Charles Fambrough: City Tribes
AAJ: The last two records you've recorded, Keeper of The Spirit and City Tribes, have included authentic original Afro-Cuban or Brazilian compositions. Was that by accident?
CF: It's sort of like a window. It's like you're searching beyond the realms of the need to write music. It's more a search for information. I hope to always put something on my record that is from an authentic nature. My natural instinct would be to put something that stretches beyond the realm of what I normally do.
AAJ: Does that influence comes from working with Airto?
CF: Airto showed me how to play the berimbau. When I used to work with Airto and Flora Purim, we used to start our gig with him playing the berimbau and singing alone. It seemed very significant; it seemed to connect all the spirits that were on stage. I didn't realize how significant it was. What I tried to do was connect all the spirits from that date [City Tribes] to one place.
AAJ: How did the Afro-Cuban arrangement of Wayne Shorter's "Dolores" evolve? Originally you arranged it as a ballad.
CF: The percussionists were on a roll. We'd just finished playing "City Tribes" and they said "What else can we do?" They were on a roll. At this point, my intention was to play this song on piano solo and put synths on it. I wrote these elaborate chord changes which are not really in that arrangement. I was going to do it as a ballad. I was going to do it as a trio with tenor saxophone; [the percussionists] were inspiring. I attribute the switch of attitude to them.
AAJ: We've been talking about the percussionists, but you also have a very fine drummer on this release.
CF: Ricky Sebastian is a thread that weaves between those two percussionists, and he's almost transparent. That was an amazing job; all of the percussionists were, but Ricky was amazing. You never have to worry about the time. You can go away and have coffee, come back and he's still there.
AAJ: He's a pretty versatile guy. Isn't he from New Orleans?
CF: Yes. He and Cafe played together for years so they have a bond. Those guys are very open, so Marlon just fit right in. There was no vibe on that date. A lot of times when you have these sessions, musicians come in with extra baggage. Usually it's their egos. Once you get past that point...
AAJ: IF you get past that point...
CF: ...you can create. But on this date, I have to say that there was no problem with egos. Everybody was really cool and everybody was there to make the music better.
AAJ: I know Wayne Shorter is a very important influence compositionally. What attracts you to his music?
CF: For me, the combinations of voicings that Wayne Shorter uses, even to date, are very progressive. Wayne has the ability to write very profound harmonies. The structure that he and Herbie Hancock use, a lot of musicians tend to overlook. Serious musicians at some point have to investigate Wayne Shorter and Herbie Hancock. Especially in today's settings. I'm not taking anything from anyone else, but they contributed a wealth of knowledge that really hasn't been exploited as far as musicians go. There are tunes like "The Sorcerer" and "The Collector," and different tunes that you have to be able to play and be on another level of knowing harmony to really deal with [the tunes]. They're are standardized ways of playing; you can't standardize your way through those types of tunes. You have to have a deep understanding of what you're doing. I know a lot of great musicians would crash and burn on those tunes because they don't listen to them. They just dismiss those musicians [Hancock and Shorter]. It's a drag that we don't celebrate them more while they're alive. I don't understand it.
AAJ: People say that your music is complex. I have a photocopy of the lead sheet for "Life Above The Means" in my office. One of my musicians friends looked at it and said "Charles wrote that!" because it was complex and difficult to play. My musician friends agree that your tunes sound simple on the surface, but when they actually try to deal with them, the tunes are quite complex. Obviously that comes from listening to and being inspired by, Wayne Shorter and Herbie Hancock.
CF: I try to go in that direction. I try to make a melody that you can sing, but once the melody is gone, you have to know what you're doing. If not, it's over. You can't "hear" it; you have to "know" it. There are musicians who have great ears who can hear anything, so it can be dealt with. There are certain things, it's better to know. That way you can elaborate.
AAJ: That's to your advantage if you're writing music that's complex. That way you know you'll always have the baddest cats in your band.
CF: Or try to go for the baddest cats the budget will allow.
AAJ: "Laura Marie" is one tune on which John Swana plays trumpet. I don't hear anyone else playing the EVI (electronic valve instrument) like him.
CF: He's very lyrical.