The first improvised music I heard in Barcelona came courtesy of Luiz Rocha’s bass clarinet, in a duo with drummer Marko Jelača at Club Cronopios. I’ve since had the good fortune to hear him play in a variety of situations, from small group improvising to swirling big band chaos, and even a clarinet trio devoted to Black Sabbath. Luiz’s two most recent releases encompass his scope nicely: one is “Ten Miles to Bisbee” (Discordian Records), a big band western soundtrack with a twist; the other a spontaneous trio improvisation “Live at MIA” (End Titles) which featured on a Jazz Noise’s ‘Best of 2015’ list in December.
1. What was your first musical instrument, and what did it mean to you?
My first instrument was a cavaquinho, a Brazilian instrument that shares the same Portuguese roots as the ukulele, but with steel strings. It’s used in samba and choro rhythm sections. I was a child and used it mostly as a toy, but it was always around and probably connected me to music making. At that time I liked to watch musicians performing and to mimic their playing – everything looked very, very, simple: every gesture would have its sonic compound. Later, when I was 11 years old, I had classical guitar lessons and it took me another 5 years to fall for the winds and clarinets. As a kid I used to have strong asthma and, up until I was 16, I didn’t even consider blowing into an instrument a possibility. Then I got hooked on the bassoon’s timbre. I didn’t get to study it but my curiosity for it led me to find Stravinsky, Hindemith, Villa-Lobos… and it made me want to play a wind instrument. I bought my first clarinet the same week I heard Benny Goodman for the first time. Nowadays I also play the bass clarinet, which happens to have about the same range as the bassoon. And every gesture still has its sonic compound!
2. Who or what are you listening to at the moment?
At the moment I’m not stuck with any particular musician or style, but over the last two years, Anouar Brahem, Black Sabbath, André Minvielle, Novos Baianos, Oumou Sangaré, and Marc Ducret have been orbiting around me. If I’m not searching for anything in particular I will probably listen to one of the above. Or maybe any choro, a Brazilian musical style that helped me a lot to build up my technique.
3. What’s the starting point for an improvisation?
Confidence and listening. If you’re in doubt, do not hesitate, do it or don’t. I’ll pick a musical material, which might even be silence, and go for it; then, I will adapt my musical decision to the others’. It’s also quite common, during the last inhale before playing, to decide where I’m heading to, but actually to start with something completely different at the very moment I play.
Whether I have or haven’t thought about it beforehand I mostly try to be able to react. Anyway, my approach to it is always changing, it depends on what’s around me, on what I breathe in during the last inhale… Yesterday while playing – and thinking about this question – I was confident that I play to give things a meaning, to bond. This answer works for now; later on I will evolve as a person, as a technician and artist; and so will this answer.
Improvising is necessary and freely improvising highlights how human interactions are pretty chaotic, with that tiny line between doing what you want while listening and caring about others. It reminds me that I am here, I am here now, and I am not alone. Devoted improvisers do improvise as they behave in everyday life, and vice versa. There’s always that guy that talks too much, the one that has read the news and confirms/revokes the other’s statements, the one that barely speaks but changes the flow of conversations with a few consistent opinions, the one that likes to add the details on the subject, and, for sure, the one that doesn’t really listen to their mates.
Short answer: It’s all about awareness and reaction.
4. What have been the best and worst moments playing live?
One of the worst moments was a concert in which things were not working properly due to poor communication. Ok, it happens and it’s not usually traumatic; but that day, for some reason, I felt responsible to sew all the pieces together myself and was overwhelmed by the responsibility that was actually the group’s. Painful. At the end I think I managed to be pretty creative, though. It was a bad moment not because of the bad music, but mostly because I was trying to control it all.
At the very opposite, I remember a moment of beautiful communication not only within musicians, but also with the audience. I was performing with an afro-jazz band at a street festival in south France. It was a beautiful setup: in an old medieval street, old stones, old buildings all around, many artists exhibiting their art, the street was green, covered with a temporary grass, making the atmosphere very unusual: a fairy tale. We were playing surrounded by the crowd, all the audience sitting on the floor, following the gig, music was intense yet flowed smoothly. At one point, we brought the music to zero dynamics, no sounds, and the musical tissue was so strong that we made the whole street go silent. Not a single voice, nor a cough, nor a moved chair… nothing was heard for the many seconds the silence lasted; just the wind, the birds… and anyone could witness that. I’ve seen it happen in a theatre, never before in a street performance.
5. Does humour belong in music? (With thanks/apologies to FZ for this question!)
Humour is just like legs, some people don’t have it. It does belong in music if it belongs in the artist. Naturally, also in the listener.
6. Where do you stand on the streaming/downloading/file-sharing/musicians-not-getting-paid-for-their-music debate?
I’m already working for Google and Facebook for free, just like any other user – I’ve been using DuckDuckGo, by the way – so I’ll avoid uploading my music to any one of those major streaming services. Performance videos are documents, so yes, I will upload them as they’re helping me find gigs. All that I consider to be my content – not just evidence of what has happened – will be on my website and in my living room. Feel free to visit, it’s online for listening, to share the links; drop me a line, be my guest. But if you wanna own it, buy it. I know I won’t make much money selling music online and I hope someone will come up with a solution someday. I myself have no insight about it.
Looking back at what performing arts were before… it was all about performing and more performing, teaching, selling recordings by oneself, maybe editing a fetish object as a vinyl… that’s where my sight reaches. Real time, one-on-one interactions.
Tough question: every couple of months I have a different opinion on the subject and still haven’t been determined enough to delete whatever music I’ve downloaded in the past. But respect is key. Listening to someone that has spent most of their life devoted to mastering an instrument, the musical vocabulary and interactions, is a privilege.
7. If money and time were no object, what would your next project be?
Ethiopia; several months there, prospecting music from many different latitudes, altitudes and religions; mostly recording and a lot of playing along; bringing the recordings back with me and editing them; connecting some local artists with a label; and, with a small crew, documenting it all. I don’t know exactly how close I was to actually accomplishing that, but the ones that were about to finance it quit.
Another project would be to push the guys from Discordian Records to resume their project on Stravinsky which, a few changes later, would end up as one of the most beautiful spectacles I can think of. Big crew, lots of rehearsing required, rewriting many scores; but the main difficulty is, once again, funding it. I won’t say more about it for now, and hope to have some news this year.
“Orrù Mar Rocha Live at MIA” is available from End Titles
“Ten Miles to Bisbee” is available from Discordian Records
For all things Luiz Rocha, check out www.carahiba.com