Having traveled countless miles from the island of Malta to Brooklyn, guitarist Warren Galea gained an appreciation for contrasting time signatures: not only in the pace of life but in his music. Mixing meters and different rhythmic elements in the same song is a theme that runs throughout his newest album aptly named “The Odyssey.” While his trio truly funks out (an assertive bass line begins the track “Varanasi” and the three swing into different permutations and subplots for its duration), these musicians can also portray tenderness (“Nocturne”) and fizzy energy (“Grand Prix”) where Galea honors chord dissonance in a fascinating way. His personal favorite track, “Seawater,” is sweet and thoughtful, and stunningly dissipates into thin air.
Why did you choose guitar to express your feelings?
I began guitar lessons at age 11 though I had been attracted to it from an earlier age. Eventually I got deep into the music and it wasn’t really a choice; it was more of a feeling that this is what I’m meant to do.
What I like about the guitar is that while it is a highly versatile instrument it also remains very personal, like a voice. I like to think of the guitar as the singer in my music.
Besides guitar, in my early years I also spent a lot of time experimenting with the piano since my mother is a pianist. To this day I still play and write a lot of music on the piano.
When did you come to NYC?
I moved from my native Malta to New York in the summer of 2015 to study at the New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music. I’m thankful to be living in the greatest musical city in the world. It’s still mind-blowing.
Why did you begin recording with F Trio, since you had first played a lot of festivals and clubs?
F Trio was one of my main musical projects in Malta. Together with Alan Portelli on bass and Manuel Pulis on drums we recorded our eponymous EP in the summer of 2015, shortly before I left the island. We had been playing together for several years and this recording was the fruition of that collaboration.
After living in New York for three years, I had written enough original material for a full-length album. I received a grant from the Malta Arts Council and we recorded “The Odyssey” at Trading 8s studios in New Jersey in October 2018. In April 2019 I released “Synesthesia,” the first single from the album, with the full album release in May.
What musical ideas do you take from Malta and bring into a NYC perspective?
While most of the music on “The Odyssey” was written in New York, to me, the island of Malta, with its ancient temples dating back earlier than the Egyptian pyramids, has a certain mystical aura that sometimes permeates my music. I have grown a lot living in New York and learned to appreciate certain things about home that I used to take for granted.
The song which to me is most evocative of the Maltese Islands is the album closer “Seawater” which I composed while driving on the Maltese coast at dawn.
What themes do you convey in this album?
“The Odyssey” is inspired by the age-old Homeric archetype of the journey. On one level it represents my journey from a small Mediterranean island to the great metropolis. In the end it’s all about coming home to yourself.
What do you like best about being part of a trio?
In many cultures and religions three is a sacred number. In geometry the triangle is the strongest structure. I enjoy the trio format because it fulfills the delicate balance of filling in all the musical elements – melody, harmony, rhythm – while leaving space for textural variation and for each member’s personality to flourish.
All members of the trio have equal footing as the three individual voices are synthesized into a group sound. At least that’s the goal.
Give a rundown of your band members.
I met Andy McKee (bass) and Adam Nussbaum (drums) while I was studying at the New School.
Andy was my ensemble director in the Fall Semester of 2017. I took private lessons with Adam in the following spring. Both musicians are highly seasoned veterans with many years of professional and musical experience. I feel very blessed to have them on this project. I have grown so much working with them and every time we share the stage I feel I’m still learning.
Andy McKee provides the rhythmic anchor to the band while maintaining his warm lyrical tone all across the range of his instrument. In particular I love his solo on my composition “Afternoon Apparition.” Adam Nussbaum is a very musical drummer who is always able to provide what the music needs in that moment. And he can really bring the energy when he needs to! Both players are highly sensitive and at the same time unafraid to bring in new elements and take the music in a new direction whenever we play live.
I love it when my band surprises me. In this way the sound of the trio keeps evolving.
Is jazz political for you?
One of the great things about music is that it can convey so much that is within human experience. This is what gives it its universality. It is a language that transcends all other languages.
Jazz in particular can be a powerful messenger for political causes. Its history shows this and even in contemporary times we are seeing this. For me personally, music is a spiritual act.
What track was your favorite to produce? Which was the hardest?
Working with Chris Sulit, the engineer on this record, was a great experience.
My favorite track to produce was probably “Seawater” where we overdubbed multiple guitar parts onto each other. The track itself is quite short and simple, almost like a children’s lullaby.
I’d have to say the hardest track was “The Labyrinth,” a through-composed piece featuring odd meters, a fully improvised section and overdubs with a bottleneck slide. It’s the one that took the longest to write. I kept coming back to it in different periods of my life until it felt like a finished whole. We had to rework some parts in the studio but I feel we achieved a flowing narrative. This song has been a favorite with radio jockeys.
What do you most look forward to this year?
Besides releasing the record in May, one of the highlights this year has been performing two sets at the Blue Note Jazz Festival European Sounds Series which was held in June at the legendary Blue Note Jazz Club in New York. At the moment what I’m really looking forward to is settling down to write some new material! I also want to take the trio on the road.
What mood does music put you into?
Most often I’ll pick something that will really uplift me. At this precise moment Hank Mobley’s rendition of “Remember” comes to mind!
Are there new motifs you want to explore more?
I’m always striving to learn more and to improve both as a player and as a writer. One area I would like to further explore is odd meters. I’m also interested in the textural possibilities opened up by electronic music.
For more information, visit www.warrengalea.com.