The Blue Note Festival gig, how did it feel?
NC_We were very very very happy, because we had a very enthusiastic response from the audience. We really enjoyed playing .. it was totally cool..
It was incredibly tight, almost like hearing a studio produced album, the way it all fit together. How long have you been playing with these musicians?
NC_It was only the sixth or seventh gig that we did with this band, but most of the musicians in the band have been playing together for years. And I‘ve been working with them in the studio for the last two or three years, for the remixes and everything else.
So we are very close friends. We did some serious rehearsing and I pay a lot of attention to how the music works. I think that it’s a characteristic of this band to be this tight.
The audience was completely ecstatic. Normally at jazz concerts, people are polite and clap, you don’t have them going absolutely nuts and screaming for encores…
NC_It’s probably because we have a different attitude and the people who were in front of us were feeling that. My purpose with this album & with this band is to play jazz with a different approach. I’m also a DJ. I think this music needs to be renewed, not in form but in attitude.
I think that jazz can have people screaming and be enthusiastic without being funky or electronic, but just being what it is, just swinging. And you know, it’s difficult to swing...
Was that one of the main challenges when you started recording the album, that you needed to do something that was fresh and alive?
NC_I’ve been working a lot to achieve that. Not by the time we were recording the album, because every tune was recorded in one, to, three takes and that’s it. We never had a problem during the recording. But I took the last two or three years to get to this point. I think that there is a lot of passion involved.
Yesterday, I think that everybody knew this, not only from what I was saying to them, but from just seeing us. We were happy & we really wanted to play, we were passionate & I think that this is important.
It’s definitely something that shines through in the music, but you still keep some of the old elements of inspiration, some of the brazilian thing, some bossa. Compared to Jet Sounds, the influences aren’t as straight-forward, it’s more like and underlying thing.
NC_Jet Sounds is a totally different thing, there’s no connection between the two albums. Jet Sounds was done over five years ago & I was a different person five years ago. This is the album that I always wanted to make. I studied a lot, I took the guitar back, I took lessons in musical theory, I listened again to a lot of records, to get deeper.
I also wrote the words for all the songs. It’s different, there’s nothing that you can compare in the two things. Jet Sounds was very much a DJ album, this is a composer album. The electronic elements here are almost non-existant.
They are there, but they’re in the process of the making of the album, it’s something that I only use to make this music playable in clubs, to sound as loud and as strong as the contemporary electronic productions.
But you know, that’s it… There are some secrets that I’ll keep secret, but this album is really naked. It’s just human beings trying to express something & communicate with each other.
What was your inspiration for this album, that must have changed as well over the years?
NC_The inspiration for this album goes back to my main inspiration which is jazz. Jazz from the 60s & from the early 50s. That hasn’t changed, it’s just that to compose these tunes I had to be ready. There comes a time in everybody’s life when you start to look backwards & re-think about what you have done, how you have lived & how things happened.
And that’s like when you become a man, I guess. I wanted to express this kind of feeling and I wanted to express it with these musical forms. That was probably the inspiration for doing it & I felt it was the time to do it.
It definetly shines through, it seems like you’ve found yourself. Before that we had a picture of Nicola Conte, we had the slighty exotic bossa with a bit of easy listening and a bit of kitch. And only now are we getting the impression that we’re seeing the real you..
NC_It was me as well doing the other things. But this is definetly the real me. Because I got lost many times in my life & you pass periods when it seems that you got involved in things &.. I don’t know… you got messed up. It’s difficult nowadays to always keep yourself aware of what’s happening & everyone has got some dark times.
The problem is that you should be able to improve on your mistakes. Maybe some of my past productions focused more on this kind of easy-going, chique kind of conception of life. This album still does but it’s more romantic. This album defines me more than my previous albums.
And it’s definetly an album that will appeal to a broad audience, especially because you do have the energy and passion in your jazz, something that people from all over the world and of all ages can relate to. There’s a real expectation that this could be the best thing ever to come out of Italy and probably be looked back on as one of the best jazz records ever. Have you felt the buzz?
NC_Yes, I can feel it. But the thing is, I’m just floating with the wind. I try not to be too concerned about it. As it is based very much on passion, I’m trying to keep the whole thing going as smoothly as possible. I have this feeling that we’ve got something, something big. But that’s because all the musicians in the band are fantastic.
I choose them carefully, they’re friends of mine and everybody is friends with each other. That creates a very particular atmosphere. This is not based on a mercenary kind of attitude. Everybody plays the music they like and they’re there because they want to be there & we are very much committed. I’m the most committed, but I can tell you that all the other musicians are too. They are happy & they are surprised that jazz can be so enthusiastic. But I always knew that it’s like that, because the kind of jazz that I loved was like that.
I remember reading the liner notes to a Cannonball Adderley Sextet album that was recorded in Europe, here in Belgium, at the Comblain-La–Tour festival in front of 20000 people, & the band there was also very surprised. But you know, that’s how it is. I think that this is the time that maybe a record like this, music that is jazz but at the same time is also something else, can reach a wider audience.
Because it’s not a compromise, it’s not an attempt to be jazzy… it’s just what it is. If you listen to the songs & pay attention to the words, they are not the regular words of a pop record, they’re more like a songwriter’s words. There are many things that make this quite unusual. And at the same time I think that people from 80 year-olds to 28-year-olds can find something in it, which is great.
The album will be out on Blue Note. Do you ever sit down and disbelievingly say ‘wow, I’m on Blue Note!’?
NC_If I do sit down I probably won’t get back up again. I still can’t believe it. By the time I get the vinyl issue with my picture & the Blue Note logo, that day I will probably start thinking a little about it.
That must be something you’ve aspired to for a long time now, playing music since you were a child. Was it a dream of yours to record for Blue Note?
NC_Yeah. It was the dream of my life, a reason for being involved with music. (he says almost under his breath, with a wonderfully pure sense of satisfaction).
You are also an avid record collector with an enormous collection. What records are you looking for at the moment?
NC_I still have a lot of records to buy. Right now, I’m getting some of the original Blue Notes that I still don’t have. Unfortunately, some of them are really expensive. I’m getting some of the European jazz things, I’m always checking on the Brazilian stuff, there are still some records that I don’t have.
I’ve started buying more & more singles, which is important because that’s something that I’ve always paid a lot of attention to, how a singer brings a song, how to create arrangements & soundscapes around a voice. Because I think that the voice the instrument that reaches the most people but at the same time, it’s very delicate.