Figuring it all out

I’m at the Pike Place Market in Seattle. Grey morning, it’s getting colder – I’m thinking I should have brought the scarf with me. Meanwhile, there are fishes flying above my head. I have been hearing about this tradition all week, but don’t know exactly what it is. These entertaining fishmongers throw fish at each other, delighting local people and visitors from all over the world. They throw and catch the fish and scream things I barely understand. It’s very funny. Julie Slick takes a video of me wearing the infamous Machete sunglasses, standing there all serious while the fish is being thrown around. We laugh a lot.

“Why am I here?”, I wonder. Because I’m here (hey Neil Peart, thanks). That’s the answer that makes most sense to me. You live in the moment. It’s such a simple mindset – once you switch to it, your life will be better. All the small things that make the big picture possible, they will be there at your disposal. At that point in time, I was watching some fish flying around and that was the only thing that mattered, really. All worries for the future, all the people I was missing, the scarf I didn’t bring with me, it was all gone.

The week before I was in a beautiful house in Duvall, together with nine other people. I wasn’t supposed to be there – my friend, inestimable bandmate Julie, brought me along. She and Alessandro, our drummer, were part of this team that would be recording the music of pianist Tim Root, which I wasn’t familiar with. I had heard some of the tracks while on tour with EchoTest on the East Coast, a few days before. The guys would sound desperate while listening to the music on the van; “This stuff is insane, so complex, what the hell!”. I remember hearing all those piano notes in odd time signatures coming out of the speakers and thinking “Glad I’m not recording for this”. Next thing I know, Julie asks producer and music instigator Steve Ball if I could be involved in the session, and apparently, yes, I’m in. “Damn”, I mumble. Me and Julie trade jokes about the two of us together making one decent bass player.

All I know is that I’m in this house and the people seem to be pretty awesome, pretty special. They all have a special quality; something is in the air, for sure. It’s there and I’m soaking it up. I’m terrible with names and I get introduced to Tim and then forget who he is for a few hours. Some of the guys have been here for a couple more days and have been practicing the pieces a bit. I hear them playing some of the music in the living room, it sounds very good. We have a varied ensemble: guitars, saxophone, bass clarinet (oh man, I love bass clarinets!), accordion, violin, two basses, piano, a fierce drummer. I recognize Amy Denio – yay, Amy! I have seen her playing solo in my desolate hometown, Latina… I think a couple of years ago. I mean, Latina is not the town you would visit while on tour in Italy. She did, and I was there at the show. Fast forward, I’m in this house in Seattle and I get to play and hang out with her all week. Life is bizarre. There’s Nora from LA, she plays violin. I see her, I think “this will be fun”. She says her name is Paolo (sometimes it becomes Enrique), I become Morton for no real reason. Steve Ball is a wonderful man that has the enormous power of making me feel at ease in all circumstances. We had connected on Facebook before, but it was my first time meeting him in person. I get introduced to Beth, who will handle the bass clarinet parts, and I can feel her positivity pervading me. From this point on, whenever I see her in the room, I feel calm, reassured. I then spot this guy playing guitar, what a cool dude! It’s Alex from Argentina. Every morning, I come downstairs for breakfast, he’s there practicing. I feel very bad because I never practice. He’s an insane player, a sweet, sweet guy. I’m there eating bananas and drinking coffee, while he plays his ass off. I see there is another guitarist, as well. It’s Bill. His name will turn into Stacey for the week. I immediately feel like this man could be my best friend. He triggers the weirdest side of my sense of humour, enabling all kinds of consequences (good and bad). At the end of the week we have an idea for a song, which we will explore in the future. We have a title (Steamy Potatotes) and a chorus (please, stay tuned). Once I realise who Tim is, I feel very compelled to give this man the best I can. I understand this is a very important week for him, he’s the reason why we are all here. I’m grateful just for that. We all get together in the living room and he plays the songs on the piano, all of them in sequence. I’m there taking notes on my yellow pad: “Fast section. Odd times. Odd times. More odd times. I don’t know about this. Slow down. Key change. Maybe Julie can play this part”. I smile but I feel nervous. It gets worse when I take the bass out of the case and decide to join the guys for a small band practice. “Maybe it will help shedding some light on the material”. I see everyone has a better idea of what’s going on with the music. I manage to get a few notes right, and stick to them – though it doesn’t last long. The structure of the song is never the same. I’m still smiling, just because I have no clue about anything in general. It’s one of those smiles, when you’re lost, you know? “Ok Marco” – I tell myself, “maybe you should stop playing for now. Listen, just listen”. I stand there with my hands in the pockets, enjoying the sounds permeating the room. I then hear Tim say “I would love the bass to blow on this section”. It takes me a while to understand that “to blow” in that context means soloing, or something like that (my small Italian brain) – in other words, I should play something very cool on that part. Nobody has yet heard anything remarkable coming out of my bass, so here’s the chance to prove I’m there for a good reason. Tim hands me some charts, but I can’t really sight read. I say, “I can’t read this”; he points out that the chord changes are written out. I have no escape. Someone counts to four, everyone starts playing. I hit a couple of notes, they don’t sound good. I turn around and see that Julie is far away, cooking. She looks very happy. I pretend to look at the charts, then stop. Tim, what a sweetheart – instead of telling me “Well that wasn’t very impressive”, he goes “I would love to hear the bass more”. I reply that I will just listen for now, “I still have to figure out where the composition goes”.  

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Eventually – I can’t explain how, I figured it out. It’s easier when you’re surrounded by excellent musicians. Alessandro – he played like a king and knew all the fucking parts and time changes. I was in awe the whole time, what a blessing to have him on drums. We rolled into the studio for three days, had a fantastic time, recorded all the tracks. I often listen to the rough mixes, ecstatic about what we all have accomplished during that week.

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Toasted after a day in the studio. With Amy Denio… and a few name tags on me.

Was I away for six weeks? Maybe some more? I don’t know. We started the EchoTest petit world tour in Spain at the end of September – what an incredible experience! We played shows to wild crowds, did TV and radio promotion, ate tapas and drank some cañas, and vino dulce. Alessandro loved the croquetas. I fell in love with Andalusia, the south side of Spain. I had never been there before. Sevilla is a wonderful place. Many thanks to Daniel Escortell for all the help, he made the tour a reality; he’s my Spanish hermano. I remember how good I felt when we were at the top of the rock of Gibraltar – it was a dark, late afternoon, and we could see some lights on the horizon, emerging from the sea. I think that Gracia, Daniel’s girlfriend, observed: “You see that? That’s Tangeri.” It felt very, very good for some reason. Me and Julie looked at each other and smiled. This is the life we always wanted to live.  

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