Name: Enzo Favata
Occupation: Saxophonist, clarinetist, composer, improviser
Current Release: Enzo Favata's The Crossing LP is out on Niafunken.
Recommendations: Jon Hassel and Farafina, “Flash Of The Spirit”, an extraordinary meeting of part and future music.
Lous Sepulveda - Patagonia Express, a journey at the end of the world.
If you enjoyed this interview with Enzo Favata and would like to find out more about his personal strand of searching jazz, visit his Facebook account and bandcamp store.
In this interview, Enzo mentions his inspiring meeting with Karlheinz Stockhausen and his son, Markus. For further reading, check out our Markus Stockhausen interview.
When did you start writing/producing music - and what or who were your early passions and influences? What was it about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
I was a kid from a working class neighbourhood in Alghero, Sardinia, a place which in the 70s was remote and far away from the usual circuits. We were hungry for everything that was going on in the world but in our places we got only the echoes of pop events like San Remo and Italian easy listening music.
It was London that drove me to different music. Not the city, but a neighbour that was working there as a waiter and every summer used to come back home with a suitcase full of second hand LPs bought in Portobello market. Among those records there were real jewels that I didn’t know at the time, from British progressive rock to heavy metal and Pink Floyd psychedelic rock. One time I took a record from his collection that got my attention and he said, “It’s jazz, I don’t know nothing about it and I don’t like it but if you want, we can listen to it”. It was “My Favourite Things” by John Coltrane and I was completely blown away. He gifted me the album and it’s still in my collection.
It was the sound of the sax that got my attention and I started saving money from Summer jobs to buy one. Since then I started to listen to jazz, always remembering those summer afternoons when we were 15 spent listening to incredible music that made us dream.
At the time I was playing guitar as a self taught musician and I was getting tired of plying covers so I started recording myself and made overdubs with soprano sax, got another tape recorder from a neighbour and started my career as a recording artist.
For most artists, originality is preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. What was this like for you: How would you describe your own development as an artist and the transition towards your own voice?
My main instrument is soprano sax, together with bass clarinet.
I started being inspired by Coltrane and for years I searched for his voice, expecially the one from his last sessions, but I didn’t stop there and I studied all the artists that followed his path, developing it in a personal direction: Wayne Shorter, Dave Liebman, Jan Garbarek, John Surman and Paul Mc Kandles.
How do you feel your sense of identity influences your creativity?
My identity comes from a process of cultural stratifications that belongs to Sardinian people and gives us the ability to adapt to other cultures. From Shardana, the mighty people of the sea of the Bronze Age Phoenician to Latin, to Arabs, Spanish and Italian. We have a strong culture that is not only musical but is spread throughout all the society. This is probably the reason why my music is made of many different elements and influences.
What were your main creative challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
I always had a precise idea of music. Mixing cultures and styles to create a new personal language. This was the the beginning and it’s still now.
As creative goals and technical abilities change, so does the need for different tools of expression, be it instruments, software tools or recording equipment. Can you describe this path for you, starting from your first instrument? What motivated some of the choices you made over the years?
I always liked to explore sounds and so the saxophone only was just a part of my research. I started looking for other wind instruments and now I have a collection of more than 140 instruments from across the world.
At the end of the 90s, through Paolo Fresu I discovered how to apply the same use of multieffect processing from the guitar to wind instruments and so I started working with electronic in a time when this was not common in jazz music. I studied electronic music thanks to the Conservatorio di Cagliari and I had the chance of meeting Karlheinz Stockhausen and Markus. We became friends and their experience was inspiring. From there, I discovered Jon Hassel and Brian Eno, and this was inspirational.
Derek Bailey defined improvising as the search for material which is endlessly transformable. Regardless of whether or not you agree with his perspective, what kind of materials have turned to be particularly transformable and stimulating for you? Have there been technologies or instruments which have profoundly changed or even questioned the way you make music?
Ethnic instruments and electronics, when blended together with synths and samplers, are always inspiring. The use of samplers and analog synths led to a new way of improvisation that moved far away from Ornette Coleman’s “Free Jazz” and this made me evolve in a timbre and rhythmic element something that was impossibile to do before, using just scores.
After the use of electronics and samples I found myself writing things that I couldn’t imagine before and even on my latest album I started questioning my influences from the seventies, mixing them with todays’ rhythms and sounds.
Collaborations can take on many forms. What role do they play in your approach and what are your preferred ways of engaging with other creatives through, for example, file sharing, jamming or just talking about ideas?
Jamming is a constant theme, and since I’m a jazz player, it’s always part of my practice. I don’t believe, as some of my colleagues do, in the completely controlled and fully written approach. In a collaboration I believe that the relation has to be first human rather than professional only, even if we don’t speak the same language.
Take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work, please. Do you have a fixed schedule? How do music and other aspects of your life feed back into each other - do you separate them or instead try to make them blend seamlessly?
I live in the countryside by the sea, in Sardinia, and I spent the last 20 years on airplanes, in hotels, trains or on a stage. This pandemic time led me to live on my island again.
I wake up at 5.40 AM and I go walking with old friends, this is a central moment in my day, to form my health, to keep fit in order to play on tour, but it’s also a moment of sociality with people who are far away from music and the music business. They are part of what is considered by most people “real life”. After that, a cafe and a croissant in a bar, to meet people and after that at 9 AM I’m in my studio, in Alghero, a big space that is dedicated to music production and that hosts the headquarters of Musica Sulle Bocche festival too, for which I am the founder and art director. Both the festival and the studio are central in my life and very long days that finish around at 8 / 9 PM.
So, apart form sociality in early morning, and the evening with my family the whole day is dedicated and committed to music, in all its aspects, with no separation from artist to producer and organizer’s work.
Can you talk about a breakthrough work, event or performance in your career? Why does it feel special to you? When, why and how did you start working on it, what were some of the motivations and ideas behind it?
There are two key moments, the album “Voyage en Sardigne” and the meeting with Dino Saluzzi, bandoneonist from Argentina. The album was pivotal because it was the final output after a long research and reclaiming of the cultural heritage of my island.
It was produced after I sent a demo tape with some tracks made with samples of Sardinian tenores, and after that in the album I used real ensembles. The meeting with Dino Saluzzi happened thanks to the label I was working with at that time, and I was in love with bandoneon sounds, and I felt that it would mix perfectly with my soprano sax. The record, completely acoustic, won several awards worldwide and opened up new international territories and esteem for my work.
There are many descriptions of the ideal state of mind for being creative. What is it like for you? What supports this ideal state of mind and what are distractions? Are there strategies to enter into this state more easily?
Every moment is good for a creation and ideas can come at different time.
Creativity is part of a process and study, through the material you have available at the moment. Sometimes it start from a sound, even a simple one can lead to complex compositions. Concentration is a must, inspiration and ideas can arrive even on a train or plane, just using a computer and software. Being creative means being hungry and committed to study.
Music and sounds can heal, but they can also hurt. Do you personally have experiences with either or both of these? Where do you personally see the biggest need and potential for music as a tool for healing?
Music is a cure - and sometimes to heal a cure can hurt.
There is a fine line between cultural exchange and appropriation. What are your thoughts on the limits of copying, using cultural signs and symbols and the cultural/social/gender specificity of art?
I never copied, I just tried to build something new from different inspirations. Knowing a language is an act of love, and using some words of this language in a personal statement is part of a process.
I can understand your point, though. There are many musicians who take the exotic elements as appropriation, and present it as a personal creation. If you listen to “Salt Way”, from my last album The Crossing you can think of the melody as something that comes from an Ethiopian jazz musician but it’s written by me, after a long term relationship and friendship with Ethiopian musicians.
Our sense of hearing shares intriguing connections to other senses. From your experience, what are some of the most inspiring overlaps between different senses - and what do they tell us about the way our senses work?
Soundscapes are one of my passions, together with field recordings. Soundscape is a key element of my daily artistic life and influences psychologically, even with your health. I studied the works of many avantgarde musicians, from Brian Eno to David Byrne, but I knew that they started with concrete music, recorded with loops and tapes, like Cesare Moderna, Edgard Varèse and the Italian school of the Studio Di Fonologia Musicale of RAI, Italian radio and television.
I’m using these field recordings in soundtrack works and music albums as well. In “Salt Way”, for instance, there is the audio recording of an African market, processed with various effects.
Art can be a purpose in its own right, but it can also directly feed back into everyday life, take on a social and political role and lead to more engagement. Can you describe your approach to art and being an artist?
An artist needs to have knowledge of his times and the place where he lives and the music has to reflect his times and social processes.
I don’t usually believe artists that want to keep distance form the social issues of his times. The changes have to be inside the music, and they don’t need need lyrics or explanations, and music can lead to changes, too. The real statement is to keep things evolving, and it comes through confrontation and social progress. Sometimes it’s not necessary to show flags and post political comments everyday, because all the work I do can act in a political way and lead to changes.
What can music express about life and death which words alone may not?
In my land, Sardinia, music has been part of everyday life for more than 2000 years, and there is a small bronze statue, bronzetto of the nuragic time, of a launeddas player. Launeddas are typical polyphonic woodwind instruments made of cane, that are present in Sardinia only. There is a music for every time of the year and for every season of people’s lives. For newborns, weddings, religious processions, having fun with friends, music for poetry and storytelling and music for dying. All this is Sardinia and its culture. Music is a ritual element that can be present though all the life and death cycle.