“Duende Libre” translates roughly as “free spirit,” and the dynamic Seattle trio’s music expresses that notion well. But the band explores realms beyond mere freedom: faith in community, positivity, and the core belief that art is a medium for human connection in a fragmented world.
As drummer and percussion wizard Jeff Busch puts it: “In today’s world, where there are a lot of different struggles, music is like a dose of medicine.”
Comprised of founder and bandleader Alex Chadsey on keyboards, Farko Dosumov on bass, and Busch, Duende Libre crafts an intoxicating musical blend that winds through Africa, Cuba, Brazil, and beyond. But this is no mere musical tourist grab bag of genres engineered to demonstrate versatility. Their music is a thoroughly organic blend of groove and vibe, forged through careful study and dexterous versatility, as well as the earnest belief in the transformative power of music.
On June 16, the trio will release their second album, Drift. Balancing lushly complex harmony and rhythm with melodic accessibility, and drawing from the well of jazz-based but globally minded musicians such as Chick Corea, the album is a sublime tour de force and step forward for the band.
Chadsey is the primary composer, but the final creations are truly the collaborative work of all three, and they have developed an effective working method to content with the flood of ideas they produce.
Chadsey elaborates: “Jeff is the voice of reason in the band…He’s like, ‘Would my folks want to listen to this? Would I want to dance to this in my living room?’ And that actually becomes the litmus test!”
“How do we simplify all these ideas and just make something that’s, you know, a tune? That we can remember?” says Busch. [laughs]
Chadsey continues: “We try to find the balance, keeping it accessible to listeners,” (“Non-musician listeners!” interjects Busch). Chadsey continues, “For me, that means trying to craft strong melodies, and not overwrite. I want to leave plenty of room for Farko and Jeff to add their own thing to it. I’m trying to stay out of their way, and not dictate too much.”
The new album is a riveting listen, but where Duende Libre really create their deepest magic is onstage in front of an audience. The band is prepping for an upcoming CD release event on June 29, which will also feature powerhouse vocalist collaborators Chava Mirel and Frank Anderson.
“It’s going to be a special night; the concert is actually a partnership with Rainier Arts Center,” says Chadsey. “It’s part of a new initiative that they’re doing to feature local artists in the space and enrich the community.”
To see the band live is to get a sense of the deep respect they have for each other, and the joy they take in connecting with each other and the audience. The good vibes are for real, and they inoculate the three against the travails of creating art in a high-tech world, where music can become just another product data point, and it can be hard to make a living.
Chadsey elaborates: “There’s an argument to be made of ‘Why even bother to make an album in this day and age, with the way music is generally consumed, and I get that. …But, it’s also a milestone and marker for us as a band, from a creative standpoint. …This is the manifestation of all the time we’ve invested rehearsing, playing shows, touring. For me, that’s priceless.”
Busch chimes in: “It’s cool if you have the resources, and you can make a CD, but at the end of the day, the most important thing is trying to connect with your bandmates in a positive way, and the people that are listening.”
“It’s important to have the balance between having this hard-nosed realism about the situation, but not letting that ultimately kill your desire, or need, to create,” continues Chadsey.
Dosumov adds, “When you start playing music as a kid, you don’t think about anything but just how awesome it is! So why does it have to be different when you turn 40?”
It helps that Chadsey is not only adept at navigating the online world of the modern musician, but has, as Busch call it, “a particularly positive attitude.”
“I’ve played in some great bands, that I love playing with,” says Busch. “But sometimes I’ll call for a gig, and no one will return my call [laughs]. They’re great players, but some people are just not as organized. …Alex has stepped it up in a different way.”
The final accounting however, is about intangibles. Chadsey sums it up:
“Did I leave feeling more uplifted? Was I able to connect with the audience? Was I able to connect with my fellow musicians? For me, that’s actually the bottom line.”
Duende Libre is aural balm for the soul, medicine that goes down easy, and will leave you healed in both body and spirit. Daily use is recommended.