7 Questions for… The Rite of Trio

“Once upon a time, there was a jazz jambacore trio that got together to change the spherical configuration of Planet Earth. The Rite of Trio is the metaphor of life.”

That quotation comes from the liner notes to Rite of Trio’s debut album, the oddly-named “Getting All The Evil Of The Piston Collar“. It’s a bold and glorious disc of punk-y jazz, a fusion of eclectic influences with a unique identity. No surprise then that it was in aJazzNoise’s top ten of 2016. The guys behind the sound are André Bastos Silva (guitar), Filipe Louro (double bass) & Pedro Melo Alves (drums) and they’ve each answered the 7 Questions, so I guess this is actually 21 questions for the price of 7! Although I still don’t know what jambacore is, or why the piston collar was full of evil in the first place – guess I should have asked different questions!

 

1. What was your first musical instrument, and what did it mean to you?

Filipe:  I started playing the piano. Not really sure what it meant back then, It was just a hobby, that eventually turned to an obligation. I felt I was near the abyss when I had to do all those Czerny studies.

André: Also started playing the piano aged 6 and at the time it almost meant the premature end of my musical career. I was no good at it and had no concept of study or progression or whatever. Had no role models, didn’t really care for music and it was kind of a nuisance. All I knew was that I wasn’t able to watch Saturday morning cartoons because of it.

Pedro: My first instrument was not an original one, as it might have been one of humanity’s first: banging on random shit till it breaks. Somehow my parents saw some kind of talent in there so soon I’d be having my first drum lessons, at around 8 or 9 years of existence. For me this marked the beginning of a lot of music exploration, alongside my brother on the guitar. And it started the most intimate and crooked relationship I still have with an instrument, since I still play it as my main instrument but along the way decided to give up on it to study the piano and all the musical colors it opened to me. In fact I didn’t choose to play the drums, I just ended up being there studying them. I even said I wished all the years I had spent on the drums had been spent on the piano. But, nowadays I know I wouldn’t change a thing. Yes, it’s true that whenever I play the drums I wish I was in better shape to better serve all the special music and musicians I’ve been playing with but then I realize I couldn’t be happier, trying to be as musical as I can despite this imminent feeling of a lack of control. It kinda forces me to focus on the essential side of music as a performer and having no chance to rely on technical safe zones. In other words, since I don’t see myself as a professional drummer, it forces me to step out of the perfect stereotype of a modern player and engage in the moment with a more vulnerable and open approach. Nothing I’d sell as the way to go but I definitely feel I-m growing and am happy as a drummer while actually spending my time on composition, piano and art studies. So yeah, thanks mum and dad!

2. What’s your ‘guilty’ listening pleasure? (i.e. something you listen to in secret?)

Filipe: No guilty pleasures here. I can say it out loud: I LIKE PAT METHENY! A LOT!

André: Had to go to my YouTube watched videos for this. Well there is some pop stuff that I really enjoy or enjoyed more than I should (?). I love Daft Punk’s album Discovery but I suppose that’s not shameful at all. I used to love Mika a couple of years ago and still shock everybody when it comes on the radio and I know the full lyrics.

Other stuff includes Christina Perry’s Jar of Hearts. The Harlem Shake song. That song, “Take me to Church”. This other one called Sail by AWOLNATION. That song by Pink and the other high pitched voice guy, “Just Give Me a Reason”. Oh well… I could stay here all night.

Pedro: Uuh, shit! There’s a long list of guilty pleasures I could write about, from the teenage years of depressive nu-metal to the uber-emotional music of the romantic period greats that I avoid letting people know I still listen to and enjoy profoundly.

What the heck would my rock bandmates think if they would catch me listening with wet eyes to Samuel Barber’s Violin Concerto? Or my classical composition colleagues with me banging my head to System of a Down’s Cigaro and their charming poetry? Or the special people in the search for that one essential note when I listen to the never-ending shred of Dream Theater’s Beartrucci of my teen prog years (yes, I still know all Portnoy’s fills from memory)? Or anybody, for that sense, with me feeling truly surprised by the never heard before Debussy’s Clair de Lune? I know what you think, haven’t I heard enough yogurt adds or Nicholas Sparks movies (poor Debussy)?

But I’m sure there are a lot of way worst guilty pleasures I’m not remembering.

3. What have been the best and worst moments playing live?

Filipe: Playing in this small festival in Portugal called Indie Music Fest was really great. It’s set in a beautiful little forest and the audience is caring and warm. I would say it was one of my happiest days last year, one of those moments where you give the old cliché “I restored my faith in humanity” another try.

The worst moments were where I felt the opposite, like playing in Rock in Rio and other big festivals.

André: Maybe 7 years ago I had a big presentation with the jazz school I was attending. It was in a very famous jazz bar in Lisbon and I managed to completely screw the melody for Confirmation. It doesn’t seem that bad unless you add the fact that I was auditioning for Lisbon’s superior jazz school the next day, and one of the jurors was in the audience. And I would be playing Confirmation in that audition. I wasn’t accepted that year.

I used to play in a contemporary dance show. A really intense thing called Vale that involved whole communities. Everywhere we’d go people from those places went on stage and danced with the professional dancers. In the end everybody would be making a joint kind of choreography to the sound of the incredible music of Carlos Bica. That brought tears to my eyes a lot of times. Very powerful stuff.

Pedro: Oh yes, that not-so-thin line that separates a divine, almost out of body I-could-die-right-now, experience on stage from the profound shame/boredom, what-the-heck-am-I-doing-here experience…

Can I not pick one? There were moments where I’ve felt truly happy, like seriously not being able to restrain the smile/tears in me, with some of the people I love the most on stage – even if playing for 2 people or in the middle of a surreal rehearsal with nobody around – and feeling the need to scream and run in a burst of pure joy or maybe just faint right there. Seems clichéd and an exaggeration but I truly mean it, I’ve visited more than once this musical epiphany dreamland where even the body is simply not able to support such an amount of energy.

And then there were times where I met life’s real darkland of shame. Either sharing shame with a band member and playing the rest of the concert facing him (you know who you are, Henrique) while the band leader would sink us in the most unforgettable depths of shame, or realizing all alone in the middle of a enormous big band on one of the biggest stages of Portugal that I should never had accepted that unrehearsed gig. Or any unrehearsed gig. Maybe that time I almost fell in a river at night while playing should receive a special mention. Or that time I discovered why a drummer should never play drunk – specially a funk gig. Oh, that night. And that night when the doublebass player on my right almost smashed his doublebass in a rage burst, for real? Filipe?

4. What are your non-musical influences?

Filipe: My parents and not dying.

André: Life, women, skateboard, space-related stuff, video games, movies, books, Buddhist philosophy, good food.

Pedro: A clichéd but unavoidable answer – life! All the special and stupid talks I had, all the walks and travellings, all the inner epiphanies. Strictly in the artistical field, maybe more preponderant than my musical influences, I’d say that painting is my most direct influence on music, alongside cinema, literature and theatre. I swear I don’t want to sound pseudo-intellectual but I’m specially drawn into the works of the abstract expressionists and some of the bolder works of contemporary artists such as Tracie Cheng or Yayoi Kusama. There, I said it, I like smudges and blots, that’s what I’m after.

5. Does humour belong in music? (With thanks/apologies to FZ for  this question!)

Filipe: Yes. But please check Pedro’s answer. He always says it best and I totally agree. He will probably quote what I’m thinking. If not I will try to find that quote!

André: I kind of want to understand this question. But it’s not easy for me. I mean, humor is part of being human, it’s part of our lives. The same brain filter that creates art also creates humor. It’s your creative genius working on either subject. It doesn’t even get down to the ethics of music mixed with humor, you just can’t deny it because it’s been there probably since ever, just like comedy and theater. In every art form that I can imagine right now I find plenty of examples of humor so I suppose they just go hand in hand.

The fact is that even in the most deep, tragic and serious music there is a lot of humor. I can remember Leonard Cohen’s Chelsea Hotel lyrics. This is a song about a hotel where Leonard got emotionally engaged with Janis Joplin. The most memorable line of that song is “You told me again you prefered handsome men, but for me you’d make an exception” which for me is humor gold. This is poetry at its core but reaches us in the form of music with all the associated emotions it brings. And it’s such a sad song. Going to listen to it right now.

Pedro: I’ll put it another way: Is there honest art with no space for humor? And by this I’m not forgetting the infinite span of life/art, regarding all the serious, heavy, emotional, overwhelming, absurd, abstract, light, entertaining, and so on, aspects of it. I know what you mean and from what ideas this question probably comes from. But how much would we being lying to ourselves if we said there was no room for humor? The real serious business knows well its humor. Ask the great ones, they’ll tell you how they were not afraid to embrace life as it is.

6. Where do you stand on the streaming/downloading/file-sharing/musicians-not-getting-paid-for-their-music debate?

Filipe: I try not to be a snob about it. I can’t think of an alternative right now, but it has it good and bad sides. More people can listen to you that otherwise wouldn’t. We are not on a big label, we don’t have singles, no videoclips, no store sells our record so the whole “web” is a good vehicle for our music. Not that it affects us, since our audience is very small, but on the other hand I always feel that we, the real hard-working musicians, are always at the bottom of the chain. Internet providers get paid, apps get tons of investment, promoters get paid, sound engineers get paid… I mean we’ve reached a point where you don’t pay to support the artists you listen, you pay to not hear or see advertisement. And it seems the model is financially inviable…

Let’s not be a hypocrite about it. It’s great that everyone can listen to our album for free, but we had to pay for it somehow. Just find a way to support the artists you really like.

André:  This might make for some debate between us three but here goes. Free all music. Free all arts. Seed the world and the minds of the people with art. I think the “musicians-not-getting-paid-for-their-music debate” is just dust thrown in our eyes, a great cover for huge cultural flaws that no one seems to address. Education should make people value the arts and the artists, not laws. Social movements should make people believe art belongs in your life, not as a luxury but as a means for achieving a higher humanity and fulfilment. Instead we choose to make money the center of the discussion and it doesn’t fulfill people nor it gives the correct value to the arts and culture. So people live lives of black and white and artists are left fighting for crumbs.

Personally, I think the change in people’s minds from having free and unlimited access to the arts and the potential growth from that is worth way more than the couple of € extra that I would be making. That’s not to say that I want artists to starve. I’m a full-time musician so that affects me. But I believe that with correct social appreciation for the arts comes the need to feed said artists, and to provide them with the best means to let them create.

Pedro: I’m honestly still evaluating a bit deeper my position because the more I deal with this debate the more I feel it’s not so simple as many draw it. But as I speak I tend to support the idea of having my music (and anybody’s art, for that sense) as available as possible, as long as it is shared with the proper links to the author’s credit. I think we’re still in the middle of a paradigm shift and that the idea of exclusive possession of art works was turned unconditionally obsolete by the information sharing technologies, even though the capitalist basis of our society’s mechanism tries to hold on to it. The utopia into which I hope we’re heading relies on a vision of art, culture and education available for everybody in which the artist gets supported for its intrinsic value and the need for quality art in the center of the society rather than its creations (as happens already in the most artistically developed countries).

But the question remains, what to do nowadays since we’re not yet in that utopia? And I’m afraid I don’t have a coherent answer for it, since my music is both for sale and it is provided practically for free on music sharing structures such as Spotify. Back to the paradigm shift we’re in the middle of, there is still no “right thing to do”, in my perspective. The problem with the free art for everybody nowadays is that the structures that already provide an interface resembling that utopia are immorally making money out of it and not giving it back accordingly to the artists. And similarly, practically the whole infrastructure of music, like the copyright protection entities. And the implications go on further.

There’s no easy and perfect way to deal with the messy and complex problems of our society, specially when they’re all out of our individual control. Having said this I have no problem in cooperating lightly with a corrupt system as long as I feel I still have my values in place and that I’m working towards the world I believe in, where art plays a central role in humanity’s essence.

7. What’s next? (musically, geographically, recording, tours, ensembles, anything…)

Filipe: I hope we can take The Rite of Trio to some places in Europe soon. We have been thinking about this for a while now, so it’s time to put that into practice! We are also working on new music and have some performance ideas, all in the “brainstorm pool”.

I’m also writing music on my own and searching for meaning. I’m disenchanted about music about music for musicians, and music about nothing for non-musicians. Don’t really know what I just said.

André: We have a lot in mind. This year we will still be presenting our debut album and we’re planning a European tour. Writing and rehearsing for The Rite of Trio’s second album is underway and looking pretty nice.

Other individual musical projects also seem to be on the rise for the three of us. I’m writing an album for a septet with some odd instrumentation choices (we can talk about that on a future date maybe).

Pedro: Next there is the COSMOS!! Symbolically and literally. There are lots of exciting projects happening and others taking shape, either in The Rite of Trio or in the rest of my musical life. I’m planning to be more active on the cinema/theatre scene, writing scores, while the perspectives are growing shinier as a drummer for my bands. I’ve been awarded a composition prize which will enable me to present my music for a jazz septet (the Omniae Ensemble – Ed.) during the coming years. The Rite of Trio are preparing a new album and a set of audiovisual projects which should make the rest of this year quite exciting. And maybe an international tour is also on its way? Life’s good!

Listen to “Getting All The Evil Of The Piston Collar” on Bandcamp:

(Title picture © Raquel Lemos)