By Angelo Leonardi
Born in 1962 in Turin, Italy, guitarist and composer Simone Guiducci has been hailed as a creative voice on the contemporary Italian jazz scene. He's made several internationally acclaimed recordings as a leader including his two latest, Dancin' Roots (Felmay, 2005) and Chorale (Felmay, 2003). With his ongoing project "Gramelot", Guiducci explores the creative dialogue between Italian folklore themes and jazz improvisation.
His "Gramelot Ensemble" has been comprised of distinguished Italian musicians over the years including Enrico Rava, Paolo Fresu, Gianluigi Trovesi and other leading international artists including Ralph Alessi, Chris Speed, Erik Friedlander, Don Byron and Eberhard Weber.
This October 2004 interview was translated and reprinted courtesy of All About Jazz: Italy.
All About Jazz: Gramelot Ensemble's new disc Dancin' Roots is imbued with a clearly contemporary flavor and involves some of the most illustrious contemporary names in its accustomed delving into Italian folklore. It seems to me therefore to be a logical development to Chorale.
Simone Guiducci: I'm glad that there is a sense that "Gramelot" is evolving as it follows its chosen path. I think that the group has managed to hang onto two fundamental characteristics: on the one hand its "sound", which owes its inspiration principally to the typical orchestrations of popular Italian music groups, and on the other, the principle of working with melodic-rhythmic material which, at least in the beginning, came from real North Italian folk music. However, with the passage of time, the "North-Italy" formula has slowly given way to opening up to external influences.
This is mainly due to the natural inclinations of the individual musicians in the group towards free improvisation, as they are by nature "irreverent" towards the strict definitions of folk.
Our contact with 'external' musicians like Ralph Alessi, Erik Friedlander and Chris Speed in recent years has been inspiring and fruitful and has led us gradually to enrich our basic recipe as well as introducing new ways of looking at material based on traditional music, which is after all, the basis of our work.
Ultimately, we have developed an approach which is less and less respectful of dyed-in-the-wool traditions, but much more stimulating for us.
I have to say that it is very difficult to meet folk musicians who are open to contamination from other musical genres (in the folk world, a musician who is innovative is often seen as a traitor and sinner!). The characteristics of musicians without frontiers who are curious to explore new modes and have no "geographical" prejudices form the identikit picture of a "free improviser with a jazz background" like Alessi, Friedlander, Speed and of course, Don Byron, who is our guest on Dancin' Roots.
Working with them has been a fantastic opportunity for us to grow.
AAJ: Was it Ralph Alessi, who you had already worked with, who was responsible for involving Don Byron and Andy Milne in the project? How did you get on personally and musically with them?
SG: Ralph Alessi's interest and respect for Gramelot have obviously been important factors in the development of the new project. We recorded two pieces on our previous record Chorale with him as a guest and we realized that there was an immediate empathy between him and the group. Of all the tracks we did on the old record, Chris Speed and Erik Friedlander too were on some of them, the ones we did with Ralph were those which inspired us most. The chemistry between our tones and his very personal trumpet sound and his lyrical but totally modern style added something special to Gramelot's palette. In fact, I didn't see Alessi as a guest artist, but as a real member of the group.
In 2002 and 2003, I put a lot of energy into organizing live tours with him and every time we played, I felt the fusion with Gramelot grow stronger and stronger. We all decided together to record a whole album with him as guest. Ralph's sustained respect and interest in becoming a regular member of the group was reinforced by his support for the idea of letting Don Byron hear our work.
AAJ: And he, in the light of developments, obviously liked your work.
SG: I have to confess I was surprised by the availability of Don Byron and Andy Milne (who later took part in the recording of one track) to the idea of working together. Everything that's happened made me realize that when you work with innovators, with artists who have no barriers to their artistic expression, it's not too difficult to have a level of spontaneous communication which goes far beyond recording contracts and stuff like that. I can remember very well, for example, when I had no thoughts about Don Byron playing on the track "Chorale no. 2" (where Andy Milne does a very intense solo), he himself went with his instincts and knew that he wanted to be a part of it instead of remaining silent as we had planned. This was a clear sign that the atmosphere in the recording studio, in the "Mingus" style, was enough to inspire him. There was an air of relaxed experimentation during the recording and, at least in my opinion, you can hear this from the results.
AAJ: In the cover notes for Dancin' Roots, you wrote "A free flow of ideas and cultures is our aim. It's also an advantage and a drawback". Can you explain what you meant?