This nylon-string classical guitar was made by Jim Redgate, who builds about 20 instruments each year in his solar-powered workshop in Australia. Photo by Scott Friedlander
Do you use the same gear when you record versus playing live?
I use the same guitars, for sure. Regarding the amp, if I can manage to bring the amp to the place where we’re recording, yes, and if not, I make sure they have something that I really like. The last album, Angular Blues, was recorded in Tokyo. They had an old Fender Princeton in very good condition, so that was great. Normally, I have an older Vox AC30 that I like to use.
Do you play acoustic guitar using classical technique, and do you care for your nails like a classical player?
Absolutely. I have to—otherwise my sound is not happening. Every time you play for a few hours, your nails need some filing again so that the sound stays well. I do some simple things every day on the classical guitar just to keep that sound.
Do your nails get beat up when you fingerpick on your electric?
Yes, they tend to. On the electric, when I am playing lines, I pretty much use the pick. But with harmony and counterpoint, I use my nails. I play differently on the electric for sure. On the acoustic guitar, I have a technique where I pluck the string kind of hard, with an apoyando, where the finger rests on the next string after the stroke. It’s like how the flamenco guys play. That’s a technique that you can’t use on the electric. For me, acoustic and electric are two quite different animals. I love both of them, but they need a different technique.
You must have been older when you first started using a pick.
Exactly. I was already playing quite fluently before I played with a pick, and I had to learn the whole pick thing from scratch.
Your left-hand technique appears to stay the same on acoustic and electric, though—you seem to keep your thumb in the center of the neck, which is a more traditional approach.
I would say so, yes. At this point, I am not consciously putting my hand in a certain way. But, of course, my whole first years were classically trained, so that stayed. Also, when the fingers come from really above the string, that is the easiest way to play with the least strength. With classical guitar, it is a little harder to press the string down, and if you don’t have the right technique, your hands get tired, which is why they stress that so much. You use whatever technique uses the least pressure and muscles.
Recently you seem to use a lot of pedals when you play electric. Is that a new thing or have you always done that?
I always did and, I think early on, even more. I’ve been playing with loopers from the time they came out. Delays were a big sensation, and whenever a delay came out with a long delay time—it was way before the idea that you could have a loop or that you could record two minutes, it was totally out of reach—I went with all those technological steps. I also used loops a lot to practice and for solo concerts. There are two pieces on the album called kanons. One is a kanon in 5/4 and one is in 6/8, and they both use a delay with which I play the kanon. A kanon is nothing but a delay, so I figured out how to use it in that way.
Do you approach the kanon that way live, even with the band?
Yes, and in the band setting this delay that creates the kanon is tap-tempo. If the band changes tempo slightly—it’s not that exact—I can tap the tempo along with my playing and I am always with them.
How does your role change playing with a trio as opposed to a larger group, like a quintet?
In the trio, I am responsible for more things—I can influence every harmonic move. It is basically a conversation with the bass and the drums, but as far as harmony and how I lay something out, it is really up to me. In the quintet, I see that we are equals in a big conversation. For example, the albums I did with pianist Brad Mehldau: Harmonically I was also letting him steer the music, and I was really enjoying being able to solo on top of his comping.
When I play in a trio, only the bass comps for me harmonically, so I have to either imply the harmonies in my lines, or I have to provide them with chords. It is quite a different role. I like both, but the trio is the core discipline.
Piano and guitar have similar roles when someone else is soloing. You have to be able to navigate each other.
Exactly, which is fun and can be a great adventure, especially if you comp together. The easy way would be to say, “You comp on this song and I comp on this solo,” so you don’t get in each other’s way. But it’s much more fun to play together. If somebody’s listening—and somebody like Brad Mehldau is listening very hard to everything—he would immediately react to what I do, or the other way around. Somebody would play something dense, and the other would play just a line or a tone and so on. That’s a very interesting game to comp together with two harmonic instruments.
The new album has rhythm changes for a few standards, too. Is that a first for you?
It’s the first time it’s been recorded on ECM. I’ve done that for a while, of course. Getting into jazz, going to Boston, trying to learn that language, I dealt heavily with standards. When I got into jazz, I had the feeling that I had to make up for a lot of stuff that I missed when I was younger, because I was playing everything else but jazz. I knew the harmony of Bach, but I didn’t know any harmony of [Duke] Ellington. I had to learn the language quickly, and standards were a big step for me. I kept them—not so much in concerts—but just for myself, and also as a teacher. But now it is nice to share that side again.
What inspired you to do that for this album?
Basically the fact that we played in a jazz club in Japan. It just felt right to add some standards. Also the fact that I played with Scott Colley [bass] and Brian Blade [drums]. Those two guys know this music inside out. It is second nature to them, and it was a luxurious situation for me.
Who built your electric?
It’s built by an Italian luthier, Nico Moffa. He’s been building me different ones. He’s a wonderful, great guitar maker, and for 10 years we have been in touch a lot. He sends me stuff and I try it. I go to his workshop. The model is called Mithra. The acoustic guitar I play is made by a guy from Australia named Jim Redgate. In the last 10 years I’ve played a lot in Australia, so every time I go, I visit him, and he’s another deep craftsman. For me, these relationships have become really important. The builders make them with you in mind. They listen to your music while they make the guitar. And the instrument influences the musician. If it works, everybody can learn from each other. The luthier needs your feedback and you need his guitar, so it is a good marriage.
Are the necks on your electrics built similar to a classical guitar neck?
The neck on the electric is much smaller. It’s good that it is very different for me, because then I touch it and know I am in that world. It is a different thing, and my fingers react differently. When I touch the classical, it’s that spacing. It is really two different instruments. Also, with acoustic guitar, I sit like a classical guitarist, and with electric guitar I stand. With electric guitar, I use a lot of effects, with acoustic guitar, none—and so on. I want to keep them two different worlds.