The value of space between notes that are placed perfectly into a fascinating tonal tapestry is the strength of the new album “Phylum” by vibist Nazareno Caputo. The track “Dulce” is so much like skipping stones with unexpected harmonies and shifting rhythms, and the interplay between vibes and percussion is pure play. Soft, gradual, mysterious “Adi” is brought to life by the bass in its stunningly clarity and simplicity; setting the tone, establishing the motion. Caputo shows his dreamy side in “Postludio” which is filled with slivers of melody and time for thought and contemplation, in sharp contrast to the way things progress in the energetic and inventive (he plays his vibraphone bars with a bow) “Abside.”
Nazareno Caputo – vibraphone, percussions, composition
Ferdinando Romano – bass
Mattia Galeotti – drums
Why did you first take up the vibes?
The discovery of the vibraphone was somewhat accidental. Like many vibraphonists, I took my first steps in music thanks to the drums. Until I was 14 years old, I didn’t even know what a vibraphone was!
Once I started my studies at the conservatory in classical percussion, I also started to play the piano and shortly after the vibraphone. It was love at first sight with the vibraphone. It was the instrument that allowed me to combine my percussive instincts with my desire to learn and enjoy harmony.
Do you remember the first time you heard the instrument, and the first time you heard jazz?
The first time I heard the vibraphone was at the conservatory. My first teacher specialized in vibraphone, so I listened to him playing it. I was enraptured by its sound, so sweet and soft and at the same time crystal clear and pure. A timbre that has always seemed abstract and ethereal to me.
However, I did not have a vibraphone at home. The classical studies at my school, during the first years, were dedicated mainly to the snare drum and orchestral percussion, but I gradually lost interest in them.
The discovery of jazz happened while I discovered the vibraphone. By chance, I had heard Chet Baker at a friend’s house and he intrigued me. One day I went to my local record shop, whose owner was a drummer and family friend, to buy my first jazz record. I had independently searched for something on the internet and came across Chick Corea. That hit me a lot. But I didn’t have a clear idea of the different jazz styles and what would interest me most. I asked the shop owner for advice and he suggested Mehldau’s latest release, “House on the Hill.”
I was literally shocked to hear it. That peculiar music, that I could hardly understand, had an incredible attraction for me. From that moment on, jazz listening began to juxtapose with classical music in an important way.
What was the hardest aspect of learning vibes?
The most difficult phase was to start playing with the four sticks. Especially at the beginning, having two sticks in each hand is not very comfortable!
Talk about why jazz is so rewarding for you.
When I met jazz, I immediately felt the freedom that this music brings. I have a classical background that has left me many things. I have always felt that the academic classical approach is a limitation for my personal artistic research.
The jazz experience best embodies a ‘collective’ experience in which the individual finds his personal expressive dimension within a shared language, which draws its strength and legitimacy from tradition. Innovation, in turn, does not spring from a ‘genius’ stunt but from the union of many small contributions from individual artists.
How did you come to perform in TOTEM?
When TOTEM was born, I had just moved back to Florence after a few months in Vienna.
When I came back, I had the opportunity to perform with TOTEM, which was then a quintet group, and was playing some rehearsal concerts. For one of these concerts the pianist couldn’t go and Ferdinando called me to replace him to try out a new sound. The concert was beautiful! From that moment on, Romano decided to make the group bigger, including my vibraphone and I.
What inspired your new work, PHYLUM and why is it named that?
PHYLUM takes inspiration from various things.
The PHYLUM project is a musical research focused on the structural, timbric and melodic elements of music.
My musical experiences in the field of jazz and contemporary music were fundamental to the birth of this record. My studies in architecture (I have a degree in it) also played an important role in the form and structure of the compositions on the record.
But the inspiration for the project comes from botany and zoology. In fact, the word “phylum” is used in zoology and botany to refer to a precise taxonomic group. Organisms belonging to a certain phylum share the same structural plan but their morphological development doesn’t necessarily lead them in the same directions. The music of the Trio sets up from the development of a musical structure and then elaborates its own idea following different and complementary paths.
How long did it take to write, arrange and produce this album?
The project started about three years ago. We started working on the first compositions and, playing together, I better understood the ultimate meaning of the music we were playing. After a year of work, the repertoire was ready and only the last details of arrangement were missing. We had planned to record in spring 2020…but we all know what happened.
So we postponed the recording till June of the same year. To record right after the end of the lockdown was very special and exciting.
Your favorite track?
It’s hard to choose a favorite one among your own compositions. If I had to choose, I would say “Adam R.” because playing it is always a great challenge. It has a very particular structure, which tries to retrace the story of this very particular character (I invite readers to look for Adam Rainer’s story) and I always feel a particular thrill when I reach the end of this piece.
The most rewarding part of producing this album?
The best moment was being in the recording studio. Recording and hearing the result of our work was exciting.
How would you characterize your particular sound on vibes?
I like my instrument to sound as pure and crystal clear as possible. The vibraphone has a clear timbre, which is spontaneously associated with an ‘abstract’ instrument (at least, I feel it that way). So I try to enhance this quality, searching for an essential, conceptual sound. For these reasons, to ensure this idea of sound, I very rarely use the vibrato effect given by the vibraphone motor (never on the record).
Many musicians have had a great influence on me. Certainly, my teacher Andrea Dulbecco was important for me, as he’s also a reference vibraphonist in Italy and throughout Europe. Other vibraphonists are some great masters with whom I have only attended masterclasses, but I consider them exceptional musicians: David Friedman and Mike Mainieri. Among non-vibraphonists I would mention at least some pianists such as Bill Evans, Brad Mehldau and Craig Taborn.
Where are you based, and are gigs opening up?
I live in Florence, a touristic city that really suffered the lockdown. Fortunately, the influx of tourists is picking up again, and with it, the city is coming back to life and slowly, the cultural life too.
Do you have scheduled performances?
We were recently lucky enough to present our album at a beautiful festival near Florence (MetJazz in Prato) and more concerts are coming in autumn. We hope this is just the beginning!
What did you do during the lockdown? What was one thing you learned?
I was lucky enough to experience the lockdown in nature, as I lived in a house in the countryside. I have had further confirmation of how essential it is for me to regain a healthy connection and relationship with nature. I am increasingly convinced that this is the determining challenge of our time for humanity.
What do you hope audiences get from your new music?
The moment you choose to release a record, you make a strong choice.
You hand one of your ‘creatures’ to the community. At the moment of the ‘gift’ this creature becomes everyone’s and stops being yours.
PHYLUM is a sort of act of love towards complexity, towards everything that is hidden, that does not appear immediately, that needs to be discovered, towards everything that is not always easily intelligible, towards what proceeds slowly, towards the anomaly, towards the exception; “the link that doesn’t hold.” Dealing with complexity is one of the most beautiful activities that our mind can do.
For more information visit https://nazarenocaputo.com.
Photos courtesy of and with permission of the artist. Top photo (c) Gianfilippo Masserano.
© 2021 Debbie Burke