The Compelling Music of Èlia Bastida and Carolina Alabau
When sitting down for a video chat with busy Barcelona musicians Èlia Bastida and Carolina Alabau, it’s guaranteed there will be alot to talk about. They are two extremely talented and creative young people, still in their twenties, with each already having garnered acclaim for a number of individual projects, as well as for their intermittent but enthusiastic collaborations.
Èlia began her life as a violinist when she was four, and spent her early musical education immersed in classical music, as one might expect for an aspiring violinist That all changed when Joan Chamorro asked her to audition for his world-renown Sant Andreu Jazz Band, comprised of students ranging from about 8 years old to 21, and who, despite their young ages, have since 2006 consistently astounded audiences with their extraordinary musicianship, in both big band and smaller group formats.
So, upon joining the band at 17, Èlia discovered the world of jazz, and soon made her mark as violinist, saxophonist, and vocalist. After moving on as a band member a few years ago, she has established herself as perhaps the top virtuoso jazz violinst in Europe — and, for that matter, the rest of the planet as well.
And, while the violin is still not often closely associated with jazz — with fairly rare exceptions, such as the likes of Stéphane Grappelli, Joe Venuti, Stuff Smith, and a handful of others in the past century — Èlia has been making major strides in continuing the tradition of her predecessors, by bringing the instrument back to front & center in the jazz world.
At the same time, Carolina has been a well-spring of musical ideas, and is enjoying her own solo career as a singer/pianist and composer. She attended the Guildhall School of Music in London, graduating with a degree in jazz and modern singing. She went on to receive a scholarship to study for a Master’s degree in Contemporary Performance at the University of Berklee College of Music in Valencia, graduating mega cum laude.
She released her first album, Primera Mirada, in 2020.
Her singing can range from soft and plaintive, to emotive and even dramatic, and always with conviction and a mesmerizingly pure tone.
As of this writing, both ladies have new solo albums about to be released, even as they continue their touring together to promote their first collaborative CD, Meraki, released in 2021.
They met in 2019, when, as Carolina explains, “we were working together in a musical project, and I had to sing and kind of act, and there were kids that were doing a tour of Catalonia schools, singing, and Èlia was the violinist. We met there, and one day she said, ‘Oh, I heard a video of yours on YouTube I really liked, and maybe we could play something together.’
“And I love the violin — my family are all string players. And it took us a few months to set up a meeting.” Once they began exploring the possibilites of a musical collaboration, “it was, like, oh this is very special, and very original.”
On Meraki, the two seamlessly blend Èlia’s jazz style and expertise with Carolina’s love of regional, folk-inspired, contemporary songs. It didn’t take long for her to realize, “There’s nothing really like this. Nobody is doing this.”
Èlia adds, “We tried to work on this album with a lot of precision, we did a lot of arrangements with a lot of details.”
The result is a sound full of textures and creative, even surprising arrangements between Carolina’s piano, Èlia’s violin, their two voices, and various combinations of each (with support by additional musicians on some tracks, including Joan Chamorro). The variety they create is impressive; some selections they wrote together, some are from other composers. No track sounds quite like any of the others, yet they all create a cohesiveness throughout the entire album.
“When we thought with this album we wanted to create strong new sounds,” Èlia says, with Carolina adding, “We do it with based on two instruments, and we didn’t want it to be tiring [to hear]. People need to be interested in the whole album.”
When their busy individual schedules permit, they arrange live gigs together, which are scheduled to continue well into 2023. A recent concert took place in Thionville, France, where they were both pleased with the reception. “It was my first time playing in France in an organized concert,” Carolina says, “and it was really good. The theatre was really nice, the people liked [the music], bought cds, and I think they were really enjoying it. It was with [guitarist] Marc Lopez, who sometimes accompanies us.”
“We did a lot of concerts last year,” Elia recalls.
“And we have more concerts coming up,” Carolina adds. “I’m not tired of the project. We want to continue playing gigs.”
That’s a good thing, because their wonderful chemistry onstage demonstrates how the two are always very much in synch, like two creative minds melding together. It’s evident even with their body language, as they often unconsciously mirror each other in duet.
For Èlia, performing with Carolina — while also preparing for the release of her own solo album — comes at a time when, in the previous two months alone, her travels and juggling of various musical projects (too many to elaborate in detail here) have taken her to Italy, France, India, Sweden, the Netherlands, the Canary Islands, and even a week-long recreational visit to New York with Joan Chamorro, during which they took in the city’s many famous jazz clubs from Greenwich Village to Harlem, visiting several musician friends who have played as guests of the Sant Andreu Jazz Band in past years. It was Elia’s first visit to the Big Apple.
“It was incredible. I’m very happy to have done this trip, for the jazz inspiration, listening to all these amazing musicians — John Allred, Jon-Erik Kellso, Joe Magnarelli — and also the historic clubs. It was really nice for me.”
Her stop in Tenerife, Canary Islands, served to reunite her for a string of gigs with tenor sax titan Scott Hamilton, supporting their album Elia Bastida Meets Scott Hamilton, released in late 2021.
“Scott is an inspiration for me. In concerts when I play with him, I think I play better, and it was very nice.”
And now she has her new album to promote: Tribute to Stéphane Grappelli. The title is self-explanatory — and also inevitable, considering how jazz violin pioneer Grappelli is one of her musical idols.
“People always tell me, ‘you have to do a tribute to Stéphane Grappelli.’ I think that now is the right moment to do it. It was nice to do an exploration into his music and to see how to do it, because I wanted to do it in my way — playing his music with my style, trying to make the best music.”
Accompanied by Chamorro on double-bass, and Josep Traver on guitar, the trio achieves the same intimacy and European jazz flavor so evident in the original recordings of Grappelli with guitarist Django Reinhardt.
Traver, longtime collaborator with Èlia and Chamorro on countless SAJB-related projects, holds Reinhardt in the highest esteem, making him a natural accompanist for Èlia’s violin.
The online release is scheduled for December 16, while the cd has just been made available.
As for Carolina’s new album, Una Frase Imaginada, the recording has been completed, and she’s presently finalizing some design details (but the exact release date is unknown until an announcement of which label is going to carry it). She is especially excited to be working with Spanish producer/composer Javier Limón, whose work she has greatly admired.
“He does a lot of folklore music, but rooted in the present, so I contacted him; I did two videos for his YouTube channel, and he said to me, why don’t we do an album together? I said, that’s gonna be amazing because you are amazing. He’s great. So I recorded this in July and August — eleven songs, including four bolero songs, and I think it’s going to be a very interesting album.”
The musicians who have participated in the recording are: flamenco percussionist Israel Suárez “Piraña”, afro-cuban bassist Dany Noel, pianist Limón Jr, flautist María Rehakova and Javier Limón himself playing guitars.
While Carolina is an accomplished songwriter, the compositions on Una Frase Imaginada are by Javier. “I like when someone gives me a composition raw, and I make it my own,” she says. “It’s almost kind of my song now. Of course, it’s his song, but I was there in the process, and I really like the idea of interpreting a song someone wrote specifically for me. It’s a new thing for me. He guided me in a way of singing, which was very enlightening. He told me to go down some keys, sing in lower keys, and let’s sing with more air, because I normally sing very high. This has been a revelation in the past three months. I love it, but I come from classical singing, where everything is so high, so this album was good to investigate another voice, another approach to singing, so it’s made me grow a lot as a vocalist.”
On her Verkami fundraising page, she describes the album as living “between the sounds of Spanish and Latin folklores from a very current and avant-garde perspective. The lyrics speak of the deepest passions of the human being; love and heartbreak, contradictions, disappointment, inner dialogue, farewells… All of them told in the most vulnerable and intimate way I could find, with the hope that it connects with all of you.”
And, as mentioned earlier, there will be more music to perform onstage with Èlia, and their experimentation in creating the Meraki songs didn’t necessarily end in the recording studio. “We have some new ideas that we can do in the concerts,” Carolina explains. “We can change some things, get new ideas…”
While they plan to do a new album together eventually, neither wants to rush into it. “We want to wait a little bit before that,” Carolina explains. “We had a conversation…we’re always going to be together because we are best friends, but right now, Èlia’s releasing her album, and I’m going release my own album, so we’re focusing on that, but maybe in the future, whenever we want to do something again — definitely we’re going to do it again. Some musicians do their own careers, they meet and share what they’ve been learning separately, then they put it together. We are still touring all the time.”
She continued, “What I figured out a few weeks ago — I was feeling pressure from the industry to do stuff, release a single — but we did [Meraki] with so much love and so much enthusiasm. And actually, I prefer the next thing we do that we are full-in and do something as good as what we did, or try to do it better — not to do it rushed and to do it wrong, because we have to. No. Whenever the situation and circumstances are good, then we can do it, relaxed.”
Both individually and together, whether they are producing music touching on jazz, contemporary, Mediterranean folk, or combinations of all three, they are to be admired and enjoyed for their dedication, charisma, as well as for their unique and often thrilling sounds.
Until next time…
You can visit Èlia’s web site at: https://eliabastida.com
Carolina’s web site: https://www.carolinaalabau.com
Carolina’s Verkami page: https://www.verkami.com/projects/34112-una-frase-imaginada-nuevo-disco-de-carolina-alabau
My article profiling Èlia in the January, 2022 issue of The Syncopated Times: https://syncopatedtimes.com/elia-bastida-from-classical-violin-student-to-jazz-virtuoso
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Read my previous articles related to the Sant Andreu Jazz Band at the links below, and at the “Garry’s Blog” page on my website, www.GarryBerman.com.
“Kindred Spirits: How Joan Chamorro and Isidore Rudnick Teach Jazz to Kids” https://medium.com/@garryberman/kindred-spirits-how-joan-chamorro-and-isidore-rudnick-teach-jazz-to-kids-2d0cb80bed77
“The SAJB’s Koldo Munne Steps into the Jazz Spotlight” https://garryberman.medium.com/the-sajbs-koldo-munn%C3%A9-steps-into-the-jazz-spotlight-238b3231626f
“A Tale of Two Albas” https://garryberman.medium.com/a-tale-of-two-albas-904849a5e697
“How a Kids Band in Barcelona Rekindled My Love of Jazz” https://garryberman.medium.com/how-a-kids-band-in-barcelona-rekindled-my-love-of-jazz-a20ea8873670
“Jan Domenech’s New Chapter as a Jazz Musician” https://garryberman.medium.com/jan-domenechs-new-chapter-as-a-jazz-musician-e1f0da8b19b9
“Joan Chamorro and the SAJB: Past, Present, and Future” https://medium.com/@garryberman/joan-chamorro-and-the-sajb-past-present-and-future-573eedcbff76
“Josep Traver: Guitarist of All Trades” https://garryberman.medium.com/josep-traver-guitarist-of-all-trades-608296f9d00a
“When American Jazz Pros Meet Spanish Jazz Kids” https://garryberman.medium.com/when-american-jazz-pros-meet-spanish-jazz-kids-25c7f5023571
“Claudia Rostey: The Life of an 18-year-old Bacelona Jazz Trombonist” https://garryberman.medium.com/claudia-rostey-the-life-of-an-18-year-old-barcelona-jazz-trombonist-d13b82c770a3
“The Magic of the Voice: The Singers of the Sant Andreu Jazz Band” https://garryberman.medium.com/the-magic-of-the-voice-the-singers-of-the-sant-andreu-jazz-band-208dfb629221
“Jobim is Alive and Well in Barcelona” https://garryberman.medium.com/jobim-is-alive-and-well-in-barcelona-d384b40d8c2e
“Did Someone Say Anastasia Ivanova?” https://garryberman.medium.com/did-someone-say-anastasia-ivanova-dd6f67277c64
“Struck by (musical) Lightning” https://garryberman.medium.com/struck-by-musical-lightning-6583ecb0de13
Sant Andreu Jazz Band CDs are available at: https://jazztojazz.com/ , eBay, and Amazon.com.