Matthias Lupri: Shadow of the Vibe
"But as I progressed," Lupri continues, "I always followed their careers and the music they were doing and when the time came that I wanted to record a new album and I didn't actually have a band that I was working with a lot at that point in time that was an established group, I just made it happen. I called them up and said, 'Hey, I'm doing this record in New York, do you want to do it?' I sent them Shadow of the Vibe and they liked the music and thought it would be something fun to do and so we did it and it just worked out. Of course it's impossible to keep the band together - everyone's got their own projects going on - but I have been doing a lot of dates with Mark Turner over the years. There's something about his tone that I really love, not even speaking about his technical ability and musicality. It's his tone I really love; he can play just one note and it draws me right in."
Maintaining Space and The Writing Process
A defining characteristic of Lupri's bands, from the very beginning, has been his avoidance of pianists. If he is to use any chordal accompaniment at all, it has always been with a guitarist. "I have played with pianists before," Lupri says, "but I approach my vibes like a pianist, I don't approach them like a sax. There are two schools of thought on the vibes, there's the two-mallet approach where you approach it like a horn player, and there's the four-mallet approach where you approach it like pianist. And so when I approach it like a pianist, if I play with a pianist it's like having two pianos in the band and as leader of the group I want to have more space. As soon as you have a pianist - and a piano tone is very, very thick - I definitely have to lay out more or the pianist has to be extremely sensitive to what I'm doing. Whereas I find, with the mixture of guitar and vibes, they blend better and you can play together more and not step on each others' toes as much. It does work with piano, but musically I've just not come across that exact sound I'm looking for with a pianist. I like playing with a guitarist - there's that rock edge to it, which I love, coming from a rock background. Having another chordal instrument on top of the vibes and guitar it just gets to be too much for me."
Still, while Lupri eschews the use of piano in his groups, he has used it as a compositional aid over the years. "I definitely started writing from piano before I started writing from vibes," Lupri says. "I started playing piano at the same time I started playing vibes, and although I can't play piano well, I did do a lot of writing on the piano. Lately I've been writing more on the vibes. But for years I lived in this apartment and had a piano that overlooked the window and I would just sit there for hours, look out the window, play piano and try to let things come naturally. My early records were heavily influenced by just sitting there at the piano and taking life in, thinking about life and with the background I have playing standards and bebop and also playing rock and roll and country, all this stuff kind of filtered into how I wanted to express what I was doing. Unfortunately my piano broke a couple of years ago, and so I've been doing a lot of writing from vibes lately, which changes things a bit, which is maybe a good thing. I also have an old drum machine from the '80s that I still keep around and use as a metronome, but I programme odd times into it, and can do certain things with it. It has certain limitations because it's from the '80s, but maybe that makes it a more interesting way of learning something, I don't know; forcing me to play along with the drum machine maybe makes for more interesting rhythms.
"Also," continues Lupri, "having that background playing standards and bebop stuff as well as more open rock and country music, blues, etc., I'm now approaching writing without even thinking about what they call functional harmony any more. Like a II-V-I progression, you can think and go to II-VI-II-V-I and analyze it until you're blue in the face and figure out music that way, but instead of going that whole route I'm basically now just thinking in terms of colours. I'll play a chord and it has a certain colour, so then what's the next colour going to be? And you play around until you find that colour. For me now it's a mixture of colours and shades and greys and darks and brights, busyness and emptiness, I try to think of things that way. And if it happens to turn into a II-V-I or something that fits into a certain category then so be it. But I'm not thinking that way, so that helps, and I'm going more and more that way all the time, trying to find different ways of approaching the writing process.