Mike Moreno: Focusing on the Music
AAJ: For both of your albums, you used Doug Weiss and Kendrick Scott as your rhythm section. What is it about their playing, as individuals and together, that you feel adds to your group in performances and on your recordings?
MM: Doug is an amazingly-solid bassist, very musical and he has ears like no other young bassist I know. I call Doug because he'll be in there and he'll be creative while not getting in the way. His whole approach is based on making everything sound good, with good tone, good time and having big ears. He's also a great guy to work with, so he's been my first call on a lot of the gigs that I do.
Kendrick is someone that I went to high school with and we have collaborated on a number of projects together. His sound on the drums is a really warm, broad sound and his time and swing just feels incredible. He also works well together with Doug, which is very important to me. I have played in many situations where there is a great drummer and a great bassist, but when they get together it just doesn't work out, but Doug and Kendrick always work out.
AAJ: Stepping away from your recordings a little bit. One of things that sets you apart from many other jazz guitarists is your use of the acoustic guitar in your writing and recording. Since most jazz guitarists tend to use a nylon stringed instrument when they play acoustically, did you ever find it hard to blend the acoustic guitar's tone and sound with your groups, or did it just seem to fit right away?
MM: In the studio it's easy to work with, but in a live situation it's hard to bring into the set, unless I am in a very controlled environment. On a club gig for instance, it's very hard to just bust out in the middle of a set and have it work well. The acoustic guitar started to become a part of my playing when I was preparing for the Lizz Wright gig that I did for a while. I reached the point when I was basically tired of jazz, the sound of jazz guitar, and I wanted to get more into a "pure" kind of sound. That's when I started listening to a lot of Joni Mitchell and Nick Drake albums, as well as Pat Metheny's acoustic work.
When I started to bring the acoustic guitar into my own music, people would tell me things like, "I can feel what you are doing much more with the acoustic." So I felt a certain connection to it and other people related to it, which was encouraging. The acoustic became a source of motivation when I was discouraged. I kept trying it out and people kept telling me to keep doing it. It was more a case of other people providing the motivation for me to keep the acoustic in my playing. In the studio it works really well to use it in the background and to fuse it in with the electric guitar and the piano.
Also, the music I listen to now has changed so much from what I was listening to eight years ago. Most of the music I listen to now has both electric and acoustic guitars on it, so I'm trying to bring that sound into my own music.
AAJ: Apart from your work as a band leader, you are also a highly sought after sideman, as you spend a lot of your time touring and performing in groups other than you own. How do you keep a balance between going on tour as a member of someone else's group and making sure that you spend enough time working on and performing your own music?
MM: It really depends. At the moment I make the majority of my living playing with other people, but I make sure that I play at least one gig a month in New York with my own band. This helps to keep the music evolving and gives me the opportunity to try out different musicians in my band.
For my first album I tried many different players until I found the right combination that I felt worked best for my music. I had a lot of time to choose the band at that time. It was basically five years of gigging in New York that led up to that point, which gave me ample time to find the right working band for the album.
I also try and book a few good paying gigs here and there where I can afford to hire players that I don't normally get to play with, like Nasheet Waits and other similar musicians. For now, I know that I can't put all my time into my band and make a living, but I am always playing in New York and am conscious of not letting too much time go by without playing a gig with my own band.
AAJ: What can people expect from Mike Moreno in the next year or so as far as a new recording or touring?
MM: All the music for the new recording is finished, pretty much, and it's ready to go in and record, which is where I'll finish writing it. Definitely before the year is out, I'll have the new album recorded. For this album I'm going to bring in some new elements, such as the vibraphone and more acoustic guitar, that weren't on my first two albums. It'll also be more centered around the guitar. All of the tunes and arrangements I've written are very guitar oriented, as compared to my first two albums which focused more on the sound of the ensemble.