A wide and mood-transporting trumpet lays over the warm, deep beats of “Natural Impulse,” the outstandingly chill title track from the new CD by the Scolari/Cavalca/Scolari trio. Injected as it is with the silvery threads of electronica, this is a genre-bending, heart-pleasing acoustic tapestry.
The melodically elusive “American Skyscrapers” adds vibes to lovely effect; percussion (particularly cymbals) and piano attacks capture the energetic spurts of city life. “South Hemisphere” brings electronic flavor to the fore, adorned with bits and pieces from piano and trumpet, for a wild ride whose soul is definitely groovable.
Just released this January, “Natural Impulse” is a mind-opening experience in off-the-beaten path rhythms that perpetually circle back to their jazz essence. Claudio Scolari lent some insights.
Why did you form the trio?
I’ve collaborated with different Italian musicians during my career, recording some albums as the primary artist. The first CD was Landskap/A recorded with pianist Sandro Animini, a nice duo focused on drums/percussion and piano with a touch of electronic parts made by the use of synths.
In 2004 I recorded my first solo album called Reflex where I started experimenting with drums/percussive sounds and synthesizers; that has been a great experience! In 2006 I released My Fourteen Songs where I featured for the first time my son Simone Scolari on trumpet; afterwards he was also featured on my album Dream & Emotions of City recorded in 2007. That was also a cool experience and a phase of deep experimentation for me. Then I took a break from composing new original music because, besides my son Simone, I was missing a fresh external input and looking for a new musician to be part of the project.
I had many ideas but I couldn’t find someone who fit the project and strengthened my ideas; until I found multi-instrumentalist and composer Daniele Cavalca, a wonderful musician and a great person with whom we could experiment with electronic sounds, two drum sets, different percussion, piano, bass and again the trumpet performed by Simone.
In 2010 we realized our first album as a trio, Colors of Red Island. We recorded the album at the Vox Recording Studio with sound engineer Andrea Fontanesi where we had so much fun working together playing random percussion on top of electronic beats, synth pads and arpeggiators.
The music started to take a new direction by itself; we just put our hands down on the instruments and everything seemed to develop by itself. From the first session, Daniele has been able to give an amazing and unique imprint to the rhythm that supported my sounds and colors fabulously.
Everyone did his part in this recording including sound engineer Andrea Fontanesi who made the recording sound amazing, and we can say that the CD got a huge and positive critical acclaim around the globe!
How would you characterize your overall sound?
I believe our sound is pretty unique in its way. Every element in our compositions seems to have its own place very naturally and in a very particular way. We usually tend to start from simple elements that can be a melodic theme, a drum groove or an arpeggiator, and then we start developing every aspect of the music: melody, harmony, rhythm and timbres. We don’t really work on solo sections; instead we try to color and enrich with little fragments of notes and effects that are already happening in the music.
Our method is improvising a lot, then we start cutting out what is not needed in the song. The electronic part of our music is crucial for us. It gives us the tool to create nice atmospheres surrounding the acoustic instruments.
You can perceive three different layers of material: the melodic/harmonic part made by the trumpet of Simone combined with the vibraphone, piano, bass and synth played by Daniele; the second layer is composed by the rhythmic parts with drums, percussion and arpeggiator played by both me and Daniele; and the third layer is purely electronic made by synth pads to create the ambience.
We feel the overall direction starts from pure jazz to something more free and with that touch of classical typical of “European jazzers.”
Why the attraction to electronic music?
I’ve always been curious about samplers and synthesizers. I started working on them in the 80’s experimenting a lot with the first samplers on the market, then combining them with acoustic sounds from the jazz standards.
However, having Daniele now part of the team provides the electronic aspect of our music since he specializes in it. He really experiments a lot on analog synthesizers as well as triggering prerecorded sequences. I always enjoy the way he blends acoustic and electronic material with a deep harmonic development and rhythmic grooves.
Electronic music is amazing because you can practically create with no limits and do anything. But can also become dangerous when you over use it. It’s always about finding the balance. It shouldn’t be used just to fill the music but it has to have its specific function in the texture.
I believe that even though we are in 2018, blending electronica with jazz still sounds weird; but there’s a lot to experiment and a lot that hasn’t been discovered yet.
Do you often add traditional melodic elements to your songs, like in the trumpet part of “South Hemisphere”?
Yes, I think that the melody or the main theme is probably the most beautiful thing in our songs. Writing a melody, a good and simple melody, is always very hard; it’s a challenge every time. I also like to start playing the main theme as it is, and then start breaking it, ruining it, getting more “free” in the development and then coming back to its original state.
Obviously you have to find the right balance between melody and harmony from one side, and improvisation and electronica from the other side. In this scenario, Simone always fits well with his warm and deep sound on the trumpet playing the main theme on almost every song.
What are some of the unusual sounds or rhythms that you utilize?
I’ve studied and performed a lot of classical music during my career, a style of music which has become part of me.
I’ve also explored what I was passionate about: jazz. Those rhythms, those chords coming from the American culture are also part of who I am. I feel it in my blood.
I love when experimentation comes in the game in every form: I like to go in and out of the rhythm structure. I love when Daniele plays the vibraphone with hardwood sticks or when Simone plays the trumpet with dirty wrong notes on purpose, and I love when we experiment on the instruments like they are not instruments, meaning, playing with just no rules at all.
How does your instrumentation allow you the flexibility to write interesting music?
Having collaborated with different artists and performed a huge repertoire with the Symphony Orchestra RAI [Italian Symphony Orchestra], I can say I’ve mastered a lot of different styles and internalized a wide range of possibilities on the instruments I play.
I basically like to play with any instrument, with all the respect and humility, obviously.
Sometimes I start putting down ideas on the piano, sometimes on the drum kit or by programming a simple sequencer. There’s no order or clear method. Then Daniele and Simone add their parts and everything gets to a new level. I have to say again that, since Daniele covers the same range of instruments that I do, he’s a necessary and huge help in adding that flavor to every song we do.
Sometimes you use two drum sets; how does this not compete with itself?
That’s a good question! It’s kind of a strange thing but we find the way to keep a balance between the parts almost happens naturally; however even in the strongest parts of our drumming the shots on the kit become part of the composition material. The sound never gets too loud or nervous, but always warm and full, and we like that a lot!
What markets are most receptive to experimental music or do you not notice any substantial difference wherever you perform?
We have received great feedback on our albums from almost everywhere. We got a lot of radio airplay and more than 60 reviews so far on our three albums.
Daniele: What is the most rewarding part of creating the videos for your songs, for example, the fun “Variation of Movement”?
Making videos has always been a passion in my life. I’ve always thought if I weren’t a musician I would definitely dedicate my life to film making.
I love when videos and music interact like a unique element; it really gives power to both parts. I like to experiment with the stop-motion technique which makes it possible to animate objects. I just find it fantastic. For Variation of Movement I wanted to keep the idea very simple and I thought, “What if the notes written by the composer start moving around along with the music?” That was basically the idea, starting with a slow motion to something faster and more chaotic. The idea was to make it look like the composer gives birth to a melody and then all the notes start multiplying like a living being.
What inspired “Natural Impulse” and what does the name refer to?
Daniele came up with the title Natural Impulse because the music always recalls something natural, very organic, with a sense of pure instinct that has a light compositional structure underneath, and a deep human feel that connects with our ancient cultures. There’s something ancestral about the music so we all liked that title right away!
How does this differ from your first CD together?
Well, Colors of Red Island was our first time playing as a trio and it went very well! An incredible experience where we kind of experimented not only our own ideas but also how we fit together as a trio. In fact, we knew each other but had never played together before then. The first takes in the studio were an unknown moment.
I knew what I wanted from Daniele and Simone but they had to experience my approach for the first time. Now with our latest CD everything is different. We understand each other much quicker than before and we know right away where we want to go with our music.
What was the most fun track in “Natural Impulse” to record/produce?
Definitely Natural Impulse for its funny and ironic theme. We had so much fun jamming and experimenting on that theme. I was inspired by Monk, one of my favorite jazz pianists and composers, when I composed it with Daniele on the piano. Even in Colors of Red Island, the track Improvised Sentimental Song is inspired by Monk.
When I gave the initial input to Daniele he literally started developing the melody on the piano, right there. I didn’t have to say anything; he just did what I was expecting.
Where did you perform for your release of this CD?
We didn’t perform live for the release of our CD.
We have several concerts about to be scheduled after the summer but we are coming back from other project tours and activities that we want to wrap up first.
I’m performing a lot with the RAI Symphony Orchestra, and Daniele, for example, is working as a producer; he also performs with his solo project which took him to NAMM [National Association of Music Merchants] 2018 in January. He has a very interesting live set, a hybrid between jazz and electronica. Take a look at his videos on YouTube with the project Dan Cavalca.
What is the most challenging part of being a jazz artist today?
Well, every jazz artist has something to say about this but from my point of view I can tell you that in Italy it is very complicated. I love my country for my culture, but musically I tend to be a little bit of an “outsider”… but that’s just a personal choice.
Thank you for this great interview and for giving us the opportunity to share with you who we are and our musical experience.
Music is a universal tool with which we can communicate on a deep and incredible level.
For more information, visit http://www.claudioscolari.com/index.html.