Charles Fambrough: City Tribes

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I was fortunate. My goal in life was to play with McCoy Tyner. My goal in life was to play with Trane if he was alive. And Art Blakey.
[ed. note: We're celebrating the life and music of bassist Charles Fambrough who passed away on January 1, 2011. This interview with Kimberly Barry was conducted in April 1996.]

In his thirty-year career, bassist, bandleader and composer Charles Fambrough has played with McCoy Tyner, Grover Washington Jr., Art Blakey, Flora Purim and Airto Moreira, the Fort Apache Band, and Egberto Gismonti, among others.

He is a prolific composer whose songs have been recorded by the Jazz Messengers, Roy Hargrove, Stanley Turrentine, Craig Handy and Joe Ford. Fambrough's love for contemporary African-American, Latin and Brazilian music has been evident from his first recording as a leader, The Proper Angle (CTI, 1991).

His forthcoming release for New Groove Records features a diverse aggregation of styles and players—from Washington, Jon Lucien and George Duke, to modern straight-ahead pianists Mulgrew Miller and Bruce Barth. Fambrough is the consummate musician unencumbered by labels or limitations, and refuses to confine his creativity to the jazz mainstream.

In this interview from April, 1996, Fambrough discusses his 1995 Evidence release, City Tribes.

All About Jazz: James Williams once said you do everything "with a lot of taste." You're a great composer and arranger and the interesting thing about this album [City Tribes]—and a common thread in all of your composition—is a strong Latin and Brazilian influence. We also know how much you love funk and rhythm and blues. The great thing about this record is the way you fuse these elements.

Charles Fambrough: A lot of contemporary Brazilian beats incorporate a type of fusion or funk-suggested rhythm in their music. So I just reversed it; I put funk down as a basis and applied those rhythms above the feel.

AAJ: You told me you woke up one morning and had the tune ("City Tribes") in it's entirety in your head.

CF: I heard the vibe of it; I got the idea of the tune from a rhythm that Marlon Simon showed me on the congas. They're two rhythms; a funk rhythm in 4/4 and a guaguanco rhythm that's played against that... I'm sure it's been done before, but it's a very tasty concept. What I did is take a very basic line—that tune is based off a bass line—and put the horns around the bass line. What makes it move is the polarities between funk and the guaguanco. What really makes it interesting is the Brazilian influence. There's a counter to the guaguanco which is on the other side of the rhythm. So you have three atmospheres going on at the same time. I contribute that to the musicians.

AAJ: You play more electric bass on this record that anything you're previously recorded before. Was it because you brought a new bass [to the session]?

CF: Probably. It felt so good in my hands I couldn't get rid of it! It was the adventure of finding out the different parameters of it... it wasn't premeditated. I had no intention of playing electric bass on any of this record.

AAJ: "Add-A-Lessons" is a play on the word "adolescence." When you gave me the tape for this, I immediately noticed a melancholy undercurrent to the song. Tell us about what inspired it.

CF: I was all over the place in my adolescence. I was studying classical music, and my true goal was to be a jazz musician. I was kind of torn with the idea of playing classical music. I was dedicating my time and energy to studying it. At that time in my life, the picture of a jazz musician was so bleak. I had people around me constantly reminding me of that. The beauty of it was that it was truly the concept that I loved to play jazz. In spite of all the other opinions, I chose to play it, with a lot of adversity. It wasn't easy. Every day it was "get a job, work, go back to school," because I left a full scholarship to play jazz. One day I was reflecting on those times and I wrote that tune. That tune is like a struggle between yin and yang, I guess. But I'm glad I made this decision. It gave me a sense of wholeness.

AAJ: Why did you use two percussionists [Cafe and Marlon Simon] on this record?

CF: They're both different. One is an Afro-Cuban percussionist and one is Brazilian. Although they're based from Africa [the rhythms] they have different flavors. Cafe is a master of accessories, like the berimbau, bells and shekeres. Marlon is familiar with all the lines in Afro-Cuban music.

AAJ: The composition "Canto De Guebra," that's capoiera music. Tell us about the genesis of that tune.

CF: That was a tune where we were going for an ethnic, real raw sounding vibe. The singing obviously is raw [laughs]. It was a little different because very rarely do you find the upright bass in that scenario. The berimbau is featured. I knew exactly what that storyline was. It tells about how Cafe came here and he's integrating with the musicians in this region and his story of how he came from Brazil.


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