Planeta Imaginario: Stretches in Spain
Recently from Barcelona, Spain, members of the jazz/rock improv group Planeta Imaginario discussed their new recording Optical Delusions (Cuneiform Records, 2011) and the group's history. Keyboardist and group leader Marc Capel, who speaks Catalan, shared his thoughts through drummer and chief translator Vasco Trilla. Fretless bassist Dimitris Bikos also sat in for the interview.
The various influences that can be heard in the music of Planeta Imaginario range from classic progressive rock groups such as Soft Machine, Caravan, and King Crimson to Frank Zappa, Miles Davis and Mahavishnu Orchestra. As revealed in this interview, the rich culture and history of Spain has provided Planeta Imaginario's music with plenty of inspiration.
All About Jazz: Please talk about the formation of Planeta Imaginario and the television show that inspired the name.
Marc Capel: I formed the band back in 1999. At the beginning, the band was more influenced by progressive rock and psychedelic music. Later on it became more jazz focused, especially when Vasco and Eneko joined the group. With this lineup, the band recorded Que me dices? (Margen Records, 2004) and Biomasa (Cuneiform Records, 2008).
AAJ: What can you tell us about the progressive music and jazz music scene in Spain?
MC: There was a strong progressive scene in the '70s, especially in Catalonia, which was known as Ona Layetana, with bands such as Musica Urbana, Iceberg, Fusion etc. Since then, there hasn't been a scene, just a few isolated bands like October Equus (a very good band from Madrid that plays some kind of avant-prog-rio-jazz related music), Kotebel, Senogul, Amoeba Split. The jazz scene here is very standard-oriented. Nevertheless, there are some interesting players like Pablo Selnik (a flautist), Liba Villavechia, Baldo Martinez, Perico Sambeat (maybe the most famous outside Spain). Now there is a strong free-jazz-improv scene in Barcelona with B.I.B (Banda de Improvitzadors de Barcelona), I.E.D8, Alfonsina y el Mal etc.
AAJ: What affect did growing up in the post-Franco period of Spain in the 1970s have on you musically?
MC: It was an exciting time. We did not have so much for 40 years, and then so much was available to us, all at once. Everything was free and open. All jazz, and other kinds of music, that was available elsewhere for so long was brand new for us. Music from England, specifically from Canterbury, like Soft Machine, Gong, Henry Cow and National Health, because they were the bands coming to Spain to play more than anyone else at that time. In Catalonia, the music of these bands became very important.
AAJ: You recorded your last CD, Biomasa, in Austria and the new one, Optical Illusions, in France. How did these locations influence the feel of the recordings for you, as opposed to your debut Que Me Dices, recorded in Spain?
MC: Both recordings were made in rural places, in small villages in the countryside, where the atmosphere was definitely more relaxed and enjoyable, which rarely happens when you record in a basement in a big city. For us, it is very refreshing to record in other countries; it's like having kind of holiday with a very nice result. The recording session with Bob Drake was inspiring, and we had a great time there.
AAJ: Talk about the themes behind the music for Optical Illusions. Was the CD artwork inspired by the music or was it the paintings themselves, by Angel Rodriguez Morales, that inspired such compositions as "The Little Dog-Man's Clinical Preludes (Preludis Clinics del Home-gos)"?
MC: Angel took the song titles and they inspired him to design the artwork and the images. We were very impressed by the final result.
AAJ: Was the title or theme for Optical Delusions a followup to the last track on the last CD Biomasa, "Trastornos opticos del oso bipolar (Optical Delusions of a Bipolar Bear)"?
MC: Yes, when we were thinking of the title, we thought we could use something that would link both CDs, and that's how we ended up with Optical Delusions.
AAJ: Why was there no guitar on the new CD? What was the thought behind this?
MC: Last year we had a European tour and three weeks before the tour we announced that our guitarist was leaving the band. Consequently we had to rearrange all the material for the tour in a big hurry. But as we were giving the concerts, we realized that the sound of the band was more interesting for us without a guitar. So, a month after the tour, we went to Bob Drake's studio and we recorded all the new arrangements. Some guitar parts were replaced by distorted Hammond. We were most satisfied with the final sound.
AAJ: There appears to be a shift from the more progressive rock sound to a slightly more jazz sound, please describe what prompted this change?
MC: We have been developing this shift from progressive rock to jazz slowly, step by step. It has been a logical result of the musicians who have joined Planeta Imaginario over time, especially the brass section. Natsuko, Liba,The-Hien and Alfonso are mostly jazz musicians. Dimitris, our bassist studies with Gary Willis and he is mostly into jazz-fusion. So naturally we are combining the jazz and rock elements into a more effective mix.
AAJ: There have been changes in the lineup since your last album Biomasa. Do those changes make the group somewhat of a "Collective Action," as suggested on the first composition of the new CD? Please talk about the new lineup.
MC: Yes, some kind of collective action, everybody brings their own influences and inspirations to the band, so each time a new member joins us the sound of the band changes a little bit.
AAJ: The music appears to be composed in a very detailed and complex way, yet there are minor fringes of free form that appear on songs like "Xarramandusca," where just the reeds and the drums seem to break out. Are these spaces in the compositions meant to allow for some improvisation?
MC: Some members of the band are into the free jazz/improv scene, so we thought that it would be a great idea to use some of these influences in the mix. Alfonso and Vasco play in a free improv duo called Alfonsina y el Mal, so it was natural for us to include some elements of that kind of music.
AAJ: What other types of music or projects do you work on outside of the band?
MC: Other Ppojects outside Planeta include: October Equus (a very good band from Madrid where Alfonso and Vasco play); Filthy Habits Ensemble (a Zappa tribute band); Alfonsina y el Mal (a free-impro duo with Alfonso and Vasco); Liba's Traum trio (a very nice trio that includes our new saxophonist Liba Villavechia); I.E.D 8 ( free-impro octet); Outer zZone; Pablo Selnik Quartet.
AAJ: How did you and Vasco first meet?
MC: We first met at a Gong concert in Huesca, and after that Vasco responded to an Internet announcement. A King Crimson, Soft Machine, Gong-influenced band was looking for a drummer and it happened to be my band.
AAJ: Of the many different influences that can be heard in your playing, what pianists, keyboardists, and composers influenced you the most and why?
MC: Dave Stewart: I like him for his approach to playing the Hammond and Fender Rhodes, and his interplay with the band. Frederic Mompou: He's an excellent composer from here. He knows how to create images with his harmonic vision. He can build them into extremely beautiful landscapes. Bill Evans: a jazz player who made poetry with the piano. Fred Hersch, as well as Faure and Debussy.
AAJ: I have question for Vasco. Am I correct in hearing a type of Bill Bruford influence in your snare drum sound? Also, what drummers have primarily influenced you and why?
Vasco Trilla: Yes, for many years Bill Bruford was my favorite drummer, especially his King Crimson work, I never studied his style but obviously listening to his playing must have had a strong impact on me. I was also influenced by the Frank Zappa's drummers (Terry Bozzio, Vinnie Colaiuta), Neil Peart was a big hero to me at the beginning, and now I like Jim Black, Joey Baron, Gavin Harrison, Stephane Galland (Aka Moon), Dan Weiss and, of course, some jazz drummers such as Elvin Jones and Tony Williams.
AAJ: Marc, this might seem like a difficult question, but what are your five favorite albums of all time and what is special about them?
MC: Third and Fourth by Soft Machine: Soft Machine has been the most influential band for me since I heard their first CD at the age of 13. I think that Third and Fourth are their creative peak, and the highlights of the whole Canterbury scene. In The Court of The Crimson King by King Crimson: it changed my personal vision of music. You, by Gong: Gong showed me that madness is an amusing thing and what's more an integral part of freedom. Leg End, by Henry Cow: it teaches you how creative and original you can be in a rock band. The Rotter's Club (Virgin, 1975), by Hatfield and The North: For me it's a perfect development of jazz-rock with superb compositions and tasteful Hammond solos.
AAJ: What type of feedback have you been receiving on your music outside of Spain in the past couple of years?
MC: The feedback has been very positive. We have gotten praise and flattering reviews outside of Spain, but we hope that changes with our new CD.
AAJ: Have there been any thoughts in collaborating with or even just playing with musicians outside of Spain that play this genre of music?
MC: Yes, in fact we'd like to ask Allan Holdsworth to collaborate with us on our next recording.
AAJ: What other areas would you plan to tour outside of Spain and when will more of the world be able to hear Planeta Imaginario live?
MC: As we don't have an agent/manager, so we have to do everything ourselves. As it's hardly possible to find management here in Spain, we hope that with more exposure abroad that we'll find representation. Last May we organized a European tour that included Italy, Croatia, Serbia, Albania, and Greece. Currently we are preparing another one around Europe, we hope to play in Italy, Croatia, Serbia, Hungary, Poland, Czech Republic, Germany, Austria, and France.
All Photos: Courtesy of Planeta Imaginario