When I first met Manfred we talked about music and listened to various recordings. I mentioned two ECM albums that have always been very influential to me: Egberto Gismonti’s “Solo” and Pat Metheny’s “Offramp” saying that I’d quite like to make a record that kind of meets somewhere between those two. One very raw with classical overtones and the other more groove orientated with an Americana feel. We talked about a few configurations; a quartet with piano, a trio with cello, a duo and others. We came to some agreed lineups and finally reached out to the chosen musicians to try and secure some recording dates; no easy task due to the caliber of musicians we sought who are constantly busy. We came very close once or twice only to be disappointed at the last minute because of their fluctuating availability. This was quite frustrating because I didn’t feel I could start composing until I knew what sound we were going for and who the players would be.
Then in a moment of clarity I thought about the importance of making a clean, clear and pure debut for ECM. I felt the best way to do this was to go solo and then if we went further we could enhance the lineups as we go. We put this to Manfred and thankfully he agreed to take a risk with the idea.
It’s difficult writing about instrumental music (even pointless sometimes) because I think it should speak for itself. Hopefully these words give an idea of how I got started with this album and how I use influences, references and context. Nothing I do is totally original but I am confident no one has the same record collection I do. Growing up in Argentina I can’t escape from the feel and syncopation of Latin American music which seems to emerge in whatever I do, particularly the folklore elements as found in Ariel Ramires’s “Misa Criolla”. Then living in America with R&B, soul and jazz, listening to Quincy Jones, Stevie Wonder, Weather Report, and many notable songwriters like Joni Mitchell and Neil Young to name but a few (who are actually Canadian). And I think I’m the only musician in my peer group who listens to the Grateful Dead whose influence probably peers through. Then living in UK with the many epic rock bands like Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd. I’ve been living in France for the last ten years and I love the chanson style of composition which seems to have got under my skin (Michel Legrand, Barbara, Jacques Brel). Throughout my musical “education”, a never ending process, there has always been one constant. J S Bach. It’s also the only music I practice. Most musicians I know agree he is the real governor. It may sound pretentious but perhaps his influence comes through in what I do. I am also influenced by the people I work with and I’ve been fortunate to have worked with some of the best, namely Phil Collins, Chrissie Hynde, Mark Hollis and particularly Sting with all his stellar lineups over the last 27 years. I’m strongly influenced by his lateral sense of harmony and how he forms songs. I try to do the same by creating a narrative with instrumental music which I treat and arrange as songs, with verses, choruses and bridges. And finally I am hugely influenced by my family, friends and people in general. My experiences with them perhaps subliminally form the root to all my ideas.
It’s always been the first tune that has set the tone to albums I’ve made and then everything falls into place, much like doing a puzzle where the picture becomes clearer. I got my head down and started working on the album. Thankfully I was between tours so I had a month to prepare. It’s also quite daunting facing a blank page where I often doubt myself. The first week nothing of any substance emerged. I live in Provence and while my wife and kids are going about their daily routines I have the whole day to myself.
I cycle a lot which is when I have a chance to kind of meditate while getting a good workout. I like the rhythm of cycling with the different gears and breathing patterns. It’s also in silence where I often form ideas. Then I pick up my instrument and try to make sense of it all with varying levels of success. During one of these rides a concept came to me. I thought about how in conversation or music, what isn’t said is often more telling than what is said. It’s these spaces I wanted to exploit. “What you didn’t say” was the first piece I composed. The others followed naturally. “En Passant” (named after a chess move) was the second tune where in keeping with what isn’t said, I wanted to leave some ambiguity as to what the roots to each chord are. “Water” was an exercise in working an ostinato with moving bass line, then trying different variations. “Baden” is a tribute to one of my biggest influences, Brazilian guitarist Baden Powel. “Le Pont” is influenced by French music from the early 1900’s (Debussy, Poulenc, Satie, and Brazilian composer Villa Lobos whose music sounds quite Parisian to me). “Angel” is another attempt at leaving a lot of space for the listener to fill. I’ve always been influenced by Celtic folk music with the likes of Dick Gaughan, and Bert Jansch and his open tunings. “Valium” is my own folky pain killer. “Tisane” is another folk “song” with more ambiguity around where the downbeat is. With “Chaos Theory” I wanted to have some fun with the beat much in the same way Brazilian band Azymuth might do. “Fields of Gold” is a beautiful Sting tune I play live sometimes which I felt was relevant to include. I particularly got a lot out of Eva Cassidy’s version. And “Urban Waltz” is my attempt at a Venezuelan type of waltz in the vein of Antonio Lauro.
While I was preparing for this album and as the picture was coming into focus I thought to enhance the music by calling on a percussionist. Miles Bould came to Provence for two days where we went through the pieces. I grew up listening to and playing music with him so he was the obvious choice. Plus I wanted one of my best friends to share the journey with me. The day he arrived we heard that Brazilian percussionist Nana Vasconselos had passed away the night before. This certainly dampened the mood yet somehow galvanised us into working the music in his honour. Miles and I have always taken great pleasure in listening to him, especially his ECM duo album with Egberto Gismonti, “Duas Vozes”. In part I dedicate this record to him and his family. When Miles left I had a week left to prepare on my own. It’s during this time I practiced, practiced and practiced while fine tuning the arrangements even till the last minute.
The title of the album is taken from the movie of the same name by Mexican filmmaker Carlos Reygadas. It’s his use of silence, light and space that really struck me. Minutes would go by with no movement or dialogue which I found to be very courageous and inspiring. It was also quite synchronistic seeing this film while I was making the album.
Everything you hear is played live with no overdubs except “Chaos Theory” where I added a second guitar and electric bass.