"Saying that I'm a living music encyclopedia is an exaggeration," stresses Gerardo Frisina when asked about his wealth of music knowledge. I was not in a position to argue–Frisina does not speak English and I was conducting my interview through a translator. Nonetheless, there's no debating Frisina's music smarts; they were the catalyst that led him to launch the Schema label alongside Luciano Cantone, Davide Rosa, and fellow jazz-dance heavyweight Nicola Conte. Frisina's work at Schema has since helped shine the spotlight on the Italian jazz scene while changing the sound of Latin and traditional jazz as we know it.
Inspired by Latin, Brazilian, and African records of the past 60 years, Frisina explains his approach to making music. "I concentrate on these styles to carry out my productions," he says. "The objective is to make the sound contextual and contemporary by the use of determined sound effects. But I keep the application of electronic equipment to a minimum–I think the contribution of real musicians is fundamental to my productions."
It is this unique approach to the jazz sound that makes his latest album, The Latin Kick (Ishtar), so progressive. The first single, "Gods of the Yoruba," has sold well from Amsterdam to San Francisco, appealing to house heads and jazz enthusiasts alike. Originally written by jazz composer Horace Silver, "Gods" gets reworked for the dancefloor with live Afro-bossa drumming and a full horn section–all underscored by Frisina's trademark thumping house beat.
In the 20-plus years that Frisina has been making music, he's released two compilations, three full-lengths, and numerous singles and remixes, but in the last few years things have really kicked into high gear. His remix work for the likes of Sun Ra, Dizzy Gillespie (for the Verve label's Impulsive project), and labelmate Nicola Conte have given him increasing notoriety in nu-jazz and broken beat circles, with tastemakers Gilles Peterson, Danny Krivit, and Jeff Mills playing his tunes. His popularity only looks to increase later this year, when Schema will release Treated Notes, a compilation of Frisina remixes, and the third volume of his Metti Una Bossa a Cenna series.
Not surprisingly, Frisina's talent for combining sounds and rhythms has also led to a healthy international DJ career. But don't expect to hear wildly futurist sounds from this archivist. "I love to mingle music of the moment with music from the past," he says. "But even when choosing new records to play, I select productions that are connected to the past."