Photo by William Brown, courtesy of the artist
Bassist Ricky Rodriguez moved to New York City from his hometown of Ponce, Puerto Rico about a decade ago and since then has been a versatile and boundary-pushing force on the jazz and contemporary music scene. A true stylistic chameleon, Rodriguez melds his roots in Latin music with classical training into a unique, progressive jazz voice. Rodriguez has performed as a sideman with artists as diverse as David Sanchez, Claudia Acuña, Joe Locke, Alvin Batiste, Stephon Harris, Ignacio Berroa, and Henry Cole, as well as leading several bands of his own. One of the few bassists on the scene who truly doubles up on upright and electric bass, Rodriguez will be performing with a plugged-in group of his this Thursday, April 30th, at The Jazz Gallery. We caught up with Ricky this week to talk about the many strands of music that filter through this group.
The Jazz Gallery: This group you’re bringing to the Gallery has a definite plugged-in character to it. How did the group come together?
Ricky Rodriguez: [Saxophonist] Ben [Wendel] and I worked together with an incredible Cuban drummer named Ignacio Berroa, and we went on tour together in Europe, but you know, we both got busy. The last time we worked together was like 5 years ago, and it’s been too long.
[Keyboardist] Fabian [Almazan] and I just started playing together last year on a gig with David Sanchez, but we also met one time way back in Amsterdam when he was playing with Terrence Blanchard and I was playing with Kenny Werner.
And [Drummer] Henry Cole and I went to school together way back in Puerto Rico, so we’ve been playing together for like 18 years. We worked together on his last Afrobeat record and we worked together with David Sanchez and Miguel Zenon.
I’ve been writing really hard music for these guys and my brain is fried from it, but it feels so fresh. I’m also playing some music that’s going to be on my album that’s coming out June 20th. The album’s going to have a different band that features Adam Rogers on guitar, Obed Calvaire on drums, Luis Perdomo on piano, and Myron Walden on alto saxophone, and David Sanchez on tenor saxophone.
But for this hit, I’m mixing some of the music on the record with a more electric sound. With my writing, I’m thinking specifically about everybody’s sound, Ben’s sound, Henry’s, Fabian’s…so I’m writing music specifically for those guys. And then I picked 2 or 3 tracks from my album to see if it would work for this electric context.
TJG: A lot of guys “kind-of” play electric bass but they don’t really double up, but you focus your energies equally on upright and electric. How do you approach the two instruments differently?
RR: I work with Joe Locke the vibraphone player and I used to only play upright with him, but on his new record, that’s coming out in May, I play both electric and upright about equally. I actually started on electric bass when I was about 7 years old back in my hometown of Ponce. I went to this private school and I was lucky because I had this teacher that had just arrived from New England Conservatory so he was fresh and had all this information, harmony, advice… He told me “hey man, check out Weather Report!” You know, I didn’t know Weather Report when I was eight! And Bitches Brew and stuff… when I heard those records I thought “I don’t know what that is but it sounds killing!” And it turned out it was Dave Holland on bass. There are some people who do both really well: Miroslav Vitous is badass, [John] Patitucci, Christian McBride…
People know I’m going to put in 100% on electric bass, it’s not just going to be a sideman gig. I’ve seen some killing acoustic players who take a gig on electric and I’m ready to leave the room, because they haven’t studied the electric approach, which is a very specific type of thing. That’s why I have respect for so many electric bass players…the way that Jaco was…Gary Willis, this unsung cat who played with Tribal Tech in the 80s and 90s. He played fretless, but, MAN, his intonation was killer. Matt Brewer actually studied with Gary Willis back in the day! I guess it’s the same thing for piano players, some cats play acoustic and some cats play Fender Rhodes, but just be honest about what you do well. Don’t buy a keyboard for the gig tomorrow and not know how to get sounds out of it.
That’s why it’s hard for me when I’m calling up cats. The first person who was going to do this gig was Jason Lindner, but he’s so busy, and he’s coming in [to the Jazz Gallery] with his big band right after. But Fabian is incredible at both piano and keyboards. Fabian and I played a show together about two months ago. I did a gig at Iridium with my quintet, and he brought this keyboard and his computer. I think he puts some crazy processing program on his keys and it sounds awesome.
I want Fabian to have the freedom to create lots of moods and textures. With this music, it doesn’t have to just be about solos. We can get a groove going on and then he can make sounds over that.