Pianist Cathlene Pineda Releases "A Week's Time"

In October of 2012, Cathlene Pineda was flying back to her home in Los Angeles when she took out a pencil and begun to write.  Her thoughts spilled out of her and onto the staff paper, notes that would tell the story of what had just become a significant personal time in her life.  She titled the resulting piece A Week's Time, one of fourteen compositions that are featured in the pianist's debut album by the same name.  It's a beautifully crafted, expressive work which elucidates her prodigious ability as a classical pianist tethered to a lyrical, imaginative improvisatory mind.

Cathlene Pineda grew up in St. Paul, Minnesota as a normal happy midwestern girl, yet she had a life perspective decidedly unusual for most Minnesotans, as her father, Edgar, was from Colombia.  Pineda recalls, "As a kid, we used to visit Bogotá (where her father's family lived), but then drive through the countryside to small villages.  It was always such a culture shock going from midwestern Minnesota to South America…however, the kindness of the people and the richness of the culture always stood out to me and affected the way I related to my own life."

The periodic visits also made an early impression upon Pineda about the importance of family.  "One of the biggest differences between the two cultures was seeing how Colombians celebrate parties--with every family member present, from young to old, sitting around in a circle and talking, instead of where the kids were supposed to go somewhere else…it made the family seem closer and more connected."

These themes of competing cultures and and family also permeate Pineda's musical career, as she migrated from a potential career as a classical pianist to a promising one as a modern jazz composer and improviser.  Beyond having to relearn how to make music after a lifetime of mastering a wholly different genre and approach to the piano (including two years in Los Angeles at California Institute of the Arts, and two more at Mannes College in New York), she had to find another musical family sympathetic to her change in artistic direction.  Her newfound contemporaries included Ben Street, the exceptional bassist widely considered to be one of the New York's finest players and musical minds.  Of Street's tutelage, Pineda says, "it was a very profound mentorship, because my approach to music was similar to his…he accepted the way I played, which was more classically oriented.  He encouraged me to keep things natural and honest, his term for it was 'country simple'."  Street, along with piano master Fred Hersch and trumpeter (and former CalArts alum) Ralph Alessi were able to show Pineda a clearer direction for her to take.

That direction apparently pointed west, for after four years in New York, Pineda returned to California for graduate studies at CalArts, the place where the seed was planted which would irrevocably alter her career path.  This time, she fully identified as someone more than just a classical pianist, quickly falling into an accepting family of fellow musicians of all backgrounds.  As she left school with Master's degree in tow, her and her friends plunged into the budding creative melting pot slowly coming into its own in Los Angeles.

Two of those "CalArtians" would become part of Pineda's working group.  She met drummer Tina Raymond at school, where they found themselves playing together more and more, becoming close colleagues and friends.  Bassist Ivan Johnson  parlayed his prior education at CalArts into a music director position at the prestigious Oakwood School in Southern California.  Their trio has been in existence for the past few years, performing locally in Los Angeles and developing a cohesive, distinct musical identity.  It was Johnson who suggested playing with trumpeter Kris Tiner, who went to CalArts with Johnson and is now on the faculty at CSU Bakersfield and the director of jazz at Bakersfield College.  The idea for a recording was first suggested by piano sage Art Lande, who after hearing their trio enthusiastically encouraged Pineda to record.

The real impetus for the project, however, came in the fall of 2012 when Edgar Pineda had surgery to remedy a series of strokes he had suffered.  Complications from the surgery caused the elder Pineda to have repeated uncontrollable seizures, and Cathlene was summoned home by her mother, who feared he might not survive the ordeal.  She recalls, "when we arrived, he was sleeping and when he would "wake up," he couldn't really form words or remember where he was.  We were thankful he was waking up and the seizures had subsided, but we weren't sure if he would ever walk or speak correctly."

Thankfully, Edgar improved throughout the week, and Cathlene was able to return to L.A., her worst fears alleviated.  It was on the plane where she began to pour all she had felt during that time into composing.  "It was very easy to write…almost euphoric."  Before long, she had enough material for an album.

A Week's Time can be seen as a window into who Cathlene Pineda is.  Her affinity for Ravel and Messian is evident, as is her love for Keith Jarrett and Paul Bley.  It offers evidence to show the competing musical forces inside of her are now working in tandem, and the resolution provides a new path of musicality and expression.  It also offers an acknowledgment of a strong musical family, one which mirrors her own family from St. Paul to Bogota.  It's celebrates the initiation of a new musical life, the saving of another life that was nearly lost, and of the resolve of a girl who once accompanied her father halfway around the world to continue the journey with him for years to come.

— Gary Fukushima, at large writer for LA Weekly