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Take Five with TRi/O's Steve Shapiro, Dave Anderson and Tyger MacNeal

AAJ Staff By

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Meet TRi/O

TRi/O is a collaborative groove-based contemporary jazz & funk outing from three New York musicians: Steve Shapiro on vibraphone and mallet keyboards, virtuoso 5-string bassist Dave Anderson, and drummer Tyger MacNeal. Their combined credits comprise a long list of major jazz and pop artists—including Steely Dan, Ornette Coleman, Phil Collins, Spyro Gyra, Whitney Houston, They Might Be Giants, Bill Evans, Nelson Rangell, Jeff Kashiwa, Bob Baldwin, Marc Antoine, Chieli Minucci & Special EFX, Smokey Robinson, Art Garfunkel, Blood Sweat & Tears, Michael McDonald, Donna Summer, James Ingram, Average White Band, Jose Feliciano, The Fifth Dimension, Billy Eckstine, and more.

A unique concept and original repertoire sets TRi/O apart in the genres of jazz, percussion, and electronic music—especially through experimentation with customized live-loops and the electronic mallet controller, which allows the band to explore progressive new ground. Dynamic interaction and improvisation is at the heart of their new release Try The Veal, which was recorded in late 2019 and early 2020. With future sessions cut short by the pandemic, the resulting album yielded a number of first-takes, full of spontaneous energy. Try The Veal documents the power of groove, communication, and interaction from three like-minded studio pros.

Instruments:

Steve Shapiro: Vibraphone, midi mallet controllers (Wernick Xylosynth, Pearl malletSTATION, Moog, Apple Mainstage softsynths).

Dave Anderson: 5-string electric bass

Tyger MacNeal: Drums, cajon, Korg WaveDrum, RC50 Loop Station.

Teachers and/or influences?

SS: I had two important teachers. First was Dave Samuels, who was a mentor and became a good friend. He was a brilliant improviser, and his passing was a loss for the whole jazz world. The other was Steve Swallow, who I've stayed in touch with and has always been a huge inspiration as composing guru and human-being. I also studied drums with Bob Moses in high-school, which was like dropping a puppy in the ocean to learn swimming.

TM: My main influences started around 10 years old listening to Gregg Ericco, Clyde Stubblefield, Bobby Columby, Danny Seraphine, then on to Billy Coham and the fusion drummers of the day, then to John Guerin, Ralph Humphrey, Jeff Porcaro, Steve Gadd and the list goes on. Also studied with Jim Mola just after college.

DA: I had a great private teacher when I was in high school, Dave Santoro, who's still active as far as I know, pandemic notwithstanding. He threw me in the deep end of the pool, so to speak. I learned enough from him in a year or so of lessons to bypass the first couple of levels going into Berklee. I also had a wonderful teacher up there named Greg Mooter, whose influence I still hear in my fretless playing.

I knew I wanted to be a musician when...

DA: You mean professionally, I assume—I started with violin and trombone in the school music program, under the watchful eyes of my parents, who were teachers and musicians themselves, so that was always a part of my childhood. But the light bulb of deciding I would do bass instead of some regular adult type of daytime activity to make money happened in high school, and was really predicated, I think, on nothing so much as a distinct lack of interest in continuing with conventional academics for four more years.

TM: I knew it when as a sophomore in college I attended an Al Jarreau concert and Joe Correro was in his band and at that time I had been playing since the age of 8 and it just hit me, I said to myself "I could that." Would still like to meet Joe someday to thank him for the inspiration.

SS: Maybe after I heard the original Pat Metheny Group when I was about seventeen... still one of the most inspiring concerts that I've ever seen. It felt like merging the Gary Burton Quartet with The Beatles, which I never imagined was possible.

Your sound and approach to music.

Steve (for all): Well with this band... maybe to groove hard, play in-time and in-tune. Other than that, make it something unique that's worth a listen, that people have not really heard before.

Your teaching approach

DA: I've only taught sporadically over the years, so it would be a stretch to say I have some overarching philosophy. The main thing for me is to remember to listen as much as I talk, and remember that someone half my age, or less, is likely not best served by what worked for me when I started.

TM: My philosophy has always been first and foremost to service the music. Knowing what not to play is just as important as knowing what to play. With students, I focus on technique first, then rudiments, then reading, then the application of all to the drum set. No matter what the style, good time and a good groove are essential.

SS: These days I tend to do more college-level instruction in film composing and production than I do teaching jazz vibes performance. I try to emphasize melodic development, the realities of the music business, how to know your strengths, copyright law, and the value of your work.

You three have played with many different artists, who else would you perhaps like to work with?

TM: I think Charlie Hunter, John Scofield, Steve Khan, Vulfpeck.

DA: Josh Klinghoffer was the guitarist in the Red Hot Chili Peppers from 2009-2019. I really love his intensity and vibe. That's a fun fantasy to imagine doing a project with him. And Mike Landau, the blues/fusion guitarist from LA. Love all of his stuff.

SS: Ooh, lots of people—maybe Diana Krall, James Taylor, Keith Jarrett, Michael League, Bill Frisell, Wayne Shorter, Jack DeJohnette.

Road story: Your best or worst experience

DA: You don't want to hear any of the worst stories—we'll both be back in therapy for PTSD. But the moments that make a nice mental photo album for me are away from the music and everyone else, when I slip off in some city I'm in to sit in a park or street corner and just quietly watch the world go by. Or I'll go running. I had a thing about running in every city I visited for a while. That's another great way to feel the vibe of a place.

TM: Best would be with AWB in the UK and Jose Feliciano in Spain. Worst would be long air travel as in to Australia, India, and the like.

SS: I haven't toured nearly as much as these guys. But there was one incident in Italy where at breakfast, I had to drink a big cup of weird milk with curdly stuff on top in order to be polite.

Favorite venue

SS: I used to play a lot at the 55 Bar, and I still often go down to see friends perform there. It's a NYC institution.

DA: The thing that makes any venue memorable is the people there who work hard to make everything happen. When the staff and crew make you feel like your presence is valued and appreciated, it's a nice day.

TM: Favorites in London would be Jazz Cafe and Ronnie Scott's. Several in Australia and always dug gigs in Austria and Germany.

Your favorite recording in your discography and why?

DA: The ones I like the best, I guess, are the ones where I was given room to be myself, rather than just properly execute the part that someone dictated to me, on paper or otherwise. In that sense, and it terms of the high level of the music, I'd say Bartosz Hadala's disc The Runner Up was special. Similarly, Shunzo Ohno's All In One. My website has a page with some of my favorite tracks from all the records I've done.

TM: "Present Tense" which was a retrospective of Jose Feliciano's hits.

SS: I guess Two Against Nature by Steely Dan. Playing for Walter and Donald was bucket-list. And working with Roger Nichols too, who was a hilarious guy. I'm only on one tune and Chris Potter got the solo, but I can't complain about that as I probably would have picked his solo, too.

What do you think is the most important thing you are contributing musically?

Steve (for all): I guess I'll summarize again for the group... Not sure if that is for us to judge. But hopefully, with this group it is about creating a certain sound and feel. And maybe the writing is interesting to at least one person in Denmark, and the improvisations can tell an unexpected story. TRi/O is also about expanding the territory for a vibes-based trio—finding new settings for the mallets and bass guitar, new sounds, and new ways to interact using loops and electronics.

The first jazz album I bought was:

DA: I suppose this is a Rorschach test for what we'd consider jazz or not. I was consuming the current rock of the day in high school, but I think one of the first things I bought that was a fusion disc was Visions Of The Emerald Beyond by the Mahavishnu Orchestra.

TM: Miles Davis.

SS: Probably a Milt Jackson double-album reissue from a department store. Also, Crystal Silence by Gary Burton/Chick Corea, which I basically wore out.

Music you are listening to now:

SS: Anything by Louis Cole or Becca Stevens. Also Aaron Parks, Julian Lage, Gilad Hekselman, Ben Wendel.

DA: I've been playing catch-up and listening to the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Pearl Jam, U2, Rage Against The Machine, Nirvana, and others—music I knew to some extent and was aware of but that just didn't grab me back then.

TM: Dirty Loops, Yebba, Snarky Puppy, Louis Cole.

One Desert Island pick:

TM: Miles Davis with Tony Williams.

SS: Live at the Five Spot by Wes Montgomery with the Wynton Kelly trio.

DA: Jimi Hendrix's Are You Experienced?

How would you describe the state of jazz today?

SS: Confused. I think it's a little arbitrary as to what gets critical attention. Sometimes it's a recording that I don't think holds up well for repeated listening. But there are more great players than ever. And a wide range of artists in their mid-thirties doing great stuff right now. There's a huge oversupply, so it's certainly not dead.

DA: I've been standing too far away from the hubbub in terms of my professional focus to have a sense of that—that's more "news carried over the hill from a neighboring burg" for me. It's both encouraging and horrific that legendary players are facing the same challenges in economic and audience-building prospects as talented youngsters starting out. The interwebs have made everybody simultaneously famous and worthless.

TM: Under-appreciated.

What are some of the essential requirements to keep jazz alive and growing?

TM: Exposing young kids to it and keeping it alive in schools.

SS: Open-minds. Listenability. Jazz education. Philanthropy.

What is in the near future?

TM: The most recent recordings projects with Grayson Hugh, The Nordic Sound Jazz Orchestra, and of course TRi/O.

SS: I'm preparing a vibraphone clinic for the Percussive Arts Society International Convention right now, which will be virtual. Also writing TV music for EMI/Sony. TRi/O has one date booked for 2021, and I also hope to reschedule a vibes festival in Prague cancelled due to the pandemic.

DA: I'm just holding my breath as of this writing and waiting for the devastating negative impact of the pandemic to eventually subside so everyone in the music and entertainment industries can get back to work. I'm lucky I've been able to build my career to the point that I'm not surviving gig to gig, but it's still a major blow, for all of us. In the meantime, I'm having fun creating music in my little bubble, Flying Squirrel Studio, all by myself in the woods.

What is your greatest fear when you perform?

SS: That I'll forget a crucial cable.

DA: What on earth would you be afraid of? Playing a wrong note? it happens occasionally. It doesn't make you a bad person or a bad player. I might be afraid I left my fly down, but I've learned to always check that after forty years of gigs.

TM: Missing a connecting flight.

What song would you like played at your funeral?

DA: Something without bass. I think people heard enough of that if they knew me. A suite from the Bach cello suites, recorded by Yo Yo Ma, would be lovely—probably the timeless G major one.

TM: Anything with Steve Gadd Or Tony Williams on drums.

SS: Well it depends. The great saxophonist Warne Marsh died suddenly on the bandstand while blowing on "Out of Nowhere." That's true, I cut the obit out of the New York Times. So I mean, what are the chances?? I think if that happened to me, I'd certainly welcome someone playing the out-head at the memorial. Always nice to resolve.

If I weren't a jazz musician, I would be a:

DA: Ha! Let me count the ways: I would have been quite happy as an English professor; an electronic engineer doing audio design; proprietor/owner of a high-end coffee roasting operation, or perhaps a micro-brewery; a chef.

SS: Haberdasher.

TM: Formula 1 race car driver.

If I could have dinner with anyone from history, who would it be and why?

SS: Charlie Parker comes to mind. I always read that he was funny and a brilliant conversationalist.

DA: Hemingway. Or Vonnegut. We'd talk about Paris or Dresden or women or just the absurdity of life and tell jokes and drink and be happy in a sidewalk café somewhere on a rainy day.

TM: Elvin Jones.

Anything more about your new recording, Try the Veal?

DA: This was such a breath of fresh air for me because the process was really not like making a record at all. We just hung out at Steve's, and then he neatened it all up and ka-blam! Instant record. I also love documenting long-running musical friendships—Tyger and I have been gigging together for close to forty years at this point.

TM: Can't wait for the gigs!

SS: We'll be here all week, folks...

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