Marina Albero photo by Daniel Sheehan
By Paul Rauch
The city of Seattle has always embraced Marina Albero with open arms; it is as if it was meant to be that she would make the life journey from Barcelona, Spain, to the Emerald City. Since she moved here in 2014, Albero has embraced Seattle in return, with stunning live performances in a variety of musical settings. Her virtuosity on piano, hammered dulcimer, and vibraphone is enhanced by a vibrant musical spirit that is unique and transcendent.
Albero first arrived here when she was 12, traveling with her musical family. Her father, Marià Albero, was a historic musician, singer, actor, and composer; her mother, Laura Tapias, a highly regarded performer in music and theater. They traveled to Seattle to rehearse a play to be presented at the ‘92 Olympic Games in Barcelona. For a young girl from Barcelona, it was an eye-opening experience.
“Seattle was my first port in America,” recalls Albero. “Being a 12-year-old girl, it was an important thing, coming to America for the first time. I had this idea that America was the land of opportunity, so I came here with big eyes. I knew America from the movies. When I came here and I saw the size of the cars, even the size of the people, it was then real.”
At 15, Albero wanted to return, eager to travel and see the world. At this point she had acquired considerable prowess in classical piano and percussion. She had studied jazz drums at 12, and began jazz piano in earnest at 14. Inevitably, she left for Cuba, where her brother was living, and studied classical piano at the conservatory there with noted teacher, Teresita Junco.
Albero returned to Seattle on her own as an 18-year-old woman. She was welcomed warmly once again, staying with family friends, including Norm Langill. Langill was working with a Belgian family, setting up the first tent in the creation of Teatro Zinzanni, which has since become a Seattle institution. It made a connection that would result in Albero becoming a prominent member of the performing troupe there some 16 years later.
During her previous trip here, she had discovered the hammered dulcimer at Dusty Strings in Fremont. Her return trip included purchasing a larger instrument known in Spain as the psalterium. It was an instrument she had all to her own, not overseen by a teacher or mentor. Albero’s genre-expanding insights and application to a variety of musical forms have since made her recognized as a true pioneer of the instrument.
After her studies at the conservatories in Barcelona and La Havana, Albero began performing with legendary performers such as Chano Domínguez, Pepe Habichuela, Mariona Sagarra, Glen Velez, and Carlos Saura. Her virtuosity and creative spirit now in full bloom, Albero was making inroads into a variety of musical forms, including jazz, flamenco, traditional, and classical. All of these influences are clearly heard in her current approach both as an improviser and composer. Her piano style is equally influenced by Bill Evans as it is by Chano Dominguez or Teresita Junco. Through it all, there is a radiance that transcends the music and touches her audience.
In 1999, motherhood became the primary focus for Albero, upon the arrival of her daughter, Serena. Three years later came her son Marcel. Albero threw herself into motherhood with the same generous and loving spirit that her music embraced. She had been the beneficiary of great mentorship for this task, from father Marià and mother Laura. Her extended family was equally supportive.
In 2014, Albero and then partner Chano Dominguez, moved to the United States to create a new chapter in their musical and family lives. In April of that year, they were introduced to the Seattle jazz audience at the Ballard Jazz Festival in a spectacular duo performance. Dominguez, the historic flamenco jazz pianist, and Albero on vibes and psalterium, opened for iconic saxophonist Sonny Fortune. It remains one of the most memorable performances in the 15-year history of the festival. Once again, Seattle was opening its arms and embracing her.
“That’s my relationship with Seattle,” she says. “It’s like this friend you have that you haven’t seen in 20 years, and they welcome you.”
With Serena now a freshman studying jazz vocals at the New School in New York and Marcel a budding saxophonist as a sophomore in high school, Albero can now focus a bit more on her career. Her children will always be her heart, and she looks back at the past 20 years with amazement.
“I wouldn’t exchange that for any fame or career goal,” she states happily. “Now when I see my kids and see that they are good-hearted, generous, empathetic, good musicians, good thinkers, I’m glad I got to see and build some of that personality. Now I feel I can concentrate on my career and not feel like I’m missing out on something in my life.”
Albero has been holding down the piano chair at Teatro Zinzanni since her arrival, under the directorship of Hans Teuber. Apart from Zinzanni, the two have formed a special musical relationship, and a great friendship as well. Her quintet with Teuber, bassist Evan Flory-Barnes, drummer D’Vonne Lewis, and percussionist Jeff Busch, have delivered riveting performances at Tula’s Jazz Club and, as part of the Earshot Jazz Festival, at the Seattle Art Museum. She also appears in duo with bassist Jeff Johnson, and in musical associations with musicians including Farko Dosumov, Chuck Deardorf, Ben Thomas, Adriana Giordano, and Thomas Marriott, to name but a few.
Albero’s versatile piano style can transcend genre or conform to an identifiable form. Underlying it all is a love for improvisation that has been greatly impacted by American jazz music.
“I started as a jazz student when I was fourteen, and it was a big help to me, because I come from the classical or self-taught world, so jazz was the perfect way to understand harmony, even in classical music,” says Albero. “Jazz has been the door that opened up my mind and my technique, by being able to play and improvise how I want.”
Aside from her 2008 release in Spain, #1, Albero has developed a large following without a significant recent recording. She has plans to record this summer, as well as pursue several projects including her association with flamenco guitarist, Luis Gallo.
What path Albero’s career will follow going forward is uncertain. What is certain, however, is that the journey along whichever path she chooses, will possess characteristics of love, passion, devotion to family, and the never-ending pursuit of beauty. While Seattle has undoubtedly embraced her warmly, she in turn continues to embrace us with her unique creative vision.