Luso Drums Interview – José Luís Dias
With the sound of a powerful and exciting jazz, this dynamic trio presents original and captivating melodies. Veteran drummer Michael Lauren from New York, guitarist Vasco Agostinho and bassist João Custódio both from Portugal, come together to compose a unique jazz, a mixture of Hard Swinging and Rocking Jazz. “Michael Lauren Trio” plays a different jazz with attitude, fresh, hard, honest, optimistic and authentic! We have to thank Michael and the entire team at Mobydick Records for
the opportunity and contact to do this interview.
How did the “Michael Lauren Trio” start? What was the inspiration?
The Trio started because I had gigs to play at the Myriad Hotel in Lisboa. We played a repertoire of jazz standards in the sophisticated and swinging New York Hotel style. The three of us had an immediate rapport. I played brushes almost 90% of the time. This was a pleasure for me because I love to play brushes. Eventually we started to get some other work, including a few Festivals. It was in preparation for those concerts that we rehearsed originals and it was then that I thought about recording an album. Unfortunately, the pandemic stopped all of our work and it was only during the Spring of 2021, when Nico Guedes invited me to be part of a World-Wide Live Stream Concert series that he was programing. That opportunity allowed the Trio to record our album “Live at Mobydick Records”. I wanted the trio to have a harder edge and a more aggressive sound than we had before. I envisioned a sound that was big, fat, hard-hitting and ballsy. I wanted a Rock ‘n Roll sounding jazz band.
Why a “Trio”? Why not a “Duo” or a “Quarter”? What is the important connection between the Vasco Agostinho's Guitar and João's double bass with your drum kit?
I wanted to play in a different musical environment than the one I had in my group The Michael Lauren All Stars, which was a septet. I was also working in a number of Big Bands including: Orquestra Jazz de Matosinhos, Orquestra de Jazz do Algarve, Orquestra Jorge Costa Pinto and The Lisbon Swingers. Trio playing has a different approach than when you play in a larger format. Trio playing has more room or space to interact and the option to play denser. I have always enjoyed playing in the Trio format. My connection to Vasco and João is one of support, laying down a solid foundation and letting the improvisation develop organically. Both of them are wonderful musicians and so easy to play with.
Your first single “Biji” was released on the past 25th of March. What is the meaning behind the name? What do you want to transmit to the people?
Biji is a song by Sonny Rollins that Vasco brought into the group. Biji has a number of meanings. In English it means a small person who is soft, cute, warm and cuddly and also it is the name for soy pulp, which is a food. In Punjabi it means Mother or Grandmother. In Kurdish it is the word for “Long Live”. And in Chinese it is a genre in classical Chinese literature. Why Sonny Rollins chose that name for his tune? I have no idea! Sonny Rollins’ tunes are always great fun to play because of their rhythmic melodies and logical harmonic forms. That Biji is such a cheerful upbeat tune, inspired me to give the listener a deep hard-hitting swing that was invigorating. I also wanted to contrast the swing of the A section with a Latin Swing Feel in the B section. This not only clearly defines the structure of the tune but also gives the listener another Feel to groove on. Feeling and flow are the two most important elements I can bring to the music. It’s my joy and love of music that I want to transmit to the listener. I also wanted to transmit to the listener, right from the start of the album, that this was a drummer’s band and that drum solos can be coherent, melodic statements and not just the circus.
Why do you call your music “Jazz with an Attitude”? For many people the meaning is perceptible, but for others, it may not be. Can you please describe in a few words this “quote” about your music.
“Jazz with an Attitude” means jazz that is energizing, fresh, honest, hard-hitting, played from the heart, exciting and authentic.
What is the main reason, as a drummer, to create an album, be it solo or as a trio like in your case?
When you are the leader of a group that is creating an album, no matter what instrument you play, it’s you who determines what music will be played, how you want the other musicians to play it and how you want the record to sound. In other words, you are in control of the process of making the album. Recording an album gives people all over the world a chance to hear your music. On the business side it is the way one promotes themselves in order to get invited to play concerts etc…
Are “Ritual do Cabrito”, and “Bonfim Blues” a tribute to Portugal? After so many years in our country, do you already feel like a Portuguese? What is the meaning behind these two particular tracks in your new album trio?
I can’t speak for Ritual do Cabrito because that is Vasco’s tune. But, Bonfim Blues is about Bonfim the parish in Porto where I lived, when I worked at ESMAE (Escola Superior do Música e Artes do Espetáculo). Actually, during those 18 years, I lived in both Lisboa and Porto, traveling on the Alfa between those two cities weekly. I had the best of both worlds. Living in those two cities gave me the opportunity to do something special in both. I love Portugal for all the same reasons that all Portuguese love their country. I can’t really say I feel Portuguese because I will always be a New Yorker, but I have embraced the best qualities of Portugal and have always felt at home here. In fact, Portugal is my home. Moving here to to teach at ESMAE and accomplishing all the goals I had set out for myself, has been a life enriching experience.
We know it was already your idea to record an album in this format. Why Mobydick Records?
Actually, I hadn’t been thinking about recording any music with the Trio until Nico Guedes invited me to be part of the World-Wide Live Stream Concert series that he was programing. Although I wasn’t really interested in doing a Live Stream concert to an empty room, the fact that this was to be broadcasted from the Mobydick Records recording studio felt right to me. It was a great opportunity to record something special. I believed that if all went the way I believed it could, we would have a live record that would be pulled from the broadcast and then mixed and mastered later to my sonic vision. After the Broadcast was over, I knew that we had the makings of an excellent recording. The concert was exciting, organic and all three of us were completely hooked into each other. While we were packing up the gear, Budda and Nico asked me if I would be interested in having Mobydick Records release the concert as a live album. I said yes immediately. I have known both of them for a number of years and they have always felt like family to me. I believed in their label and I knew that Alex Liberalli, Budda’s wife, was not only a great artist herself, but managed the label and had experience getting the label’s records promoted. For me, the opportunity to work with artists & friends, who not only respected who I was, but also sincerely loved, supported and believed in what The Michael Lauren Trio had just created was perfect.
Did the result exceed expectations? What was it like working with Nico and Budda Guedes in this recording process?
The result has met my high expectations. It’s so beautiful and gratifying that my concept for the Trio’s debut album has been realized. The Trio performed great and Budda obtained the sound that I was looking for in his mixes. Budda is a really incredible engineer, musician, songwriter and person. It was very easy for me to work with him and to get him to understand my vision. Budda really wanted to get the sound that I was looking for on this record. He never stopped trying until I was satisfied. As I was never in Braga when he mixed, the process was for him to send me the mixed tracks as he mixed them, for comments, suggestions and finally for me to sign off on the completed album. It was a great way to work. I would recommend Budda Guedes to anyone who is looking for an engineer to record and / or mix their music. Nico was not involved in the mixing, but as I said in the previous answer, he was the driving force that made this record possible. He did the terrific graphics for the album and edited the videos taken from the live concert. Nico is a very creative artist. He is wonderful drummer, songwriter and filmmaker. Also like his brother, he was really easy to work with. I must mention that Frederico Cristiano’s mastering of the album really made a huge difference in bringing out the final sound. I was fortunate to have such an excellent team working with me.
Please tell us about the kit… What did you use in this album?
My kit for this album was the Yamaha Hybrid Maple. I wanted this album to be a jazz album with a Rock ‘n Roll sound, so I used a 20”x16” bass drum. The toms are a 12”x8” rack, a 14”x13” floor, and I used a 14”x6” snare. I have been a Yamaha artist for the past 14 years and what I love about Yamaha drums is their consistency, their ability to keep their sound quality throughout the complete range of dynamics, their tunability, and the manufacturing quality of their drums and hardware. My cymbals are Zildjian, as I have been a Zildjian artist for over 30 years. The cymbals I used on this recording were: 23” K Custom Special Dry Ride, 22” K Constantinople Light Ride, 19” Kerope Crash and 14” Kerope Hats.
What's next for Michael Lauren?
Hopefully many concerts with the Trio. I have an upcoming concert with Kyle Green, an excellent American guitarist/composer living in Tomar on May 7th in Souré, and concerts with The Postcard Brass Band. Of course, I will continue to give classes at my International Drum Academy in Lisboa. I also plan to give more masterclasses/ workshops and perform at drum festivals in the upcoming year. Contributing to the Portuguese music scene and helping drummers improve their skills has always been and still is a priority for me.