When it comes to Albare and jazz, the question is “what doesn’t he do?” rather than “what does he do?”
He recently released an new album, Dreamland, which sees his guitar sound integrated in a dreamscape of string orchestration that recalls the golden days of classic Hollywood and movies. On March 2016, he opened Bird’s Basement, his own jazz venue, in his hometown of Melbourne, Australia. He plans to tour the U.S. next year with his constantly evolving outfit Urban Grooves and keep-on gathering talented musicians under his ALFI Records banner, the label he founded.
Despite his busy schedule, the Moroccan-born and Australian-based jazzman took the time to talk to JAZZIZ about some of his current projects and upcoming endeavors.
Your new album, Dreamtime, recalls the magic of classic movies. Are you a fan of movies?
Of course! To be totally honest, I used to be more of a film fan before. The era in which those movies were made, the movies from which I selected the tracks on Dreamtime. That’s the era I’m attached to. I’m finding less time to watch films nowadays, possibly because I’m so busy, which I think is a shame. But the memories of watching films in the past, right up to maybe the 90’s, remain. That was what motivated me. In fact, it was quite easy to make the final selection of tracks for the albums. If I was to make a second album, I would find it much harder to pick the tracks. When Joe [Chindamo, arranger] told me to come up with an original idea for me to do something orchestral, I immediately thought of the movies. The tracks that ended up on Dreamtime are the ones I immediately chose, and from that list we only eliminated very few titles.
What was it like to record with an orchestra?
It was great. Joe is a master at orchestral arrangements. He plays jazz himself, but mostly arranges classical music, from chamber music to symphony. With Dreamtime I wanted to do something that was really Hollywood, really glamorous. I wanted to get that 50’s sound. So, we even mixed it in Hollywood, at the Ocean Waves Recordings studio. When we put those strings through the reverb chambers, that are on the roof of the building, it sounded fantastic. Those reverb chambers – that’s what gives you that original sound, the sound you associate with Hollywood. You don’t get that anymore because nobody is doing anymore. But it gives a real dreamy feel, the dreamy feel that is implied in the title of the album. That’s what I wanted to play with as a guitarist. To mix my sound with that.
Aside from three tracks, two by Chindamo and one written by you, Dreamtime is mostly made up of covers and standards. That’s kind of a first for you…
You know, I truly believe that I’ve never done a covers album, or an album of standards. I mean, I’ve played the odd standard on albums, but I’ve never done an album of mostly standards. One of the main differences in making the album was that usually, I’m the guy who tells people what to do. Here, I was told what to do. A bit different for me. But that’s fine. I enjoyed being produced. When it came to recording the quartet, I was the producer. But in terms of integrating my sound with the strings, Joe was directing me, and I totally appreciated the process.
You’re involved in a number of other projects. For instance, you’ll be touring the U.S. with Urban Grooves on June 2017. How would you describe Urban Grooves?
I would describe it as the result of ongoing evolution. Everything is evolution. When you play jazz, you go from one idea to the next. Sometimes you progress, other times you regress. Sometimes you are a bit lost and other times you don’t know what you’re doing; other times you think you know what you’re doing! But it’s constantly evolving. When it first started, Urban Grooves was very much my Australian project. Now, it has become a combination between Australia and the United States. You have Pablo Bencid on drums and Ricardo Rodriguez on bass and both are based in New York City. Then, you have me and my compare Phil Turcio, whom I’ve been playing with on and off for twelve years, so we know each other very well. We’re both based in Australia.
That kind of represents the melting-pot of international cultures and influences that is synonymous with jazz music in general.
Yes, it’s great to see all the fusions and all the cultures. I’ve got a club here in Melbourne, called the Bird’s Basement, and we’ve recently had a Latin Jazz Festival here, which was fantastic! One of the guys playing here was Axel Tosca, who’s one of the guys I play with in New York. Axel is a great piano player and we had him at Bird’s Basement with his band. Some of the stuff that they were doing was like techno with a Latin feel, which I’ve never heard before. It was so fresh. So, there’s all those cultures and various influences from the young people coming through. It’s a wonderful exchange.
Speaking of Bird’s Basement, how is that going?
Bird’s Basement was opened on the 1st of March , but everyone has the impression that it has been open forever. It’s basically an extension of Birdland in New York, and I’m doing it in conjunction with Gianni Valenti. We got an incredible reaction. My aim was for it to be part of the cultural fabric of Melbourne within the next few years. To my complete amazement, it’s been totally adopted and embraced by the city, to the point where it’s really become one of the places to go now in Melbourne. It’s really a success and I’m very proud of it.
You mentioned Axel Tosca. He’s one of the musicians on the ALFI Records roster. What was ALFI’s mission when you first founded it?
It was, and is, to assemble a group of great musicians. There’s so many orphans in the music world. I’ve seen so many of them that I decided to assemble them all under one banner. That was also prompted to me by Carl Griffin [senior vice-president of ALFI Records]. Carl is really the soul of the label – I’m not the guy running it, Carl does that. He’s an ex-GRP and Motown guy, so he’s got a lot of experience in the field. And now, we have presence in Los Angeles, Miami, New York, Nashville, Munich and, of course, in Melbourne. And we’re always bringing in some great musicians together under this one banner. It’s really great!
Including Antonia Bennett, who’ll be making her debut on ALFI Records soon…
Yes. She has written material for her upcoming album and is due to start recording in the studio very shortly. She just had her child, as you may know, so that slowed her down a little bit. But she’s now finishing the material. So, you can expect that in the near future.
For more information, go to http://alfirecords.com/our_artists/albare