Albare is jazz. Born in Morocco and with a Moroccan-Jewish background, he's devoted his life to taking jazz to the people, sometimes in unusual and interesting contexts which combine cultural and musical forms. For instance, he was a pioneer of Acid Jazz, and he was awarded an Order of Australia for service to the arts, particularly through the Melbourne Jazz Festival, for which he was Artistic Director. But Albare's true musical passion is his own music, such as new album The Road Ahead, which brings together Middle Eastern influences with Albare's rich jazz vocabulary.
A lot of our readers are more versed in the heavy side of guitar. For those who want to get started in jazz, where should they begin?
First of all, we're talking about the same roots. The roots of jazz are blues, and the roots of rock are blues. Somebody that plays rock is a cousin of jazz, so we're all in the same family. So to go to jazz from rock, first of all it's a spiritual thing, I would say. You need to start listening to jazz. It all starts there. Once you start hearing it, you get a tendency for it to appear in your playing. But until you can hear it there's no way that you can play it. It's like, to play good rock, you have to hear the rock! If you can't hear the rock, there's no way you can sound like someone who understands rock! It's the same principal. You have to listen to a lot of jazz, and of course the discography is important. And if you want that, if this is what calls you, don't waste a minute. Just start today.
There are certain chords in jazz that you don't hear in rock - they express more subtle or more complex emotions than the ones you might hear in rock, which is more direct.
That's one way to look at it. Why not! To me, it's all about the colours. The palette. And I started like everybody with the three blues chords, the I, IV, V. And at some point it wasn't enough, so naturally I started looking for other chords. And ooh, there's lots of them! So you know, if you look at music as a whole, when you listen to Indian music, even jazz can sound like the caveman's music! So it depends how many colours you want, but you can have lots of different shades, and as an artist it's good to be able to draw from here and draw from there. I just completed a new album in New York, and a lot of influences there, although I mix them with jazz, are Middle Eastern influences. I've used a lot of Middle Eastern scales. It came up in my music because I hear that. I grew up in Israel and there's something in the background that's always there.
What goes through your mind when you're improvising?
Lots of people learn music as this: it touches your heart as a listener. You are overwhelmed by this emotion and you want to reproduce it yourself. And how do you reproduce it? You have to learn it. And how do you learn it? You learn it with your head. So a lot of musicians are stuck in their head. But beyond learning, then, you have to bring it back down to your heart, because you can only communicate through your heart. There's no way you can communicate through your head. It's through your heart. In the Talmud it says the distance between the head and the heart is the longest in the world. So for a musician to go from the learning and the understanding back to the giving through the heart, it's a life experience. So what goes through my head? Here's what goes through my head: I think about my mother. I think about the sea. I think about things that calm me and take my mind away. And then something happens which is a natural process, and I don't think about it, and it happens and I communicate. And I'm a bit of a judge, and I can tell if I'm communicating or not. All of this happens simultaneously: the thinking of the mummy, the thinking of the sea, the thinking of your kids, or anything that inspires you. And thinking of whether what you're doing is communicating. And at the same time, when you have an audience you're feeding back from the audience. You can feel that energy. You understand that they want you to continue to tell the story, and it all happens and it's all there. But none of that happens from me thinking 'Oh, this is a minor chord and I'm going up to a half diminished…' None of that is present.
I think it's very much like writing, in that first you have to learn what words mean, and then you learn to put the letters together to make them, and then after a while they just come out.
Exactly. It's exactly that. Except when you talk you don't have to always talk from your heart. But when I play the music it always has to be from the heart. If at any time I'm not playing from my heart I'm wasting everybody's time, including my own.
You were a pioneer of Acid Jazz. What were those times like?
Those were fun days. Everybody has a period like that in their life. I met a DJ at the time named Wayne Fernandez. Wayne was putting together some rhythm patterns that were interesting, because everything was so new in terms of drum machines and the ability of taking three vinyls and combining them and bringing together a new drum pattern. That was interesting because it hadn't been done before, so it was fascinating to see. So taking that and putting music on top of it - traditional jazz chords – with some traditional melodies, gave birth to songs that took off at the time. That was my first album and it did quite well in Australia. It was an interesting time but I moved on immediately after the first album. I did not remain in that scene, because that scene was about going to discotheques. I was going to clubs with DJs and playing the music there.
I understand you're a Gibson player?
Yes, Gibson has been endorsing me for 20 years. The guitar I currently tour with is a custom Les Paul. It's a hollow body, because I find the Les Paul too heavy on the neck. And also, being hollow it gives you that acoustic feel that you don't normally get with Les Pauls. People hear my albums and think I'm playing a big fat hollow body guitar, but it's not. It’s just the Les Paul. The neck is a Super 400 neck, so the scale is very different. I'm playing regular humbuckers, but the wood is Rosewood, and that now has been discontinued, as you probably know. It's a beautiful instrument. I've got many others but this is my touring guitar.
My amplification depends on the venue but I’ll tell you the standard. The standard is I've got two monitors and my sound folds back from those. I've got a rack that was made specially with pre-amps that have got some nice valves on the inputs and outputs. I'm controlling the sound from those preamps as to what gets sent to the front of house. They're taking a balanced stereo out, and all my stereo effects and reverbs are in that stereo out. So I control the sound, while the volume is controlled by the front of house engineer. I don't use any EQ, so I leave the guitar sound just the way it is. And as you know, the Gibsons, the more you play them, the more beautiful the sound is. So you don't need to do anything from that point of view. As far as reverb is concerned I use a chain reverb which I programmed on a Lexicon. I've got a few pedals. I've got an octave, I've got a wah which I use occasionally but more from the old Acid Jazz days. I still carry it because if I don't have it I think I might need it, but I don't, really, I hardly ever use it. And I've got a distortion, a simple distortion, and that's all.