An Interview with Matthias Lupri
An Interview with Matthias Lupri
by Paula Edelstein
Chartmaker Jazz is currently distributing the eclectic sounds of Matthias Lupri on Birdleg Records and no jazz mind-set is spared on his second release entitled, SHADOW OF THE VIBE. Matthias reaches deep to the soul and strokes many of the moods that we usually reserve for those wee hours of solitude after getting rid of the day’s vibe…so to speak. The young master, and protégé of Gary Burton, delivers on eleven compositions filled with great thoughts, imagery and musical excellence. Helping to round out his musical visions are the great George Garzone on saxophones, John Lockwood on acoustic bass and the exciting Sebastian deKrom on drums. What a concert! We caught up with Matthias just as Summer 2000 was winding down and talked about a couple of things that you should know!
JazzUSA: Hello Matthias. First off, congratulations on the success of WINDOW UP, WINDOW DOWN. That CD said a lot about your direct articulation and character on the vibraphone. Now with SHADOW OF THE VIBE, you have impressed many of your followers with your tremendous growth. Let’s talk about the quartet members. George Garzone on tenor and soprano saxophone, John Lockwood on acoustic bass, drummer Sebastian DeKrom, all play with that great first take energy. How do you get them to pick up on the direct reflections of your life, which is what a few of the compositions on SHADOW OF THE VIBE are about?
ML: Thanks Paula. Since I wrote the tunes, the tunes somewhat automatically dictate the direction and feel of what I was trying to express via the composition. For the players to pick up on it, it’s a combination of what they see on the chart, hear, feel and react to. I also talk about the tunes a bit before pushing the record button. Like what is the title, and how it relates to the music, and the mood that it suggests. But, you can only talk about it so much though, and then you have to just let it happen and hope for the best. Garzone, Lockwood and deKrom are all really great players and I already new it was going to be fine. It’s also just a matter of myself letting go of to many preconceived ideas of where the tune should go. That’s something I’m still always battling with. I think it’s something from my Rock N’ Roll days as a drummer where it was considered a good thing to do exactly the same way night after night and you and the band knew exactly what was going to happen with each tune.
JazzUSA: Spontaneity is the lifeblood of improvisation and is often the difference between a good and great jazz performance. Your quartet is really spontaneous and in the pocket on the title track, “Shadow of the Vibe” which I understand correlates to that whole first take thing we just discussed. Is tapping into your quartet’s mental rhythms a vital part of this spontaneity and shadowing?
ML: Definitely. Every take is different but usually the 1st take is always the freshest. It is where the conversation first starts. If you do another take right away, it is somewhat of a repeat. You tend to remember what you just said and repeat it if you like it. If you try not to say what you just said in the previous take, then your thinking about it too much and not really reacting, like you did in the first take. Of course this is all very subconscious to a degree, and the listener may or may not pickup on this, especially because they don’t know what take it usually is, and they hear the final version as it is. You also try to make the studio situation as comfortable as possible so the only thing on the players mind is the music at hand. If there are to many obstacles, it can really change the player’s attitude on a tune. If everyone’s mental state is 100% on the music, group interaction and shadowing is at its peak. Sometimes you may have mistakes in the 1st take, and you still go with it because it has a “fresher life” to it. Also Garzone and Lockwood play in a trio called the Fringe, which has been a big thing in Boston for the past 28 years. They play every week at a club and the music is 100% improvised, no charts what so ever. So having them bring this kind influence over to my music brought everything to a different space, which was very cool.
JazzUSA: It is so very important to remain true to yourself because you want your soul and spirit to come through the music but many times we need a master educator to influence those aspects of our talents that we don’t realize are lurking beneath ourselves! How did the great Gary Burton help you attain that level of awareness of your internal sound?
ML: When I studied with Gary Burton, he talked a lot about that in relation to a tune. Not theory, or what notes to play, but more about the character of each tune and finding the essence of what makes the tune what it is, what it means to you, and what separates it from so many others. The title and the mood it suggests, certain phrasings of the melody, the harmonic structure and how it feels, the tempo and rhythmic feel etc. I try to always remember that and make every tune as personalized as possible. Since I like to write my own tunes too, it becomes even more so. To me it’s also about listening to one note and finding the beauty of it from your instrument and internalizing it. If you listen to the space before and after it, and how it molds from and back into silence, you can internalize the sound and make it your own. There’s so much beauty in one note, and it’s something I’m still working on and searching for. When I can, I love sitting at a huge grand piano and just playing one note and just catch the vibe from it, before you move onto another note. It’s great for writing tunes too.
JazzUSA: The true giants of jazz often know that the dynamic range of soft, medium and hard will allow you to play as naturally and freely as you can. Have you found that different musical settings require different dynamic ranges? How do you have to adjust your level of relaxation and concentration for those ranges?
ML: Ya, different musical settings do require different dynamic ranges. I do tend to play on the louder side though, because the vibes need to cut through the band and it can be tricky sometimes. It’s easy for vibes to get drowned out by a band if they’re not always sympathetic to the nature of the instrument. I also play with pick-ups on my vibes, which give it a bit more of a modern sound and can increase the volume when needed. Even up to eleven sometimes! Naturally, ballads tend to be quieter, and up-tempo burners are louder. The level of relaxation and concentration is always an issue. If you’re totally “in the zone” of the music, your mind doesn’t really think any more – it just happens. As soon as you say to yourself while your playing, “Am I relaxed, am I concentrating, etc?” your out of the zone and not playing to your potential. It’s a tricky place to be sometimes. But when you’re there, it’s like no place else.
JazzUSA: “Intrusion” is so pensive. What is it about?
ML: I asked a friend of mine (Boris Weidenfeld, a great pianist and also producer of my 1st CD) to write a dark solo piece for me, and that’s what he came up with. He sent me two different tunes, and after playing them I chose “Intrusion.” The title and feel really represented what I was looking for as a solo piece for this project. I was able to let a lot of notes breathe and capture a quality of the vibes that I find to be really cool, in a dark kind of way. The title suggests the need to be alone – hence a solo piece.
JazzUSA: I really enjoyed “Moonlamps,” especially the imagery of the call-and- response between you and Garzone. The concept is very visual and meditative. I could really feel it. What inspiration do you find most useful when creating such great music? Imagination, inspiration from some other source, etc.
ML: Thanks a lot. I write mainly from a piano that I have looking over my window, which views on to the street and park below. The imagery and inspiration comes a lot from just watching the people and the everyday occurrences of life. The moon always casts a great beam of shadowing light in the late after hours on to the piano also. A moonlamp you could say, and it’s cool to write/play music in the wee hours with just this shadowing light. The call and response kind of came from gazing up at the moon and then back to the piano, gazing up at the moon, back again, etc. I think these kinds of every day life things just work their way into the music, sometimes very subconsciously.
JazzUSA: Well, we’re definitely on the same vibe! One conclusion that I’ve come to is that we all possess inner strength but need a creative outlet for giving off some of that good energy. What is it about playing the vibes that satisfies your creative needs more so than playing the drums? Does the “steel” say it better than the “skin” for you?
ML: I guess I really was eventually drawn to melody and needed to express that side of me more. Playing drums is great, and you can play melodically there also, but it’s not the same, at least for me. Plus, I love harmony and that side of music, which is pretty hard on the drums. I still play sometimes, but not like I used to. Mainly, I think I can express myself more as an individual through the vibes than I could with the drums. I initially thought I would continue to do both, but I guess I really needed to focus on the vibes and writing, and the time just isn’t there like I wish it were to do both. Check out Brian Blade! There’s a good example of drummer who is writing a lot and playing drums and sounding great with his own melodic sound.
JazzUSA: When composing, do you write the sections for the vibraphone before the other instruments or do you write your compositions as a whole?
ML: I write the compositions mainly as a whole. I have lately been going for a very simple approach to writing, where the tunes are shorter and simpler, with much more room for creative expression by each individual. There are certain parts for each instrument, but it’s basically a guideline with a lot of room for ad lib. I used to write more complex charts, and still do sometimes, but right now “blowing type” tunes are great for the smaller band settings that I’m writing and playing for.
JazzUSA: Where can we see you in concert this year?
ML: Always call ahead because things change, but as of this writing I’ll be at the Regatta Bar in Cambridge, MA – November 14, 2000 and at the Acton Jazz Cafe, in Acton, MA – January 5, 2001. Probably at the Knitting Factory in New York City in early 2001, and Toronto, Canada at the Senator Feb 27th – March 4th, 2001. There are also more gigs in between that always just crop up. So please go to my website for updates: www.jazzcorner.com/lupri
JazzUSA: You bet we will. Congratulations to you and here’s wishing you continued success with WINDOW UP, WINDOW DOWN and SHADOW OF THE VIBE. They are among the premier works this year. Matt, thank you so much for this interview.
ML: Thanks a lot Paula, and JazzUSA.com for having me here.
JazzUSA: Our pleasure!