Interview / Ivo D`Antoni In Conversation With Tommaso Cappellato

Ivo D`Antoni is the founder of the Italian Electronic Music website, electronique.it., and its three record labels. The eponymous Electronique.it, Affordable Inner Space, and Lost In It. Scoring hits at Ban Ban Ton Ton last year with new music from Massimo Amato, and a reissued gem from Franco Nanni

Tommaso Cappellato is an Italian drummer and electronic musician, who has worked in the fields of Hip Hop, Jazz, Techno, and World Music, and performed all over the globe. 

Ivo sent me a video clip of Tommaso jamming on drums and machines, and I was reminded of recent releases on Growing Bin Records, by Wolf Muller & Niklas Wandt, and Krakatau. I was also thinking about that lineage of great Italian drummers, like Tuilo De Piscopo and Toni Esposito. 

Here Ivo and Tommaso discuss Tommaso`s new album, Aforemention, technology, and Jazz in NYC, Japan, and Italy. 

Interview by Ivo D`Antoni

Tommaso, how would you describe this video? I think this is a step forward compared to your beginnings. How do you like to play your live set now?

My dear friend Mauro Santinello – owner of True Colours Studio in my native town of Padova – asked me to test a new space, called Room D, in his working premises. This room is very wide and tall with a high ceiling that reaches up to seven metres, paved in hardwood, with asymmetrical walls and corners.

For the occasion I decided to come up with a spontaneous drum and synth improvisation, with the intention of showcasing the drum sound in the space, which in my opinion is absolutely stunning. One of the best studio acoustics I’ve ever experienced.

Since my first attempts at playing solo performances I definitely feel more relaxed and more in tune with my instrumentation. Yet I love the challenge of constantly changing my setup and technology in order to push myself towards new sonic territories and outputs. Right now I’m going through a transitional phase, slowly approaching a new technology called Sensory Percussion.

This performance is closely linked to your latest album, Aforemention. How would you describe the album? Where does it come from?

Aforemention is my manifesto as a producer and multi-instrumentalist. For the longest time I’ve been perceived solely as a Jazz drummer, although I’ve been composing and arranging music since I can remember. I figured it was therefore time to make a public statement and I’ve been very satisfied with how it’s been received. I wanted to highlight elements of the  more traditional music I studied and analysed for so long, with other inputs of innovations and fracture. Since my first official 12” single The Knight, and the full album Open, both released on the Elefante Rosso imprint in 2009 I`ve been looking for this subtle balance of tension and release both compositionally and instrumentally.

What, or who, has inspired you to introduce electronic elements in your music?

For some reason I’ve always been very close to DJ culture. Maybe because I love dancing. I lived in New York for ten years, but I started spending more time in Europe, where I met Rabih Beaini who turned me on to different sides of electronic music and introduced me to countless electronic musicians, DJs and producers. I got very fascinated by the sounds I was exposed to, and coming from Jazz, which keeps renewing itself, through innovation, mixing different styles and genres, I felt it was a natural choice to do this with my forthcoming original music. Mark de Clive-Lowe has been a huge inspiration and a messenger for that progressive fusion. It’s been great to collaborate with him, and closely watch his approach. Donato Dozzy was the mixing engineer on Aforemention. He gave a an extra sonic dimension by taking each track and passing it through an analogue board and compressors. As a DJ, Donato has the ability of making any system sound divine, so he really knows what he’s trying to achieve during the mixing process. I was glad this material was in his hands, and you can definitely hear the results on the vinyl version.

Can you describe the period of research and experimentation that went into making an album like this? 

In 2014 I was asked to open the very first Terraforma Festival in Milan, Italy. Around that time I had already begun performing as a solo drummer, without the aid of any electronics. The sound man there asked me if I wanted to run some effects on the drums, and, after trying, the results were really interesting. That’s when I decided to make it work by myself and started borrowing various effect pedals and synths from friends and colleagues. Recording every single step during a very inspired learning process. All these trials led to the accumulation of enough material for an album which I then compiled as Aforemention.

Do you have any idea how you’ll develop your sound as a soloist? 

As I mentioned, I’m about to investigate a new technology recently developed for drummers, called Sensory Percussion. Sensors are applied to each drum, splitting it into ten different midi parts. These parts then become impulse generators for either sounds, samples, commands or effects. So I let you imagine the incredible possibilities that arise from this technology. I’ve already started collecting my own personal library of sounds and samples that I will later run through my drums as opposed to a launch pad. I will try to develop my next solo album from this source, combined with the use of other synthesisers. I`m really looking forward to delving into this.

OK, going back to the beginning, why did you pick the drums as your favourite instrument?

Well it’s kind of the other way around, drums chose me. When I was about eleven years old my parents and I were living in a house in the countryside. Some family friends asked if we could host their son’s band practices and all of a sudden a drum set appeared in our garage and it was permanently left there. The rest is history.

At the age of twenty you left your home country to study at New School University in New York. What does it mean to grow-up as a Jazz musician in NYC?

It means there are no shortcuts. You have to go deep and study hard, pay your dues, respect the elders and learn as much as you can from them. College was a great point of reference. A place you could count on, and where I met a lot of people with the same dream. Yet the city itself was the real school. Especially in those days – the pre-internet era. You had to go to venues to see with your own eyes and hear how each musician played and made the room sound. I can’t deny it was magic!

In a old interview you mentioned your friendship with Harry Whitaker and for me his album Black Renaissance is some of the best jazz ever recorded. Can you spend some words about it?

I met Harry at Smalls Jazz Club in NYC, in the late ‘90s, before it shut down. It reopened under a new management years later. Smalls was more than just a club. For some musicians it was even a shelter if they were struggling financially or in between moving from one apartment to the other. We ate there, we got high there, we practiced or simply hung out. Those were legendary times. At that point I had a steady engagement playing every night at the of top the Rockefeller Center and often Harry would come in and sub for the regular piano player.

We got really close after playing so many gigs together and he started inviting me to his house, where he would cook me some delicious meals, smoke me up and play me some incredible music. He would tell countless stories, and teach about etiquette both in music and life. He was a hero and was treated like a sweet uncle by the whole community. A true gentleman with women, whom he adored and respected very much.

If a singer wanted to sing a tune at one of his gigs down in the Village, he would be able to transpose any song into any of the twelve keys in no time. That’s the kind of legacy you are exposed to when you grow up as a Jazz musician in New York.

Harry completely opened my mind and pushed me to become ambitious as far as having a unique vision is concerned. I owe him the world, and I miss him terribly!

Do you like the Japanese Jazz / Fusion scene? If yes, can you give us some favourite records or artists?

I was first introduced to that scene by Mr. Whitaker himself, as he was often talking about his dear friend and collaborator Terumasa Hino, one of the most prolific trumpet players in Japan. An album I love is City Connection, where you can definitely hear Harry’s influence and touch. Guitarist Ryo Kawasaki is also a hero for mine, with an incredible musical vision, especially on records such as Prism. I also love the more Disco-y scene with singers like Kimiko Kasai, or Eri Ohno. More recently I’ve been investigating the works of several avant-garde and ambient Japanese artists: the acclaimed Through The Looking Glass by Midori Takada; saxophonist and electronic music pioneer Yasuaki Shimizu’s incredibly vast discography; guitarist and turntable-ist Otomo Yoshihide; as well as legendary reeds player and vocalist Akira Sakata, with whom I had the privilege to perform at Jazz Art Sengawa, Tokyo in 2016. An artist I’d love to work with in the future is Kuniyuki Takahashi.

Now I’d like to open a discussion of the Italian Jazz scene, in particular labels like Stile Libero, Phrases, and Splasc(h). Do you like their sound? I believe they were pioneers in cross-fertilising and “contaminating” the classic Italian sound.

I’m actually not familiar with Stile Libero, or Phrases ,but I do know Splasc(h) Records, which released many of my mentors’ albums during the 1990s. The label has a vast catalogue with some nice releases, but in my opinion not all of it is top quality. In a way listening to some of those records made me want to distance myself from any specific Italian Jazz scene and look for other influences abroad. Other Italian labels that I admire, that have published some stunning material, are Horo, Soul Note, Black Saint and Red Records. These leaned more towards releases by African-American jazz artists.

Are you working on any new music at the moment? 

Yes, an imminent release is a series of remixes of Aforemention by some of my favourite producers such as Afrikan Sciences, Alex Attias with Mark de Clive-Lowe, Emanative, and singer Natalie May. They all came up with some amazing interpretations.

Somewhere in the summer a bunch of material is coming from a wonderful collaboration between me, Berlin-based drummer and electronic musician, Daniele De Santis, and film maker visionary, Vincent Moon. It`s supposed to come out in different formats such as film, tape cassette, digital and a super limited vinyl edition – 50 copies pressed one by one – on Dromoscope Records and Petite Planétes.

Another important release is my next Astral Travel album on UK label Lanquidity Records. This is my second album with this project. The first is called Cosm’ethic released on the UK’s Jazz Re:freshed and Japanese label P-Vine Records. The idea for the second episode came after reading some beautiful poetry written by Sun Ra. I chose some of the poems contained in the book, This Planet Is Doomed, and had singers Dwight Trible and Camilla Battaglia interpret them while the rest of the band, including some of the most visionary Italian musicians would improvise the music completely from scratch. Fabrizio Puglisi on piano, rhodes and synths, Piero Bittolo Bon on reeds, flutes and electronics, Marco Privato on double bass and myself on drums. We spent two days in the studio, then handed the raw material to producer Rabih Beaini who mixed and meticulously post-produced the work. The album will be entitled If You Say You’re From This Planet, Why Do You Treat It Like You Do?

You can listen to Tommaso Cappellato`s Aforemention, and purchase a copy over at Mental Groove`s Bandcamp page.

 

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