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Eric Legnini: The Afro Beat from Europe

Eric Legnini: The Afro Beat from Europe
Jean-Pierre Goffin By

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Starting very young with his own trio—Stéphane Galland (Aka Moon, Joe Zawinul, Lobi) on drums and Jean-Louis Rassinfosse, bassist of the European Chet Baker's trio with Philip Catherine—Eric Legnini left Brussels and has been living in Paris since then, appearing first with drummer Aldo Romano, alto saxophonist Stefano di Battista and trumpet player Flavio Boltro. His first three recordings in the European jazz sphere were Miss Soul (Label Bleu, 2005), Big Booggallo (Label Bleu, 2007) and Trippin (B.Flat, 2009). His latest projects are mainly afro beat oriented.

All About Jazz: Could we summarize your musical career like this: from standards to soul, from soul to afro beat and from afro beat to afro pop?

Eric Legnini: As a young pianist I started playing standards I heard from Bill Evans, Keith Jarrett, Chick Corea... My first stay in New York was also deeply influenced by Richie Beirach. Then I discovered Kenny Kirkland who was a great influence for me and gradually I listened to great pianists of soul like Les McCann, Phineas Newborn, Jr., Ray Bryant, Horace Silver,... Soul jazz fits quite well with the music I played in this trilogy Miss Soul, Big Boogaloo and Trippin which I also injected my new compositions in. I also like producing and working in studio for other artists like Kellylee Evans and Claude Nougaro... And it gives me new opportunities, new ideas I can dig for the trio.

AAJ: These three albums became top-selling albums in France, but also in Japan. Some say: "Never change a winning team," but you did.

EL: We had a lot of concerts with the trio and when we recorded Trippin, I felt it was the end of a journey because the album contained such a great energy. Of course selling thousands of albums is quite rewarding, but as a jazz musician it wasn't the goal! I think our music could be easily read by anyone, much more than a classical jazz trio and that is what explained the success of these three CDs, although I didn't make any concessions to the music... What differentiated the trio from other ones is that we were looking for a song format you can find in Ramsey Lewis's trio for instance. I discovered that when we played in Manu Katche's TV program "One Shot Not" on ARTE Channel: lots of groups were electro or pop, and the audience felt our music contained some of these elements even if our music was deeply jazz and improvisation.

AAJ: In your new projects The Vox (Discograph, 2011) and Sing Twice (Discograph, 2013) you introduce the voice.

EL: The voice has always been part of my music even in the trio, but at a second degree. On For All We Know for instance, I was much more influenced by Roberta Flack's version than by any pianists' ones. Introducing pieces like Teddy Randazzo's Going Out of My Head or Donny Hathaway's Where Is The Love? in my repertoire was also a dedication to the song format I am developing now. I work in studio with a lot of singers like Mickey Green or Yaël Naïm and I wanted to use this know-how in my own music.

AAJ: Kansas City born Krystel Warren is "The Vox" on your album: how did you meet her? EL: I first discovered her on Youtube and a few weeks later we were on the same stage of Manu Katché's "One Shot Not" program! I was captivated by her deep and hoarse voice; I immediately felt the same reference as I have: soul music, Nina Simone, Tracey Chapman,... I also heard a freedom of singing, the way she sang detached from the text, something really jazzy. She also felt my composition like I did: for example, she thought London Spot would sound better without words and we did it that way.

AAJ: The Afro beat reference is much more striking in The Vox than in the trilogy.

EL: For sure, I listened a lot to Tony Allen's No Accomodation For Lagos (Strut, 1975) or Jealousy (Strut, 1979), also to Fela Kuti's albums where funk is overwhelming. I like mixing these elements I have heard on old vinyls...

AAJ: Why did you call on Husky Höskulds for the mixing?

EL: I mixed everything at home but I needed someone for the final touch. Yaël Naïm talked me about him. In fact I already had listened to his work on Solomon Burke's and Tom Waits's recordings... He also worked with Norah Jones, Sheryl Crow and giants of soul... So I decided to go and meet him in Los Angeles. He is really a humble person, and he did so many things that he immediately understand what you mean, he knows the references and understands where you want to go. He directly integrated my wish to keep the trio in the heart of the music.

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