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Alexis Cuadrado: Jazz from the Underground

The inspiration behind Alexis Cuadrado's Puzzles was initially visual. Mario Carrillo, the bassist's late father-in-law, created a double diptych — a series of four 5' x 8' panels. The huge canvasses, each containing a multitude of colorful jigsaw puzzle pieces, exist somewhere in the realm of pop art. Stare at them long enough, though, and you start to get lost.

Cuadrado, admittedly, is not much of a hobbyist. But he can find his own affinity with the puzzle. "On a deeper level, it's a reflection of everyday life. It's puzzling, just to get by everyday and do what you do. And be content with it."

He should be happy. The Catalan-born musician has achieved a rare feat: He has crafted his career largely on his own terms. With the Puzzles Quartet, he has found musicians who are on the same page.

"The best quality of these guys is that they are great improvisers. They really go in opposite directions and very unexpected places. I like that we can do that with the band, and I try to write music with that purpose in mind."

For Cuadrado, there's plenty of purpose, but he doesn't let analysis get in the way of spontaneity. "I try to drag myself into the process without judging much, and if the song survives for a couple months, a couple gigs, and it's cool, then that's it. It's in."

Cuadrado is part of the Brooklyn Jazz Underground, a collective of 10 bandleaders in a New York borough full of jazz musicians. The BJU meets monthly to talk about music, play records, and get down to business. It's even started its own record label.

"It's great to feel like we're part of a likeminded group of people," Cuadrado says. "We're going in the same direction. Everyone in the group is so adventurous. They're trying to challenge themselves and push the envelope with their own music."

These days, integrity counts for a lot. That's what keeps independent jazz relevant in a fragmented music industry. Musicians like Cuadrado and the Brooklyn Jazz Underground understand that it takes more than talent.

Listen to Cuadrado's three compositions, and you'll find every reason to take him seriously. Between the Puzzles Quartet and the Brooklyn Jazz Underground, he's found a way to make all the pieces fit.

Originally recorded Jan. 15, 2008.

Listen to the previous Favorite Session, or see our full archive.

Copyright 2008 WBGO

Josh Jackson
Josh Jackson is the associate general manager for content at WRTI in Philadelphia.
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