With Six Strings Under, pianist Eric Legnini certainly decides to make a kind of declaration of love for this instrument that has rocked him all his life. But not only that: in addition to a nod to the famous series Six Feet Under, of which he is a fan, this album marks a return to acoustic and instrumental formats, two areas that he had left for several years.
ArkivJazz: Thank you for making the time and congratulations on another fantastic recording.
Eric Legnini: Yeah, I'm glad that you like it. So cool.
AJ: I mean, there's nothing else quite like it out there. And in spite of the fact that you have no drums, we sent it out anyway. I’m joking.
EL: [laughs] That was the idea. You’re joking, but I was searching for a project with no drums and no percussion, instead of doing a piano solo. The fact that I love the old school Trios like Ahmad Jamal, Nat King Cole, and Oscar, I thought it was unusual to write as you would play with the drums, but with with no drums. My writing still has some influences like Afrobeat, for instance. The first track is a pure Afrobeat track. But as you say, I think that’s original in this way because you expect drums and everything, but some parts of the guitar emulate the vibe of this music. It's how I conceived it, I was really searching for something with no drums--almost the opposite of what I did with Waxx Up, like a lot of production and post-production stuff. It was like a simple acoustic jazz record, but with some different ideas. I didn't want it to be too old school because of the group and the orchestration, so that was the main idea.
AJ: How did you get hooked up with the two guitarists? You've obviously played with them before.
EL: Yes, yes. Rocky [Gresset] is a gypsy guitar player. I met him probably 10 years ago during a jam and I was amazed because I invited him to play at my house and we played some standards. And one point I said, let's let's try this original and then he told me but he didn't read.
AJ: Like Biréli Lagrène
EL: Like Biréli, exactly! Biréli wasRocky's mentor at one point, and it was really interesting working with him because for me it's another way of working. We learned the tunes during maybe three or four rehearsals. We played the intro and bridge--the whole track--to learn it with no score. That's the first time I really worked in that way, and I really love his playing. The other guitar player, Hugo (Lippi), I’ve known for about 15 years. He was part of the young, up-and-coming guys in the Parisian scene and I always liked his approach. For me, his playing was really connected to jazz history. I think he's from northern France. He moved to Paris about 20 years ago and he was part of the 'bebop crew' in Paris. I like him because he’s never stopped making progress to elevate his level of play. He’s a very deep person working on these skills. He’s a musician that still practices a lot and tries new things, and he’s really focused on getting better, which I like. I'm trying to play better--still practicing, still learning--so I like these kind of people that don't stay with what they already know. They're still working on some other stuff that they haven't mastered yet, and working to get better.
AJ: The whole disc has a feeling of discovery. There's no competition for a disc like this.
EL: Yeah, that was the risk because with two guitar players that are virtuosos, they can really play. But I still have this 'producer's ear' that knows what they do. I know that Rocky is really good on some tracks and he can really master certain parts, and thenn I try to use Hugo’s harmony skills to blend with it. Also, they know each other and respect each other and they don't really have to prove anything. It was more to find the real function of each part, like where the guitar begins to be percussion. The rhythm for me, for the piano. The bass, obviously, serves more of a classical function, playing the walking lines, but sometimes it gets more busy on some tunes and we really try to work on that. The whole deal was to try to record with three or four voices, which is hard with no drums no percussion, and have that feeling that there is percussion.
AJ: The way the first tune ("Boda Boda”) kicks off, there's a sense of urgency to it. Your piano is swinging and that left hand keeps the pulse going. Everything really starts to click from there--it has great momentum.
EL: It's funny because the way I found that was rehearsing with Rocky. Actually, the first version we did had a more 'spiritual-jazz' vibe. I thought it was funny because the harmony reminded me of an African way of playing rhythms. Then I start the intro and automatically we hook up to real African stuff. I had to keep the hooks with the left hand and rhythms because it gives the taste of it too, some guitar style, like Fela Kuti-style stuff. That's what we mainly try to do on every tune. I will not say that for the classical tunes like “Stompin’...” or when it's really more classical jazz, but on the other tracks we try some Brazilian guitar or African guitar. That's how we approach it - like an homage to a guitar sound I like. I listen to a lot of Brazilian music. I always listened to a lot of African music and of course pop music is part of my life from my childhood. So that's how I react--I have this souvenir of what I like from those guitars and try to take them into my music.
AJ: Speaking of pop tunes, your version of David Bowie's “Space Oddity” just kind of stops you in your tracks. It's right in the middle of the disc and it's almost like an homage.
EL: It's a real homage. He's somebody I really loved, and when he died, I wanted to do something, but I didn't have an idea of what to do. Then I put on "Space Oddity" and thought the guitar was so present. It's probably one of my favorite tracks from Bowie. I then had the idea to try to do it in a smaller setting. I thought it would be a good idea just to have it piano solo, but then I transcribed all the melodic tricks from Bowie and tried to stick to what he did. I did a demo, and I liked it and I kept it. Then when we were in the middle of the session, I decided to cut the song as a piano solo. Then, we tried some guitars, but it was not working because it was not conceived like this. Then we had the idea of Thomas playing a little bit after the bridge, which gives it a nice kick. So, yeah, it's a real homage because he is one of the main guys.
AJ: It was a stunning loss when he left us. Did you ever see him live?
EL: No, no never. I saw many videos, but I never went to any of his concerts.
AJ: He was one of those people that when they take the stage, you can't look at anybody else. He was a star.
EL: Yeah, that’s crazy. But also the way he’s singing…those guys are so personal and going one hundred percent. That's really what I dig from him, and there's also the sparkle, the whole from the beginning until the drums and bass stuff, then moving on to jazz and more sophisticated harmony. I really love what he did his whole career, and of course the last record with the New York jazz players was fantastic. I really love it.
AJ: And on the other end of the spectrum, your great version of “Stompin’ at the Savoy”.
EL: Oh, you like it?
AJ: Oh man, yeah, it's great! You can't help but smile and nod your head and get into it. It’s really great. Great guitar lines too!
EL: Yes, on that we really worked. We rehearsed and tried to find the hooks. It's based on the classics, you know, like Nat King Cole, Ahmad Jamal, Oscar Peterson, Ray Charles, and Oscar Peterson. I think it's funny because we don't really have any type of classic, bouncy track. Then I said, oh "Stompin’" would be a nice track to do it and then we cut it. For that one we didn't rehearse that much before we worked in the studio.
AJ: It has a real fresh, bouncy feel that just sounds like you're having fun. You can't cut a tune like that if you're not smiling.
EL: You’re right. Also in that record, I would say that it's rare that we went in a really bouncy mode, like the quarter notes on the bass and everything. When that one came, it was probably end of the first day. It was fresh, and felt like it was a break from the other original music. It was so obvious, and so easy and natural. It's the first take. We cut three of it, but we went with the first one because you really feel the vibe.
AJ: You can feel it all through the disc. It's always great to hear something new from you. So what are you doing this summer?
EL: I’ haven't played too much with this group, but I still play with Waxx Up. I'm also playing quite a lot with Manu Katche right now. We came to Montreal at the festival, and then at a festival in France. Then, there was some stuff in Italy with various players and then we had four or five concerts with Six Strings Under. We prefer to keep it for next summer and wait until the record is out, when there will already be some interest. I've also been in the studio a lot producing acts. I have a young flute player coming up who recorded an tribute to Hubert Laws. So we did a record with a 70s-vibe, which was really nice.
AJ: Like a CTI recording?
EL: Yeah completely. I chose the CTI repertoire from Hubert Laws and tried to go in that direction. It was the first time I spent more time in Paris working in the studio during summertime. Otherwise, I'm always on tour or in South France, so this summer was a bit different. It's always nice to work in the studio, but I'm looking forward to taking a break and having a real vacation.
AJ: Yeah, you’ll have to take it when everybody else is home.
EL: But it's nice too, right? When everybody is starting to go to work again, then you can you go for a couple days.
AJ: That's very good. As always it's a pleasure to talk to you. Have a good summer and we'll be in touch.
EL: Perfect, thank you. Ciao.
Six Strings Under will be available to pre-order soon via Anteprima Productions