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André Carvalho on 'The Garden Of Earthly Delights', Portugal, and Jazz

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We recently got the chance to speak a bit with jazz bassist and composer André Carvalho about his upcoming record, ‘The Garden Of Earthly Delights’. In the conversation we learned more about his collaborative attitude, the artistic inspiration behind the record, and what it’s like to make music for a multi-national audience. Read on below and buy your copy of the album from the link at the bottom of this article.

For those that don’t know, you’ve named your album “The Garden Of Earthly Delights,” after the fantastical painting of the same name by Hieronymus Bosch. Could you tell us a bit about that triptych piece and what it means to you?

Sure! Bosch was a Dutch painter that lived between 15th and 16th century. However, his paintings are way ahead of his time, because he illustrates religious concepts and stories but always in a surreal and fantastic way. “The Garden of Earthly Delight” is actually a great example of this. In this masterpiece, Bosch tells us a story that starts on the Third Day of creation according to the Bible. In the exterior part of the tryptic, everything is monochromatic in grey tones. There’s no animal or human life and you get a sense of this primitive environment.

Once the tryptic is opened, you have again a sense of storytelling, starting on the left panel with the Marriage of Adam and Eve. Here, you have several elements that symbolize life, temptation, fecundity etc.

On the central panel, you have a depiction of life in the Garden of Eden, where men and women live and are engaged in a variety of amorous scenes, sports and activities and are surrounded by some surreal elements like giant fruits, men that are part animals, mermaids, mermen, etc.

Finally, in the last panel, we have a depiction of Hell, where all Men are condemned by all their sins.

For me, of course the subject of the painting has to be contextualized. I’m agnostic and I don’t see things like Bosch sees. But, if you see the painting more in its conceptual form, many of the things Bosch is talking about are actually very actual. This painting makes me think about how we, as Human Beings, are living on this planet, how we relate with each others, how we adapt to modern times and technologies. Bosch’s view was quite pessimistic. On the other hand, I’m still an optimist and, apart from all the injustices and inequalities that our world has, I want to believe that we will be mindful and conscious and will do the right thing.

Why did you pick this painting and not any other?

Well, that’s a great question. I’ve always loved Bosch. My mum works in a museum in Portugal that has one of the few remaining Bosch paintings. I remember going to the museum and being in love with the enigmatic world that Bosch shows us.

I also always wanted to compose a long piece that would have a story and a strong concept behind it. Some months ago, when I was starting to think more seriously about this project, I was revisiting Bosch’s works and The Garden of Earthly Delight just struck me. I had to write a Suite inspired in this fantastic painting!

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You’ve already shared a couple videos from your project, like ‘The Forlorn Mill’ and ‘Evil Parade’ would you share with us a bit of what it was like to work in the studio on these tracks? Have you played with the group you recorded with much before?

It was great to be in studio actually! I have played with my band and these musicians for quite a long time. I simply love all of them and have a huge respect for what they do and can bring to my music. We had several concerts before recording, where we played the Suite. This was a great opportunity to try different things, ways of playing, instrumentations etc.

So, going to studio was pretty easy and we had a lot of fun. We recorded everything in one day and did some extra takes on half a day that we had reserved on studio. We were actually quite surprised because we managed to record so much music in such a short period of time, specially considering that some of the movements of the suite were quite demanding. Also, it was super easy working with the guys at Bunker Studio and Simon, who produced the videos that I shared.

I also have to say that Pete Rende and Nate Wood made a great job in mixing and mastering the music.

What was your compositional strategy in approaching this album, did you keep a replica of ‘The Garden Of Earthly Delights’ close at hand while you composed? Was the process different from how you wrote earlier releases like ‘Hajime’ and ‘Memória De Amiba’?

Yes, the process was very different. I knew that everything had to start with the painting and go from there. So everything was very visual. I got several books about Bosch and his works, watched many videos and documentaries and read as much as I could find about it.

I started by making a sketch of how I visualized the Suite in terms of moods, tempos, textures, etc. The painting has so much information that I just had to pick up certain scenes that were particularly inspiring to me. So, that’s what I did next and from this selection, I just sat on the piano for many hours and started writing the music. I always had the musicians in my head, I know how they sound and that was of course another consideration of mine.

Also, this is a long piece with interconnected movements and some ideas that return later in the piece. So, I tried as much as possible to give this sense of unity to the piece.

I also have to say that, since this music is so visual, I’m investing a lot on the album artwork. I think this will reflect the work that did. I am so fortunate to be working with a great Portuguese designer and illustrator, Margarida Girão, who is making a terrific job.

Will you be performing any concerts around the release of this album, either in New York or in Portugal?

Yes, I’m actually working on booking concerts in New York, Portugal and Europe. I’m working along side my label, Outside in Music, and a great friend of mine, Maria Rita Arnaut, in order to put this music on the road as much as possible.
I would say that the best will be to check my social media and my website for an updated calendar!

You play bass on your albums but compose for a wide variety of instruments. What’s it like to present music you’ve written to other people to perform? Do you run into difficulty trying to capture the same tone from different musicians?

Writing was always a good companion of mine. Since I started music and playing bass, I had a special connection with writing, I always felt an urge to compose. In the beginning just writing short ideas, without any skills on how to put it in a band context. Recording and writing everything on pieces of paper. I was always fortunate to have great musicians around me that would help me and play my music, with whom I’ve learned so much.

Most of the times, I already know to whom I’m writing for and it’s actually hard for me to write without knowing who will play the music I’m working on.
But I can tell you that it’s always a thrill to play and hear my music for the first time. I try not to have too many expectations, either on if I like the music or not and on which direction I think it should take. Most of the times, I have an idea about what I want, but I always try to leave space for each musician to do their own thing.

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