From Buenos Aires to Putney: Sofia Rei to defy genre at Next Stage Arts

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PUTNEY — Sofia Rei, whose music transcends boundaries including classical, jazz, folk, and Latin, calls herself "a frog from another pond."

"This is a saying in Spanish that you would use when you feel like you don't belong to a specific group," said Rei, who will perform at Next Stage Arts in Putney next Saturday. "I've come to peace with being part of all those different music scenes."

Rei, an award-winning vocalist, songwriter and producer who was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and lives in New York City, will perform her new CD, "Keter," (Tzadik 2019) in its entirety in her performance at Next Stage Arts. She has collaborated with John Zorn, Bobby McFerrin, and Geoffrey Keezer, with whom she earned a Grammy nomination for Best Latin Jazz album of 2009, just to name a few. Prior to "Keter," Rei released four albums, winning four Independent Music Awards from six nominations.

When asked about her unique style and blending of many different musical genres, Rei explained she was trained in the classics first, and then found broader horizons as her career unfolded.

"I have a classical music background and wanted to become an opera singer when I was child," she said in a phone interview. "I studied at the National Conservatory in Argentina but later on I discovered jazz and improvisation and that made a significant impact in the way I approach music."

"I went back to researching South American music and incorporated that vocabulary into my music, as well," she added. "These different elements become part of your musical DNA. It's a never-ending exploration and that is the beauty of it."

"Keter," her new album, is a duo effort with Jean-Christophe Maillard, a French composer, guitarist, pianist, electronic musician and arranger. He plays a saz bass, an eight-steel stringed instrument of Turkish origin.

Rei uses a looper device, which allows her to record many different layers during live performances and multiply her voice to create different lines. She plays a charango, a ten-stringed instrument which was developed in South America in the 1600s. "It is an Andean version of a guitar, and is very small and sounds a bit like a harp," she said.

Recently, Rei joined the Clive Davis Institute at New York University's Tisch School of the Arts as a faculty member. She teaches musicianship, performance, vocal technique, and her own class, "New Perspectives in Latin American Music." She is continually surprised by her students.

"They are music students but they explore the music business, study technology in music, and are very tech savvy and very creative," she said.

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Rei talked about working with Zorn, a renowned American composer, since 2008. He's known for his Masada series, a compilation of hundreds of songs based on two distinct scales. Over 25 years, he's assigned songs from his Masada book to iconic artists such as Pat Metheny and Bill Frisell.

"I was asked by Zorn to present a song at the Town Hall Theater in New York when he launched his Masada Book 3," Rei said. "[Maillard] and I have been collaborating for many years, and I thought we could explore something as a duo with him playing the saz bass."

That song ended up turning into the "Keter" album. "This music has elements that you can point to which come from contemporary, classical, jazz, improve, flamenco, folk and even certain rock elements."

With this third and final songbook, "The Book Beriah," Zorn concludes the Masada series with 92 compositions on 11 albums, presented by some of the world's most accomplished musicians. With lyrics by Rei and arrangements by Rei and Maillard, the songs on "Keter" explore "a variety of topics, from love and solitude, to the ghost of Frida Kahlo and a childhood under dictatorship in Argentina," Rei said.

When asked if music is important in our society today, Rei said, "What is important in music and arts is that it's a medium to express ourselves and to promote community building. Everyone lives in a very isolated manner now. They are connected to their electronic devices and to the internet but have a hard time connecting to each other.

"When you go see a live show and you're moved by somebody, you feel understood and feel that empathy," she said. "Music can bring people together and make you feel better and make you reconnect with your community. It's one of the most beautiful experiences you can have with another human being."

Locals who have arranged for Rei's performances here made clear that she's a performer worth seeing.

"Sofia is reminiscent of an artist like Prince in that she is equally skilled as a composer, arranger, and producer while also being a magnetic singer and performer," said Billy Straus, the interim director at Next Stage Arts.

And Eugene Uman, director of the Vermont Jazz Center, which co-sponsored Rei's 2015 visit to Vermont, said Rei is "authentic in every way."

"The virtuosity she demonstrates on her instruments comes from years of focused study, her cultural connections with Latin and world music are all derived from direct experience," Uman said. "But the most amazing part of Sofia's authentic self is her passionate, intelligent creativity. Experiencing a concert with Sofia is a direct connection to the primal source, the light of genius."

Sof a Rei and Jean-Christophe Maillard perform "Keter" at Next Stage Arts Project on Saturday, Nov. 16 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $22 in advance and $25 at the door. Tickets are available online at nextstagearts.org or at Turn It Up! in Brattleboro, at the Putney General Store. Next Stage Arts Project is located at 15 Kimball Hill, in Putney.


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