In this exclusive interview, JGT contributor Joe Barth talks to guitarist Davy Mooney about his latest album release, “Way Back”.
JGT: I understand that you’ve been traveling to and from Brazil since 2001. We are going to talk about Brazilian music in a moment, but let me begin by asking what you find appealing about Brazilian culture and life as you have experienced it?
I love Brazilian music for its harmonic sophistication and its deep grooves. There are of course many different types of Brazilian music (it’s kind of like saying “American music”), but I am particularly drawn to MPB, samba, bossa nova, and Milton Nascimento’s music. Milton, Tom Jobim, and Chico Buarque are my favorite Brazilian artists. Beyond the music, my wife is from Sao Paulo, and my children both speak Portuguese (I also do, to a certain extent). So it’s part of the family at this point!
JGT: What do you find rewarding about performing in a Brazilian style as opposed to other jazz styles such as swing or funk-jazz?
I think that Brazilian music is such a part of jazz at this point that the two can’t be easily separated. Specifically the guitar style of Joao Gilberto, the tunes and harmony of Tom Jobim, the collaborations with Wayne Shorter and Milton Nascimento, and the deep Brazilian influence on Pat Metheny’s music—the two cultures’ musics are fused together.
JGT: The album Way Back features pianist Felipe Silveira, bassist Thiago Alves, saxophonist John Ellis, and drummer Paulinho Vicente. Tell us how you met these musicians and what you enjoy most about performing and recording with them?
I’ve worked with John on all my CDs. He is a great melodicist, as well as a shredding modern jazz tenor player, on the level of anyone in New York. We also studied with the same people in New Orleans (albeit at slightly different times), so we understand each other that way. Felipe, Paulinho, and Thiago have been playing with me in Sao Paulo for the past ten years, and I have been fortunate to be able to bring my music down to them, and to have them play it so well. They really understand jazz and swing, and of course Brazilian music. I met them through a mutual friend, the pianist and guitarist Agenor de Lorenzi. I traveled to Brazil every year starting in 2001, but it took a while to make connections on the music scene. The world of today is much smaller and more connected than it was 20 years ago!
JGT: I know jazz from the late-1990s was very impacting to you in terms of who you are today. What was it about that music that struck you so deeply and how is that impact reflected in this album?
That was the music that was going on when I started playing jazz (1994 or so). As a guitarist, I came up in the pre-Rosenwinkel era, when the gods were Pat Martino and George Benson, and also Metheny and Scofield, but I was more into the clean-tone, straight-ahead school. Also, Steve Masakowski was my major mentor and influence as a player, and he was (and is) of that era. I love Rosenwinkel and many of the players that came after him, but I made a conscious decision to go for a different tone and sound (although I copied a lot of his licks, haha). Also, my favorite jazz guitar playing is Joe Pass on “For Django,” “Catch Me!” and “Joy Spring,” and I’m not shy about merging that sound and style with a modern-jazz sensibility.
Release June 9, 2023 – Pre-Order Now
JGT: The album was recorded in a studio near Campinas, Brazil. What is special to you about that location?
It was out in the country, far from everything and had a great vibe. The engineer was excellent, and we were able to spend the night there and focus on the music. It was a great time, I highly recommend Gargolandia!
JGT: I can’t ask about every song, but the album starts off with “The Ancient Song” where John’s saxophone weaves in and out leading up to a wonderful solo by yourself. Talk about the song and why you opened the album with it?
That song came about because I was riding bikes with my kids and that initial melody stuck in my head. The song was an attempt to see how far I could develop that melody. It had a sort of folk/rock quality to it, so the harmonies are more open and modal, at least at first. There is also a contrapuntal section, similar in some ways to “Kid Flash,” the opening tune on my last record, so I thought it would be nice to have a similar opener on this one.
JGT: Talk about the impact of Baroque composer J.S. Bach upon you and how the song “Bachian” came about?
Bach is one of the greats, of course, and I spent a lot of time as an undergraduate student playing the Violin Sonatas and Partitas with my teacher Fred Hamilton. I still play the pieces with my students, and the opening melody of Bachian comes from a phrase in the Courante from the B Minor Partita. This part here: https://youtu.be/UaMoPi9BOoQ?t=471
I thought it had an intervallic, modern-jazz quality, and I decided to develop it into a tune that has some almost prog-rock elements.
JGT: “Meaning in a Streetlight” comes from a lyric in one of Sting’s songs. How did this song come about?
Sting’s line is: “He’s got no money but his head’s up in the stars, He’ll spray her name across a street car. If he can’t read between the lines up there on Mars, He’ll find some meaning in a streetlight.” It reminded me of myself as young man, haha, and I started thinking about the two boys that I’m raising. The lyrics are kind of advice to them, in a way, although I tried to be abstract and poetic. I also love vocal harmonies, and I try to get away with dissonance when I can.
JGT: How has Liz Phair’s music impacted you and how did you compose “Liz?”
“Exile in Guyville” was a big influence on me when it came out in 1993. She is a great songwriter and lyricist, and her last album “Soberish,” really hit me, especially the songs “Lonely Street” and “Ba Ba Ba.” Her music is harmonically and lyrically sophisticated, especially on those two albums (also “Whipsmart” and “White Chocolate Space Egg”). I play some of her songs on gigs occasionally, including “In Love With Yourself” and “Dogs Of L.A.”
JGT: I know you love Veracruz, Mexico and tell us how it relates to the song “La Bruja?”
I spent the summer of 2022 in Xalapa, Veracruz. It’s an amazing city, with a great jazz school at the University of Veracruz. The Son Jarocho (one of the indigenous music styles) standard “La Bruja” really appealed to me, and that style of music is fascinating in general, particularly the hemiola and other rhythmic sophistication of the repertoire. I tried to make the song jazzy without ruining it, and I think I succeeded. I did a similar thing on my last album: the Chinese folk song “Jasmine Flower” became “Zona Leste.”
JGT: Tell us about the closing song “Check Up?”
It’s a bossa nova, with very complex harmony. The title is a reference to the Billy Strayhorn song “Upper Manhattan Medical Group.” In the bridge of that song, Strayhorn makes an F6 chord go to an Abmi7b5, and I wanted to take that idea further.
JGT: Do you make any adjustments to the sound of your guitar or amp if you are going to play Brazilian music?
No, like I said, Brazilian music and American jazz are very tightly fused at this point. On this album I kept the tone pretty clean because I didn’t want to mess with the natural tone of the Benedetto Bravo Deluxe that I play. I ended using the Fender tube-amp “The Twin,” because that’s what we could find in the area. We blended the amp with my direct signal, and that was it!
Release June 9, 2023 – Pre-Order Now
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