Jazz guitarist and composer Mike Moreno started his musial journey at the age of 15 at the “High School for the Performing and Visual Arts” High School for the Performing and Visual Arts in Houston from where some of the great jazz musicians of our times like Robert Glasper, Jason Moran, Kendrick Scott, Eric Harland, Helen Sung were graduated. At 18, moved to New York and he is actively one of the prominent contemporary jazz guitarists of the 21st century since then. The Joshua Redman Elastic Band, Lizz Wright Band, Nicholas Payton Quartet, Stefon Harris Sonic Creed, Me’Shell N’Degeocello, Jason Moran, Terence Blanchard, Robert Glasper, Ambrose Akinmusire, Gretchen Parlato, Aaron Parks, Claudia Acuña, Greg Osby 4, Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz At Lincoln Center Orchestra, Jeff “Tain” Watts, Jeremy Pelt, John Ellis, Myron Walden, Kenny Garrett, Yosvany Terry, Ralph Bowen, Will Vinson are some of the musicians that Moreno has worked with.
He released “Between the Lines”, his debut album as a a leader in 2007. Instead of interpreting the well-known standards, he came up with totally original compositions in the first album. His easily recognizable unique lyrical style, mature compositions, the notes he play and didn’t play made his difference amongst his peers since the very first album till the last one. His second album “Third Wish” comes up next on 2008. Besides his own compositions, there were a couple of standards in this album like the very vivid version of Herbie Hancock’s “I Have a Dream” with a creatively striking intro. In 2011 comes the third album “First in Mind” where I have many favorite songs like Joshua Redman’s “Soul Dance” where we can see Moreno’s fluency in acoustic guitar also. Sonny Rollins’ “Airegin” with a memorable 5/4 intro and a verw well-know jazz ballad “But Beautiful” played in an ethereal way, are to name a few. In 2012 “Another Way” comes next as guitarist’s 4th release as another way to show his masterful compositional abilities. This album for me is the depiction of a science fictional atmosphere as in Luc Besson’s “Fifth Element”. Maybe that’s because of Moreno’s composition with the same name in the album, who knows? I think Mike Moreno is highly qualified in creating that sci-fi atmosphere with his playing throughtout all of his his albums. In 2015 the guitarist comes with “Lotus” that starts with a beautiful acoustic guitar “Intro” which is my wake up alarm song for more than a year now so I probably know the song better than anybody else in this space. That ”Intro” leads smoothly to “The Hills of Kykuit”. Again in this album we see the beautiful collaboration of Aaron Parks on piano and Mike Moreno on guitar. In October 2017 comes finally “Three for Three”, Moreno’s 6th album as a leader. This album is the third release (after “Third Wish” and “First in Mind”) from Criss Cross Records, a record company in Netherlands with a variety of modern jazz works. It is a trio album, the smallest group Moreno has ever recorded as a leader, with long term collaborators Doug Weiss on bass and Kendrick Scott on drums. And it is the only album where there isn’t any Mike Moreno composition in it. The album starts with the striking version of Wayne Shorter’s underrated composition “The Big Push” which is my favorite in the album. My other favorite is Michel Legrand’s “You Must Believe in Spring”. I must say that it is the best version of this song I’ve heard since Bill Evans. The beautiful Radiohed song “Glass Eyes” cover was a big surprise for me when I first heard. The song has already a misty and cloudy nature and Moreno played it in the best way one can play with again creating his outer space atmosphere. Furthermore, I also must say it is a challenge to choose Charlie Parker’s world-renowned “Perhaps” probably becuase it was one of Charlie Parker’s most known and played compositions. But again with his modern version, it is far different from the mainstream versions we’ve listened millions of times.
Mike Moreno is one of the leading modern jazz guitarists of this century with a great technical ability, lyrical one of a kind approach with strong sense of time and rhythm, and always a very melodic player especially seen on the ballads. Not only into jazz but he is also very much into Brazilian music which makes his sound more lyrical maybe. After listening his latest album and hoping that he’ll come again to our country on tour to play, here are some questions about his latest album “Three for Three” with Mike Moreno on guitar, Doug Weiss on bass and Kendrick Scott on drums.
How did you decide to play as a trio in this album?
Well, I knew if I did another Criss Cross album it would only be standards. This was already decided. I wanted to do something different then the Quartet records I had already made. And around the time of Gerry Teekens asking me to record again for Criss Cross I had been getting some recordings from fans of live trio gigs I would do from time to time. I never felt I was ready for a trio album conceptually. My own gigs have always been Quartet or Quintet. Trio was just never the focus. But I heard some ideas to work from on these recordings I was getting. Things I was doing that I felt did have a voice on their own that was different then other guitar trios. So I decided to just go for it. No planning, no rehearsals just treat it like a live gig and try to capture the same energy from the unrehearsed and unplanned live trio gigs. So we went in and just played, no rehearsals before other than a live gig the night before to read through the music once. Mostly everything was a first take on the recording. It was a gamble and totally different than my 3 original music records. But even my other 2 Criss Cross records we at least rehearsed once before the date.
Criss Cross Records is a small record company in Netherlands. How did you start to work with them?
I had recorded on a Jimmy Greene record for Criss Cross. I met Gerry Teekens on this session and he asked me if I would like to do something. I had just released my first album at that time, “Between The Lines”. So I thought ok, I have the original album, maybe I can record standards for Gerry and some of the music that didn’t make it on “Between The Line”s. So that’s how it happened.
How did you decide not to put any of your compositions and only play standards?
I prefer to fund my own albums if I’m recording my original material to have total control of it.
“Glass Eyes” is a Radiohead song released from their 2016 album “A Moon Shaped Pool”. Are you a Radiohead fan? How did you pick this song?
I’ve always been a Radiahead fan. But never really thought of recording one of their songs since so many people were doing this about 15 years ago. But this song holds a special place for me. And also it is one of the newest songs by them. Someone sent it to me one night while I was on tour and it let me know that me and that person understood each other on a deeper level. I fell in love with it the first time I heard it and couldn’t stop listening to it. There are several reasons why I recorded it. It needed to be done at that time of this session. I wasn’t trying to prove anything with it. I just wanted to record it.
Are you happy with your new Marchione?
Which one? The red spruce top semi I used on the recording is not the newest. I have 2 more since then, a maple top semi and also I just got a maple top Vintage Tremelo Strat. Stephen is at the height of his career I believe. The guitars that are coming out of his studio at the moment are the best they have ever been. Each one it better than the one before. That is the sign of a true artist. But that red spruce top semi is my favorite. It’s perfect. The maple semi is incredible too it just needs to be played a lot more. I take it on the road a lot. But if it’s trio or solo I take the spruce top. Also on this recording I used Redwood top acoustic he had made a couple of years ago for the first time in the studio. I love that guitar as well. It’s on the track “Clube Da Esquina” No. 1. And The new Vintage Tremelo is just one of the best guitars I’ve ever played, period, but I need to learn to play it conceptually.
I know that you’re into Brazilian music a lot, you also speak Portuguese. When and how did your interest in this music start?
I speak Brazilian Portuguese. My grandparents all come from Mexico. So I grew up hearing Spanish a lot and speaking a little. So learning Portuguese was easier to learn for me since there are many similarities to Spanish. But really what made it easier was my love for Brazilian music. It was a way to bridge Jazz with South America which I love and also my heritage, in the middle, from Central America. It started with Jobim of course like most Jazz musicians and then I started playing with a Brazilian bass player in New York who hipped me to so much music from Minas Gerais and Bahia which was a totally different type of Brazilian music I had been listening to at the time. Milton Nascimento, Lo Borges, Beto Guedes, Toninho Horta, and others like Caetano Veloso, Gilberto Gil ect. It was another world that I dove into. Also, on my second trip to Brazil I met a girl there who I dated for 2 years. I learned a lot of the language at that time, as well as so much music.
What are your inspirations?
Musically at the moment I still get inspired by Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, Freddie Hubbard, Duke Pearson, Joe Henderson, Pat Metheny, Radiohead, Blonde Redhead, Joni Mitchell, Ravel, Schumann, Debussy to name a few. Film scores and a lot of my peers I play with and hear live often constantly inspire me.
You have a technique where you switch very fast from pick to your right hand/fingers while soloing/playing. How did you develop it?
A lot of it was just developed by trial and error, and by chance. It was an idea I was hearing while practicing and while playing trio and solo gigs. I would just try things, especially playing solo at home. Then I started booking solo gigs to try it live and really force myself to improvise solo in front of people. At first it felt awkward and didn’t feel and sound right. I just kept trying it, and I am still trying to develope it. It’s not quite there. But every now and then I’ll hear a recording or see a video and notice I’m doing stuff I didn’t even realize I was trying and it works. So, that’s why I say some of it is by chance. It just happens on the spot. I’m still working it out. It’s definitely not a tecnique I got from anyone and therefore will take some time to really develop it.
Do you have a preferred gig format especially while playing your own music? (trio, quartet, quintet) or you decide it according to the project?
Quartet with piano bass and drums is my favorite with my own music. I don’t hear saxophone or trumpet in my music at the moment. Not since “Between The Lines” actually. Everything I hear naturally at the moment is just piano and guitar. Even bass and drums can be optional.
You are also teaching and giving workshops. How do you feel about that?
I like teaching workshops. I like having a group of people in a room asking questions and talking about music. I learn from that as well. Private lessons can be frustrating and exhausting at times. But those are usually the best for the students, but are not as fun for me because it’s a lot of work actually working with one student.
Do you often go to concerts?
Yes. When on the road I get to hear great music at the festivals. And also in New York there is always something happening.
What do you listen these days?
I’ve been checking out Thundercat, Solange, a Brazilian composer Tavinho Moura who wrote so many tunes I’ve loved but thought were written by Milton Nascimento but turns out there are his songs. As well as some live Milton Nascimento stuff which is blowing my mind after knowing the studio records so well.
Note: This video is not mixed. It’s Mike Moreno’s personal video he made in the studio as they recorded. There is no bass heard really, just guitar and drums in the live sound of the room.