Crazed keys and dynamic drums on Pavel's latest

'The Other Side'

Pavel and Direct Contact are one of the most spectacular live acts currently working the Indianapolis music scene. The group's newest album takes a unique approach to the Latin jazz genre, eschewing bass and brass the album instead features a series of stripped-down musical conversations between the piano of Pavel Polanco-Safadit and the drums of percussionist Raul Padro.

You'll have two chances to see them perform at the Jazz Kitchen on February 27, at 7:30 and 9:30 in celebration of Pavel's new CD The Other Side. Visual artist Andre Parnell, who created the album art for The Other Side, will be painting live portraits of the band during both sets. The resulting works will be auctioned off immediately following the performance.

NUVO: Pavel, you're employing a unique format on this new album. The Other Side is basically a series of duets between your piano and Raul's drums. How did that concept come about?

Pavel Polanco-Safadit: It started back in December. There's a really nice studio in Richmond, Indiana called the Milk House. It's a farm that has been transformed into a recording studio. They told me they wanted to record a project with me to help promote the studio. I thought it would be a good opportunity to try something different. So I talked to Raul about recording as a duo and he was willing. He's always willing, Raul is a soldier and a hardworking musician.

RELATED: Read Kyle's May 2015 interview with Pavel discussing his trips to the Dominican Republic

NUVO: Raul, how did the idea of recording strictly with piano and drums strike you?

Raul Padro: I couldn't picture playing with just timbales and piano. At first I didn't know what to do on my own. I've always had the crutch of playing with Andre Rosa-Artis [of Sancocho, a group Padro also performs with] who is by far the best conga player in Indianapolis. He's got amazing technique and a great feel. It's nice to play with somebody like that.

"Off the Cuff" was the first track Pavel and I came up with that was just timbales and piano. It's a hybrid rhythm based on the Mozambique groove. We rehearsed it a couple times and the more we did it the more it felt right - as long as I didn't play too loud, because the timbales is a very loud instrument. I had to practice the dynamics. You have to get used to that with Pavel, he goes high and low and you have to go along with him. Pavel likes to push things to the limit.

The thing I like about Pavel is that he can listen to a rhythm and come up with a melody and chord progression and still be sensitive to the rhythm and make it fit. Pavel's music is always challenging. Playing with Pavel has been the most challenging music I've ever played.

NUVO: Pavel, was it challenging for you to find the right dynamic balance with Raul's percussion?

Polanco-Safadit: Raul is very good. Some of these pieces are vary hard to learn musically. But you wouldn't believe how quickly we put these songs together. I think that's because we know each other so well. Raul puts things together and I can't even imagine what he's doing with his feet and hands to get those sounds. It's crazy to me. When a new musician comes in and tries to learn the music we've found it takes awhile, but with Raul it's very quick.

NUVO: Pavel, the CD release party is this Saturday at the Jazz Kitchen. If NUVO readers haven't caught one of your shows before, I should point out that you're exceptionally animated when you perform. I've seen you jumping off the piano bench, kicking the keyboard, and just generally gyrating your way through a performance. I'm curious if you're aware of how dramatically you're moving while you play.

Polanco-Safadit: No, I'm not aware. Except when I get hurt.

NUVO: Wait, you get hurt while playing the piano?

Polanco-Safadit: Oh my, yes! One of the last times I hit the piano with my elbow and I had to go to the doctor. He bandaged me up because I had more gigs to play. Four days after I was playing so hard that I cut my finger. I was bleeding all over the keyboard. A month later I injured my neck when I was recording in the studio. My doctor had seen me so many times he asked "what sport do you play?" I said, "none, I just play the piano." [laughs]

NUVO: Raul, you've seen Pavel injuring himself at the piano?

Padro: Oh yeah, then he'll call me the next day and tell me he hurt his elbow. I need a cup of coffee and some ginkgo biloba to pep me up before I play with Pavel. I have to be ready for some of his wild and crazy ideas. It's always a challenge and that's why enjoy playing with this guy. He's very imaginative and creative.

NUVO: Pavel, I know your bassist Steve Dokken will be joining you for the CD release performance on Saturday. I was joking with you recently that Steve is your secret weapon in the band because he's such a phenomenal player and you'd never guess how funky and hard he plays if you didn't know him. How would you describe Steve's style as a bassist?

Polanco-Safadit: Steve is furious! He's a madman on the bass! He played with Henry Mancini for 12 years and he does a lot of work in the recording studio. But he's part of my family now.

NUVO: I can't emphasize enough how fantastic you and your group are musically. It must feel great to be leading these incredible musicians on the bandstand Pavel.

Polanco-Safadit: I feel like we all have the same musical personality when we play. There's a lot of energy and passion. We're all crazy!


Kyle Long pens A Cultural Manifesto for NUVO Newsweekly and in 2014 began broadcasting a version of his column on WFYI.