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Simone Guiducci: Dancin' Roots

By Published: April 24, 2005

SG: This is a wide subject which comes out of our awareness that we cannot play real "music from the roots". Our folklore is by necessity an "imaginary folklore" constructed from memories which bring to life again the melodies and rhythms which come from popular music but which use them as free inspiration for reworking and not as an interpretation of archaic musical forms handed down by word of mouth. I've thought a lot about these things too because Gramelot works under the Felmay label and for years this label has mainly produced ethnic and world music. Cantador, Chorale and our latest disc are in the NEW category of the label, while the major part of their catalogue is in the ROOTS category. In this section there are great folk artists who are maybe not that well-known like the Bulgarian clarinetist Yasko Argirov, the Indian tabla player Sankha Chatterjee, the Kazhakistan akku player Raushan Orazbaeva (the akku is a kind of violin), as well as other better known musicians like Tenores di Bitti.

It's true that the Gramelot sound has been inspired by Italian popular music, but our approach is necessarily very different from the groups who play ethnic music. In a way I envy the purity of expression of artists who can say they "know how to play their music because it's been handed down to them". But, I accept that I live in a western society made up of thousands of different races and traditions who have to communicate with each other. As I said in my notes to our record, in the day and age in which we live, it seems absurd to me to limit ourselves to celebrating our own ethnic background, although a profound awareness of our own roots can help us to feel stronger and more open to communicating with "other cultures".

We just have to look at the traditions of jazz, or even flamenco or Indian raga to see some examples. Jazz is surely among the most "contaminated" of world music styles and has been right from its beginnings, but it is also the one which offers the greatest variety of styles thanks to its extraordinary evolution.

AAJ: Gramelot Ensemble celebrates its tenth anniversary with this album. This seems a remarkable achievement to me when so many groups stay together only for the time it takes to cut one album. How do you explain your long life?

SG: We were lucky enough to get together the right musicians ten years ago, when they were just beginning on their careers, great talents like clarinetist Achille Succi, accordionist Fausto Beccalossi, drummer Roberto Dani and bassist Salvatore Maiore. If I deserve any praise it is because I recognized a common interest in experimentation and a common curiosity about popular material and was constantly pushing for an original, non-conventional approach in the work of Gramelot. The fact that we have lasted is probably due to having created an atmosphere where everybody feels stimulated to contribute their own ideas. This has enabled us to survive even during periods when there was little on offer on the live music scene and to grow slowly as a group through continuous rehearsing together. I know this sounds a bit odd in Italy where many groups try out their repertoire during the sound-check before a concert! But all joking apart, I hope that the type of creative workshop that we have will continue for a long time yet, along with the growing commitments of the members of the group who are all in the forefront of the national jazz scene.

AAJ: What guitarists (or musicians in general) have had the greatest influence on you?

SG: In a broad musical sense, I think I have been most influenced by the great 'explorers' like Miles Davis, Joe Zawinul, Egberto Gismonti and John Coltrane, but also by Joni Mitchell and Bill Frisell. Closer to home, Enrico Rava in the era of "String Band" was undoubtedly one of the most important influences on me. His concert in Mantua in 1984 with Tony Oxley, literally turned me upside down. As far as guitarists are concerned, I would say masters like Django Reinhardt and Jim Hall and at a second level "backing" musicians like Pat Metheny or Bill Frisell himself, who were important because they brought me closer to the masters. When I was a teenager, I was crazy about Jimi Hendrix, who was also a great innovator, but later I found a sound dimension closer to my perception of that of the acoustic guitar.

I think the first big bolt of lightning was when I was sixteen and listening only to people like Led Zeppelin, Genesis and Jimi Hendrix and I happened to hear Django's "Nuages", which at my level of knowledge of the guitar at that time was completely incomprehensible, but absolutely electrifying to my ear. I'm still trying to understand it today!!!

AAJ: Which album is most representative of you?

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