff, features some truly world class players. Can you talk about what brought you together, especially in regards to your fusion of musical styles?
CA: We were all brought together by our passion to perform music that we loved – our beginnings weren’t very professional. In fact, we couldn’t make it a priority as far as how much time we could dedicate to it. If we had a show somewhere, we almost never had time to prepare… During performances, I recall many times not knowing exactly how a piece was supposed to start or end. There were so many funny and exciting moments because of this. Part of the secret for this to work is trust. And part of the magic, I found, was being on the edge of falling apart, but somehow, being able to hold it together. That’s why we call the ensemble Off The Cliff!

Originally the group started out as a trio, made up of people who could play more than one instrument. The idea was to move back and forth between instruments and in different combinations, to keep the music fresh and interesting. Some of the instruments (say, the banjo, the mandolin, or cavaquinho, and the vast array of percussion instruments that Keita Ogawa performs) helped create the melding of styles quite naturally. Within the past year, our original ensemble performed extensively in places where other musicians would join us (string sections from orchestras, students, local ensembles, guest artists, etc.) and we’ve become this ‘modular’ group, that can adapt itself to different places and situations, depending on what they call for.

For SONiC, we are being joined by phenomenal players such as Adam Niewood, Matthew Rohde, Su Terry, Sergio Krakowski, and Petros Klampanis – and also lead singers Lara Bello and Sissy Castrogiovanni.

ACO: What other SONiC Festival concerts are you planning to see this week? Anything you’re excited about?
CA: I wish I could go to every single one of them!! The amount of talent that is being showcased is quite outstanding. I am, though, crazy about vocal music so I was super excited to see that Roomful of Teeth was going to be featured. They are simply phenomenal.

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