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Between Sets with Al Conti

In the deepest of canals within the undercrust of music’s landscape, global lore is unearthed with the romantic direction of the conductor’s notes and imagination. Whether it’s the memories of past influences, or the fantasies one lives as a child, the stories of our youth address one's most cherished experiences.

Composer Al Conti took his experiences in time and expressed them within music sheets. Sounds which mirror the fantasy of the tales unearthed by the Middle Eastern storyteller and temptress, Scheherazade, unveil themselves. The music and arrangements of Conti capture one's inner moods as much as Scheherazade did herself, with her beauty and lore.

Conti was an actor with numerous marques to his credit, including noted soap drama, As the World Turns. In the early nineties, he received an epiphany, which vaulted his life into a passionate love affair with composing. In 2006, his debut project Shadows hit the shelves and the year after, sophomore effort Poeta, which then brought us to 2008 and Scheherazade. It is a journey that may have taken Conti full circle emotionally, however, he is far from finished with this trek; music flows through his veins with great vengeance, in synch with his imagination.

Conti’s third musical exploration, Scheherazade, involves the age old story of a seductive and ingenuous storyteller, Scheherazade, whom like Hans Christian Anderson, framed her survival by making fantasy come to life through words. Conti interestingly enough captures not only the life, but emotions of this woman, in ways only the music he arranged could unfold to us. The listener is treated to a hypnotic free-fall into her life. This is the best of both worlds.

This composition, along with the scope of intelligence Conti posses, has cured this fable woman’s experiences. Moments that brought great sadness and fear, yet times that brushed away those memories with the exhilaration of virgin innovation. This innovation bleeds pure Conti development and manipulation. His world music/fusion outlook dresses down the strict rules of music theory and allows a rewrite, as composition goes.

I think of Al Conti as an artist-entrepreneur. The tools he allows himself are centralized deep into improvisation, as well as culturally induced with a visionary palette. The enjoyment of his music is deeply rooted and intensely personal. This is an artist whom more than most, showcases his existance within his talent.

As Scheherazade went into the night with stories of endless complexities, you, the reader, go between sets with the music and conceptual brilliance of composer Al Conti. ..rejuvenating the Persian queen of the night!

JazzReview: Composer/actor/arrranger/multi-facetted musician, on and on it goes. What satisfies you the most out of all these labels stamped on yourself?

Conti: Basically, to me, all the aforementioned fall under the label ‘artist.’ As an artist, I need to feel fulfilled in what I am working on. Each of the labels you mentioned has made me feel fulfilled in one way or another at different stages in my life. I do feel that all intermingle to bring out the kind of music that I create.

JazzReview: As a well-traveled man, you (as well as your new release subject Scheherazade), have so many stories to tell. Can you tell our readers one that profoundly shaped your destiny?

Conti: I think, above all, my family’s story. I am honored to have been born into a family of such cultured background, artistic and strong individuals whom have faced adversity yet continue to be loving... and giving.

JazzReview: Your life at one time was in jeopardy, which changed the shape of things to come for you. Please tell us about that time, the emotions and the force that made you conquer that time.

Conti: I think that when one is near death, nothing else matters. We shed so much in such a short time. It changes us. I know it changed me profoundly. I think that, subconsciously, it completely envelops the music I create.

JazzReview: You state that as an actor you used sound for pulling emotions out for a scene. Music is such an emotional experience, which exhumes memories of the past or a certain time. Now as a musician/composer, what takes you to the place you need to be?

Conti: I get lost in the story, which probably comes from my innate ability to act. Furthermore, I feel like the music takes me and leads me where it wants me to go. To quote an exquisite ABBA lyric: "I let the music speak, leading gently, urging me like a lover." The moments I spend composing are a mixture of magic, self-therapy, passion, neurosis, all rolled into one. Yet, after it is all finished, I hardly remember what was going on during the actual work or how I got to a specific emotional place.

JazzReview: Scheherazade is far different that any of your other two projects. It takes the listener out of their realistic space and into a fantasy. You can even picture yourself sitting by Scheherazade’s side, listening to her tales under the desert sun. Talk about the birth and catalyst of this piece.

Conti: I truly love the way you just put this. For a moment, you took me into that fantasy world just with your words. Scheherazade was a concept that took me over before I knew it had happened. I had made a conscious decision to break away from my more classical sound and into uncharted territories. Before I knew it, the whole album’s concept was very clear to me and I could not look back. Artistically, I knew I was in for a challenge, but that has never stopped me. The fiery eyes behind the veil watched over me through the whole journey. The result: Scheherazade.

JazzReview: How did you approach the arrangement of project?

Conti: Very carefully, and open to anything and everything. I usually immerse myself into every aspect of what my album will be about. I surround myself with music of the genre, books, movies, food and so on. I try to maintain that focus for the journey of the album’s creation. What happens next is usually a surprise for me. I know instinctively what works musically for me and what does not. I set extremely high standards for myself, and work very hard to reach them.

JazzReview: You comment that Scheherazade was an "arduous experience." Why? How would the process compare to the 2006 release of Shadows or the 2007 spin Poeta?

Conti: In part, as I was just mentioning, I am my worst enemy and set standards for myself that are sometimes really high. There is the music that is in my head and then the arduous experience of bringing it down to this reality. I also think something was happening within me during the creation of Poeta, which was showing me that a shift was coming in my creativity. I always feel Poeta was a stepping-stone to Scheherazade and what is coming next. Part of my insatiable drive comes from never wanting to go backwards artistically. While it is always amazing to me when someone else loves my work, I am the one who has to live with it first. I am my worst critic.

JazzReview: "Seven Veils to Midnight" has that signature, sultry feel to its flow. This cut signifies Scheherazade’s acknowledgment and admittance of her plan to ward off her death. The arrangement acuitly generates that story. Describe the path you took on this piece from instrumentation to structure.

Conti: This song, which amazingly has become the favorite of many, became a transition period in Scheherazade’s story. This is the perfect example of how the music will tell me what it wants and I dare not argue. The intensity and passion of the song surrenders to a calm and introspective energy that I had not anticipated early on. Before I knew it, the song had transformed itself like a butterfly and became the basis for another song (Palace Gardens) that follows later in the album. In some ways, I feel we see inside her soul through that second half of the cut.

JazzReview: Of course, the success of Scheherazade’s plan unfolds in the exit cut "Heart Triumphant," for she captures her would-be executioner’s (the king’s) heart. When you laid out this final chapter of the story on the music sheet, was the final score what you envisioned it to be?

Conti: Interestingly, I do not read or write music, so there is not really a music sheet before me other than the one ingrained in my head. This song in particular was composed before all the others and expresses much love for me. The song never worked out for Poeta and I shelved it, virtually undone. I knew, however, that it was meant for this album. It cloaked itself in a completely different disguise and became what you hear now. In some ways, I never quite envision what the album or a particular song will turn out to be because, as I mentioned before, the music will take me wherever it feels it wants to go.

JazzReview: Introduce us to those who helped sculpt this story.

Conti: Then I should go back to my childhood and the magical worlds I used to create for myself. My parents encouraged my artistry. My passion was acting, music and animation. Storytellers of all kinds captured my imagination deeply. I grew up in Argentina during a very dark and difficult time in that country’s history. I am sure being bombarded by this harsh energy only helped me escape further into a magical world of my own. Today, I feel this comes through in my work.

JazzReview: Is there something, whether it is an instrument or additional cuts, which you would have liked to add to this project?

Conti: No. When a new album is ready to be created, it is as if someone has turned on the creative faucet. When the last piece is finished, nothing else comes. No matter how hard I try, the well of creativity goes dry. The music tells me my work is done just as it tells me a new album is to begin.

JazzReview: Now that you listen to the final version, what emotions do you feel are the strongest that come from the piece? What emotions or feeling could have been more prominent?

Conti: I tend to separate myself from my past work, which probably comes from my experience as an actor. We move on rather quickly to the next project. I am very proud of what I have achieved with Scheherazade, but as I started work on my next album, my focus has now shifted to that new adventure. However, I find myself haunted by the album’s amazing success. I know I do not want to repeat myself artistically on the new album, but I feel a lot worked on Scheherazade that I want to hold on to. The emotions and feelings represented in Scheherazade feel perfect for me. What I can say is, expect to find a very similar energy, magic and intensity on my upcoming project as you found in Scheherazade.

JazzReview: What part of the project caused you the most issues and why?

Conti: I think the entire project was heart wrenching for me. I traveled uncharted territories I was not sure I was going to conquer. There was also a release date set for the album before the music was even composed, which added to the stress. I found, however, that I work marvelously under stress and I can conquer whatever uncharted territory I set out to discover. I owe Scheherazade that. I battle many inner issues as I work on a project and fight hard to find a middle ground between what is publicly appealing and my own artistic integrity. With Scheherazade I feel I have achieved that peaceful balance.

JazzReview: Is there a Scheherazade in your life or past?

Conti: I could say there have been several, but hating to disappoint any reader who might imagine something more torrid, I’d have to say my maternal grandmother, who used to tell me many stories as I went to sleep at night.

JazzReview: Let’s get into your off-stage self.

President Obama means to me You know, as an artist I have always held very closely to my belief that my music should speak for me and not the other way around. My political, religious or any other personal views are probably too boring for anyone to read about, so I rather they find that excitement in my work. That said I feel that with each new president there is always a promise of possibilities. In such uncertain times, I try and do my bit by offering people a little escape for 50 plus minutes.

Magic Lamp, One wish name it! Give me unlimited wishes.

Your epiphany I have not yet composed it.

A role you would drop what you’re doing to perform.... Any role that could help changes someone’s life for the better. Music, however, takes every ounce of energy I have. I could not imagine acting right now.

Favorite expletive. ‘Rats!’

I stress greatly over Humanity and the path we have undertaken.

Then cool down by Being alone! I need a lot of alone time to recharge and have since I was a child.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Al Conti
  • Interview Date: 3/1/2009
  • Subtitle: Scheherazade Unveiled
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