Not for the first time, Maltese drummer Luke Briffa has been collaborating with foreign musicians, in this case Italian guitarist Mirko Montaldi and Lithuanian Gediminas Stepanavičius on double bass. Working under the name of The Montaldi Project, this three-pronged international musical venture was formed with the primary aim of delving into free jazz, improvisation and structured music. The trio will be playing live at St James Cavalier, Valletta on Saturday, November 28, which performance will consist of original pieces as well as compositions commemorating the late Ornette Coleman. The following day, starting at 5pm and at the same venue, the three musicians will be holding a workshop related to the field of jazz. Michael Bugeja interviews Luke Briffa ahead of the event.
You've been based abroad for quite some time. What have you been up to during this time and how difficult was it to maintain an active connection with your Malta-based projects?
Living abroad for a few years has opened up a lot of doors for me, I met a lot of musicians and also got involved with different projects. Overseas, I'm involved in the Kikker Trio and The Montaldi Project. The Kikker Trio played in Malta and at the Gozo Jazz festival during the summer. We're currently working on new material for an album which will hopefully be recorded and released in the coming year. The Montaldi Project is a very fresh project, and our gig in Malta will kick off a mini-tour that will include performances in jazz clubs in Rome and Florence in December.
Locally, I'm still involved in CUSP. We're currently also writing new material, and I'm very excited about the new direction the band is taking. The material we're writing is different to our earlier compositions, as is our frame of mind. I'm also involved in two new musical projects that will come to light later on next year, more of which will be announced later.
What is The Montaldi Project, a word about the musicians and what led to the formation of this international formation?
The Montaldi project is led by Italian guitarist Mirko Montaldi. The project itself focuses on a musical aspect related to jazz, free jazz and also original compositions. The sound of the trio is raw and energetic, we use these two elements to create and write music. We all met at the conservatory, last year we used to meet up regularly to play and study together, going through some standard numbers and learning from each other. Mirko, no matter the occasion, used to get arranged tunes with him to our session and we used to play for hours. It was then we started to work and compose together.
The Montaldi Project is primarily focusing on free jazz. How different, or not, is this from what you've already been working on with other bands/musicians so far?
Musicians who like or follow jazz all like to improvise, it's a main element in the style, a form of self-expression. I think this differs in every project I play in. In the mainstream projects I'm involved in, such as singer-songwriters or more popular-orientated musical genres, there is seldom space for the element of free improvisation during live performances. However, I think that this takes form in other ways, for instance during the writing process where we would be jamming ideas out or trying out newer ideas and concepts together as a group or duo. There is still an element of improvisation, which is then structured into a melody or form. The only thing that is different is the concept, but I don't like to think about music stylistically; I don't like to label genres......music is music.
Your upcoming concert will feature the late Ornette Coleman. Is there a particular reason behind this tribute?
The concert will feature original compositions by Mirko Montaldi and we shall also play a few tunes by the late Ornette Coleman (who passed away last June) as a tribute to this great musical legend. Ornette Coleman is one of the major innovators in the Free Jazz movement and is an iconic figure in the jazz field from the early 1960s till today. We will also be including some arrangements by Thelonious Monk and arranged classical pieces.
Apart from the concert, the project will also be hosting a music workshop....
Yes, the workshop will take place on Sunday, November 29, where we will be focusing on bringing people together musically. Musicians and the general public are invited. During the 3-hour session, we will be discussing and also demonstrating some concepts behind some of the arrangements and playing styles. Musicians are encouraged to bring their instruments with them as we will be inviting people to come play with us and share some ideas together.
Tickets are available from the St James Cavalier box office, online or reserved by calling on 2122 3200.
This article was first published on The Sunday Times of Malta's ESCAPE magazine (22 November 2015)