Saxophonist Carlo Muscat takes some time out from his busy schedule performing locally and abroad to tell Michael Bugeja about his latest work.
Carlo Muscat has always insisted that his musical awakening is an ongoing process. So much so that further to releasing his first solo album, The Sound Catalogues Vol.1 about two years ago, he went on to explore new ventures and collaborations, a number of which would, both directly and indirectly, lead to the formation of the line-up he eventually put together for his latest album, Explorations, which was released just a few weeks ago with a live performance at the new Jazz Cave venue in St Julian’s.
The Sound Catalogues was an important milestone, which I’m sure has led to a lot of developments in your life...
Well, a lot has changed since the recording and release of The Sound Catalogues. To begin with I relocated to Malta in November 2014 and have been busy performing locally. Naturally, I also practice regularly to expand my repertoire, but I also invest many hours in marketing my music through social media. I’ve also had various opportunities to perform abroad, mainly in Italy, France, Germany and Turkey, which have brought me in touch with many new musicians, so I’m also entertaining the idea of developing new projects that would be recorded in various countries, with line-ups from those same countries.
Having lived in Paris for some years, how much did relocating to Malta impact your work in terms of opportunity and inspiration, if at all?
My time in Paris was possibly the most inspirational ever simply because of the vast presence of musical talent and the constant exposure to jazz music. Relocating to Malta was not easy since the situation is not the same, so I am always searching for new ways of motivating myself. Mainly, I do this by constantly listening to musicians I aspire to and collaborating, when possible, with international musicians of a much higher level than my own. This excitement keeps me on my toes and makes me feel that I am moving forward.
You opted to take the crowd-funding route to making Explorations. What convinced you to go for it?
Actually, the project was only partly-funded by crowd-funding, as the majority of the expenses were covered by the Malta Arts Fund. This was my first experience with crowd-funding, so I’m sure there were many more things I could have done to improve the outcome. We did, however, manage to cover a small part of the project costs but it was nothing close to our goal.
When did work on Explorations start and how did you go about putting the band together for this project?
Explorations came to mind more than a year and a half ago. After returning from Paris I got back into the local scene, performing and attending a number of concerts. I started to realise that audiences were moving towards a specific style of music and the idea was to infuse this with the jazz genre. The band members are the musicians I enjoy working with the most, locally, so it was natural for me to come up with this setup. We know each other’s way of playing and are able to understand and be comfortable with what is going on within our improvisations.
In contrast to The Sound Catalogues, which was inspired by historical events, Explorations, as the title suggests, seems to be inspired by a broader set of themes and sounds. What can you tell us about this?
Yes, the two albums are totally different from one another. The Sound Catalogues has a richer, darker and more complex characteristic to it. It is the kind of jazz music that takes some time to sink in and appreciate. This was part of the original idea and I was ready to accept that not everyone would be ready to enjoy it immediately. Explorations took another route – the idea was to make the music fun, more easy to listen and somewhat lighter, while still maintaining all the characteristics which I believe define the jazz genre. The inspirational sources for the compositions are varied. I mainly focused on visualisation of different places around the world, and also aspects of space; basically I just wanted to explore my own imagination.
On Explorations I sensed a deep, modern groove in its flow, blended smoothly with the occasional rock flick and the encompassing jazz idiom, which should extend its appeal to a wider audience. How has the album bee received so far?
You’re right, this is the mix we wanted to achieve. The jazz idiom remains predominant, and I believe this will always be the case if the line-up is made up of jazz musicians. It’s inevitable really.. there will always be improvisation, rhythm and space. The feedback so far has been positive and I’m glad that listeners are finding it easier to listen to than The Sound Catalogues as that was the whole point. I’m not at all surprised that the audience is comparing the two albums.
What else is there in the pipeline now that the album is out?
Since I am deeply involved in the Jazz Cave, I will be focusing on daily live sessions at this same venue, featuring local line-ups and, occasionally, foreign guests too. The Jazz Cave is a great initiative for the local live music scene and we hope that local artists will do their best to support it and spread the word. For more information about the venue, visit Jazz Cave Malta on Facebook.
This article was first published in The Sunday Times of Malta's ESCAPE magazine (13 November 2016)