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Massimo Sammi: Dawn of a New Day

By Published: March 24, 2010
AAJ: How did you take this concept and apply it to those two freely improvised pieces?

From left: Massimo Sammi, George Garzone, Yoron Israel

MS: We divided the quartet into two teams. George Garzone

George Garzone
George Garzone
sax, tenor
and I were the prisoners, and Yoron Israel
Yoron Israel
Yoron Israel

and John Lockwood were the prosecutors. George and I exchanged one-bar musical ideas at the beginning of the tune, not knowing what the others would play. Then, I would know if George was "confessing" his musical idea and George would know if I was confessing my idea. The purpose was to develop an interplay between the prisoners and the prosecutors through the exchange of our musical ideas.

I was really happy with the amount of tension and drama that we were able to convey on these tunes, that's directly underlying the Prisoner's Dilemma theory. The first of the two tracks was quieter, trying to represent the initial mood of the participants in the dilemma, then the second track was louder and more outgoing, where we wanted to represent the struggle of the prisoner's as they tried to break out of their precarious situation.

One thing that I've noticed about modern jazz is that there is often a lack of dramatic energy. The musicians are really super proficient and incredibly technically advanced, but a lot of the times when I listen to that music I don't feel emotionally involved, like I did when I listen to jazz from the '60s, '70s and '80s. So, these two tracks were also a bit of a tribute to those musicians who inspired me by bringing such a high level of dramatic mood and engagement into their playing.

AAJ: Because these two takes were totally improvised, and the goal was to capture the emotional content of each musician in that moment, did you do multiple takes of each to get a comparison or just stick with the first go around for each?

MS: Each was done on the first take, no editing, just straight up. We had never played free jazz together before that take. I was astonished at how well we played together given those circumstances. Both songs were first takes, just one right after the other, and it felt like we had been rehearsing them for days.

We didn't talk about the music beforehand. I explained the Prisoner's Dilemma concept to everyone and then we just dove right in. With the quality of the musicians, not myself but the other guys in the band, they are just incredible, so it was really easy to make that music right in the moment and have it come out like it did.

AAJ: Since some of the pieces on the album are based on specific scenes in the film did you write them while watching the scenes, like a film composer would, or did you write those pieces without having the film in front of you?

MS: I was tempted to use the first method but I was afraid that the music would come out as too obviously related to the movie, almost like an alternative soundtrack. What I did was watch the movie several times during the weeks that I was composing these pieces in order to be inspired from these scenes, but more from what really struck me in each scene, rather than an accompaniment to those scenes. I'm happy with how the music came out because it represents how I felt about the film and Nash's theories. It's very transparent in that context.

AAJ: It seems like the idea of a concept album is a little bit of a rare thing in the jazz world, though it's commonly done in rock music. How much of an influence do bands like The Who and Pink Floyd have on your writing in the context of their concept albums?

MS: I love rock music and I'm deeply in love with rock music from all eras. For guitarist it's kind of a common disease that we all share, it's often the first music that inspires us to pick up the guitar. I'm pleased that I was able to bring out my three biggest passions on the album, rock, jazz and film scoring. Pink Floyd is one of my favorite bands, and I put them on my shelf right next to [John Coltrane

John Coltrane
John Coltrane
1926 - 1967
's] A Love Supreme (Impulse!, 1964) and [Miles Davis
Miles Davis
Miles Davis
1926 - 1991
'] Kind of Blue (Columbia, 1959), both of which are concept albums of sorts in the jazz idiom.

I find that most of the albums that I really connect to have some sort of concept or theme that brings together the album as a whole. Music, for me, tells a story. Whether it is rock, opera, symphonies or jazz, the music should have a storyline that brings the smaller pieces together into a whole. If a story is told in the music I connect to it more, and I think a lot of other people out there feel the same way.

AAJ: Now that you've recorded a concept album and released it, are you planning on continuing to write in this vein as you move forward towards your next recording project?

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