Dueling saxophones help make Rick Britto's new album among year's most unique releases


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It is, without a doubt, one of the most original jazz releases of the year. Conversations with Erik & I is a unique experiment, two saxophonists engrossed in discussion, one that is told through the sounds of the instruments. The gentlemen in question are Rick Britto on tenor sax with Erik Van Dam on tenor/alto sax. Together they argue through the outré sonic landscapes created by their playing or sometimes even chill with a laid-back groove. The results are provocative and never predictable, high-I.Q., edgy jazz at its finest.

Britto sat down for an interview to discuss his musical roots and how this revolutionary album was produced.

A: When did you learn how to play the sax?

A: I started playing at 5 years old, first on the clarinet and added saxophone at 9 years old.

Q:: What kind of education did you have in playing the sax?

A: My first teacher and mentor from 5-14 years old, Lionel Soares, was a Boston Conservatory grad and a Big Band alto saxophonist that worked with my great uncle's big band, The Skyliners. Lionel also taught me The Schillinger System of Musical Composition. But I'd have to add one of my most important teachers from the age of 9 to 14 years old was Prof. Jose DaCosta who taught at New England Conservatory for more than 30 years. He really expanded my knowledge of The Schillinger System of Musical Composition and taught me solfege and piano which greatly effected my musical abilities. Later at the Berklee College of Music, I studied saxophone with both Bill Pierce and Joe Viola, who was the head of the sax department. Bill taught me much about jazz performance, and Joe helped me to develop much of my sound and technique I have today.

Q: What is it about the sax that interests you?

A: I play many other instruments, including piano, organ, synths, clarinet, flute, penny whistle and a Yamaha WX5 MIDI Wind Synth but the saxohpone has always been my love in music. Before I ever played since I was a baby, I had seen all my relatives on stage in The Skyliners play jazz music. I always loved the sax even before I could talk. When they gave me first musical instrument, a clarinet, I cried “I wanted a saxophone"! My uncles said to me at 5 years old, “If you play your clarinet well enough we will buy you a sax." I finally got one at the age of 9 and have been playing it ever since.

Q: Are there any tracks on your album that are deeply personal to you? And why?

A: On this recording all the pieces reflect a conversational moment, some conversations are more heated than others, like “Session #3." Others start with more reflective conversations like “Session #9." But I guess both Erik and I feel “Session #6" is one of our favorites from the recording because it is such a feisty conversation.

Q: What was the process like for you?

A: It was a joyous process of communication that challenged us both musically and intellectually to achieve a symbiotic performance of the music.

Q: Who came up with the concept?

A: I came up with idea after sitting down and listening to our first recorded session together. Conceptually music can be an intimate process between two people, just like a conversation. The extension to the concept seemed so natural a choice we just gradually began to expand our performance idea to make this recording a reality.

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