Cover art by Long Vu, courtesy of Destiny Records
Ricky Rodriguez, a bassist with a heavy history of touring with the greats, will bring his own band to The Jazz Gallery for the release of his first album as a leader. Raised and schooled in Puerto Rico, Ricky has been on the New York scene for almost eleven years. Looking Beyond (Destiny Records) presents the inimitable lineup of Adam Rogers (guitar), Luis Perdomo (piano), Myron Walden (alto saxophone and bass clarinet), and Obed Calvaire (drums). The album also features special guests David Sanchez (tenor saxophone) and Pete Rodriguez (trumpet). We caught up with Ricky by phone, and talked about his composition and arrangement style, the backstory behind the formation of his quintet, and his philosophy on approaching the New York scene as a young musician.
The Jazz Gallery: Your last gig at the Gallery was in April 2015, with Ben Wendel, Fabian Almazan, and Henry Cole, where you reworked several tunes from “Looking Beyond” with an electric approach. How did the show go down?
Ricky Rodriguez: It went well, man. As a double bass player and electric bass player, I respect the instruments’ different sounds, from classic and acoustic to electric and crazy, you know what I mean? I picked some tunes from the record, and combined them with new ones that I was writing for that particular project. It worked great, because the bass lines I wrote on acoustic, I can play on electric too, and it doesn’t sound out of context. When I compose, I try to think of those days when the airline might not let me travel with my acoustic, so I have to bring the electric. So I try to make my music work for both. Except for when we play straight-ahead jazz of course; I respect that sound so much that I have to play acoustic. But the rest of my music works fine for both. I can play with Fender Rhodes or acoustic piano, and it sounds good either way. So with the electric band, we had a good time, and people liked it. For this week, it will totally be like the real shit, you know? [laughs]. The ‘real band,’ with the acoustic instruments, so I’m really excited about that.
TJG: With Myron Walden in the band as a doubler, do you write differently for his alto playing and his bass clarinet playing?
RR: Oh yeah, definitely. As I said in a previous interview, I’ve known Myron for years. Even before I moved to New York, I was listening to him on his records. I wanted to play with him when I moved to New York, and he was playing with the Ray Barretto Sextet, a band that I really enjoyed. I was young at the time and I considered him one of the masters, as I still do, so later when I wrote this music I was thinking of him. It’s funny because I’d played his music already with different saxophone players, like David Binney, John Ellis, and Ben Wendel, and they’re incredible. But the Myron sound and approach is so particular to what I was looking for. I guess that’s important; when you write for someone specific. You write it into the band, like Duke Ellington did with his musicians.
TJG: How does Myron’s sound change from alto to bass clarinet?
RR: I wrote a couple of tunes for him on bass clarinet, because of course when I heard him he was playing with the [Brian Blade] Fellowship, and I loved it, so I wanted to channel that. For this show, I asked him to try some of the same music with him moving from alto to bass clarinet, to try something new, because I love bass clarinet. It matches so well with the acoustic bass and piano. The approach between alto and bass clarinet changes a lot, so I have to do some thinking as I write, or else it won’t sound right. For most of the bass clarinet stuff I was thinking about tenor [saxophone]. On the record, I had special guest David Sanchez, so I wanted to try some of those parts on bass clarinet, since it’s in the same register. That’s what I told Myron, so he said “Let’s see” and immediately started exploring.
TJG: Tell me about your decision to have both a pianist and a guitarist in the quintet.
RR: Good question. I always want to record and write, and you know how hard it is to get a label to sign you. I was saving money, and I was thinking of doing a quartet, with no guitar. When I got approached by Destiny Records three years ago, they told me that they were interested in having me record whatever I had ready. I said I had the quartet, but when the studio date got to be about a month away, I wanted to add something, and I had so many guests I wanted to invite. But I had to work with a budget. I definitely wanted to have David Sanchez, one of my mentors, who I’ve been playing with for years, on a couple of tunes. But then I figured out that it would be great to listen to how I can re-harmonize and re-orchestrate some of the music with piano and guitar. Sometimes you hear the two together, and they’re doing almost the same thing; I didn’t want to do that. I started listening to records with guitar, piano, and bass, and started to analyze it. I told the label that I wanted to add a guitar, and the guys asked me, “Who?” I didn’t know, but I definitely wanted to have a quintet. So they said okay! I was scared, because suddenly I had less than a month to put together the guitar part.
One of my favorite guitar players is Adam Rogers. The first time I heard him, he blew my mind. He can play classical guitar at a high level, as well as crazy rock, jazz, everything. Every level is so high with him. So I just approached him, and he said he was interested in recording. I got so excited that in less than a week, I finished all the parts! I was writing for him in particular, like I was doing with Myron. Mike Moreno has played with me before, as well as Ben Monder, and other guitarists too; they sound incredible, but they don’t sound like Adam in the band, because of his approach and background, and because I was writing for his particular harmonic sensibility. He adds another voice to the quintet texture, and so there’s no competition between Luis Perdomo on piano and Adam guitar. I can tell you, I was kind of nervous when I was at the studio because I had one m********ker next to me on guitar, and another m********ker next to me on the piano, and thought it might get into some wrestling, you know? [laughs]. But no, man, it was beautiful. I was so excited listening back, and now I want to transcribe it all. I chose those guys because they take it to the next level, and they hardly needed any explanation from me. They all did an amazing job.