December 6, 2017
We have interviewed the New Simplicity Trio, featuring the Italian drummer Antonio Fusco, the British pianist Bruno Heinen and the Danish bassist Henrik Jensen.
It comes from a long and deep collaboration between me and the Anglo-American pianist and composer Bruno Heinen. Since the first day I met Bruno in Milan, I understood that with him I would have had a lot to say, musically, and that he would have been the perfect musician with whom to develop the idea of trio I had in my mind. Then, after some rehearsals with several double bass players, Bruno thought of calling Henrik Jensen, the perfect choice for this trio, looking for space and melody in the music. They are extraordinary musicians I deeply respect at both human and musical level; we are like a small family and this is what I’m interested in.
I met Henrik a long time ago - when I was just learning, really. Back then I was primarily a classical pianist, and Henrik was one of the first pro jazz guys I played with. This was fifteen years ago. I learned the music playing functions with Henrik and other experienced guys like him really. I met Antonio more recently - some years ago in Milan on a jam session. We hit it off straight away - I was astonished by his playing and we kept in touch. When he told me he wanted to start a trio with me, and asked to suggest a bassist, I knew Henrik's rich, warm and lyrical sound would fit with ours perfectly.
I was very fortunate that Antonio and Bruno were already in the process of forming this trio and where on the lookout for a bassist. I met Bruno about fifteen years ago while we were both studying music in London and I've always admired his strong and individual approach to the piano. Bruno introduced me to Antonio in 2013 at a rehearsal at his house and I instantly fell in love with Antonio's sound and feel on the drums.
You define yourselves as a trio focused on melodic and harmonic simplicity: what does it mean?
Apparently simple melody, and harmonic structures, are two factors our compositions have in common. If you add a lot of groove and interplay, here it is, the cocktail is ready.
With such conditions, we understood that we could take the listener towards a sound dimension made of spaces, colours and melodies which are easily unforgettable.
At the heart of it, it's who we all are as players. I think each of us comes from a place in our listening, playing and writing that is melodic and tonal. For my part I have been influenced greatly by musicians like Bill Evans, Chet Baker, Duke Ellington, Jackie Mclean, Ahmed Jamal, Horace Silver etc., all artists with a concept, groove and a strong melodic aspect.
This is bound to come out in my playing and writing.
I think we share the way we approach music in generally in this trio; even though our compositions or the harmony we improvise over might not be simple at all, we always search for a way to communicate a strong sense of melody.
The new record title is Common Spaces: which spaces do you refer to?
It comes from the idea of composing music in several locations and spaces around Europe; I started to write the title track in Germany, and finished it in London in Bruno’s house. He often listens to me and baldly tells me if the music reaches him or if there are some notes to be cancelled or corrected. I have to say that he has a very sharpen musical ear and I love to let him space when I compose, because I love sharing and exchanging views.
Well I'll let Antonio answer that as it is his title, but space in the music certainly plays a huge part in our trio.
As above I think it's an approach to music we all have in common, but as this is Antonio's composition as well, I'll let him answer this one.
How did you choose the tracks?
Choosing the tracks was completely natural, in the sense that as I was composing music for a new trio I automatically focused on a few ideas suitable for the sound I wanted to get. In turn, Heinen and Jensen followed the same direction. “Riccardo’s Room” was completed by Jensen while we were staying in Italy, for our first series of concerts, and he dedicated the track to a very dear colleague, Riccardo Chiaberta, that was hosting him. Bruno Heinen’s “Across the Pond” and “Full Flat” hold the same meaning. Common Spaces is a 100% collective album.
Our compositions seemed to compliment each other well, and a track order came quite naturally.
As we were touring the music quite a bit before recording it, choosing the tracklist I guess almost had natural flow to it.
How do you approach composition? And arrangements?
I sit at the piano and I start playing, most times, without even asking myself what I am playing. I like it a lot to give space to my musical creativity and spontaneity and I let it flow naturally without thinking too much about it. The first idea I like and I feel positive about becomes the base on which I develop the tune up to the arrangements. Sometimes I like to leave the harmonic space open, so that the musicians feel free to choose the colours they most like. Sometimes I ask for Heinen’s support for advice on harmony and other times the tune works as it has been composed.
I tend to write at the piano. Quite fast... I tend to start writing a composition and have it finished within an hour or two. I don't like to agonise over tunes for long. If it is not working, then I figure it's not a good composition and I leave it.
I love writing on both the piano and the bass, and most of my compositions are a mixture of both. Melody is again the focus. 'Riccardo's Room' on the album we arranged together in a rehearsal before our first tour in Italy, which was a great way of introducing a new tune to the repertoire.
Do you think jazz is by now cosmopolitan or are there, in your music, any influences coming from your original countries, cultural heritages, etc.?
Definitely. I think that, by now, jazz does not belong anymore to a specific geographic area we all know. I think that the beauty of this music is in its intrinsic characteristic of being able to incorporate different cultures and of being under continuous evolution. The Afro-American gave us a very big cultural heritage and all we have to do is learn from them, by starting from the tradition and then contaminate with our experiences and our cultural origins.
I think it would be hard not to be influenced by your cultural heritage and remain true to yourself. I was brought up around classical music, with all of my family being professional classical musicians. Although I don't play much classical music anymore - it has had a huge impact on how I improvise and write music. I was always in love with French Impressionist music, and this language feeds into my writing and improvising. I was also brought up listening to my grandfather playing south Indian Carnatic records, my friends playing reggae vinyls, my sister introducing me to drum and bass etc. etc. It has all influenced me. For me it's all music after all 🙂
For me jazz is defiantly cosmopolitan, I've been living in London now for about 20 years and the diversity within the players on the scene is extraordinary. It's a platform where you can learn and be inspired at the same time. As I'm from Denmark the 'big open' sound of Scandinavian jazz is also a part of my cultural heritage which I think is inherent in my playing and the way I compose.
Antonio, you presently live in Beijing. Why did you make this choice?
Living in Beijing is a choice to be made with great awareness. All the world knows that by now the world economy is moving to Asia. I had the big occasion to be hired by the Jazz Department of the Beijing Contemporary Music Academy as a drum and musical ensemble teacher. It all started two years ago thanks to Nicola Lancerotti, extraordinary double bassist and a really adorable person. We had the possibility of playing at Hangzhou’s JZ for three months together with Piergiorgio Pirro, Simone Schirru and Lynn Cassiere. After our residency at the club, we performed in a tour around China in small clubs, among which the East Shore Jazz Club in Beijing. The city totally struck me since the first day, and the wish of going back and to establish there became stronger as time passed by.
What do you think of Chinese jazz scene? Of local musicians? Did you have the opportunity of cooperating with some of them?
Beijing’s jazz scene is very interesting and is under constant development. When you are in Beijing, you certainly must meet Moreno Donadel, pianist, actor, martial arts master and Italian model among the first Italians to come here about 22 years ago. Any musician coming to town can share the stage with him and Zhang Ke, the more active and requested double bass player in the area.
Since my first concert in trio with Moreno, my calendar became fuller and fuller until an average of 22 concerts per month. I usually play every day, with many musicians from local and even international scene. As far as my projects are concerned, I cooperate with the Korean pianist Sejin Bae Trio (she also is a jazz piano teacher at CMA), and with Simone Schirru trio (a musician I deeply respect and I have been playing with for about 12 years, and who is also a jazz guitar teacher at CMA). In both bands I have the pleasure to play with Chenhuai Wang, another astonishing young double bassist.
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