About Gerardo Frisina
Gerardo Frisina is one of the most important artists on the Italian music scene. In addition to being a celebrated best-selling recording artist, he is a producer, composer, arranger, DJ, and first-call remix engineer/producer. Frisina is also A&R director for the Italian label and distributor Ishtar. With its owners and producer/musician Nicola Conte, Frisina resurrected the legendary Schema label (for which he records) and created its reissue imprint, Rearward. Frisina's music seamlessly fuses jazz, Brazilian sounds, and Afro-Cuban music with club music's modern production techniques. His long-held goal is to return jazz to its original place as dance music. In addition to dozens of 12" releases that began with 1997's dancefloor smash "Neos" in 1997, early albums such as 2001's Ad Lib and 2005's The Latin Kick mixed live-in-studio jazz musicians with layers of electronic elements and samples. Frisina issued Note Book: A Journey in Sound in 2007 to global acclaim. It included his Impulse!-commissioned remix of the Dizzy Gillespie standard "Swing Low, Sweet Cadillac," but also remixes of tunes by Sun Ra, Combo Moderna, Toco, and his own singles. 2010's Join the Dance featured an octet on a series of Frisina compositions and covers that almost entirely eschewed electronics. While 2014's Movement restored the balance of electronics and live jazz, 2017's Blue Latin and Rhythmic Conversation wove them so tightly inside the live music, they were all but indistinguishable from one another.
Frisina was born and raised in Milan, and from age eight, he was an avid record collector. Influenced initially by his parents' love of jazz, bossa nova, samba, Afro-Cuban music, and soundtracks, he was seduced by the exotic sounds on library recordings. Initially he sought only to become a record producer as well as a club DJ. To that end, Frisina began making early mixes of bossa and Latin jazz tunes, and working early club gigs, wedding those sounds to sampled beats and loops. He also started hanging around recording studios. He eventually made the acquaintance of the ambitious Ishtar founders Luciano Cantone and Davide Rosa. After long discussions with Nicola Conte about the direction of the label and distribution house -- which included resurrecting Schema and creating a reissue label for its storied catalog (Rearward) -- Frisina was hired as a house producer for 1997's Up! The Psycho Mellow, an exotica-tinged set of jazz, library sound, and soundtrack cues. It featured catalog material from Expo 80, Paris Studio Group, the Hawksworth Big Band and Strings, and Nico Fidenco. Further, he produced the first reissues for Rearward including albums by Cabildo's Three, Johnny Griffin, the Kenny Clarke & Francy Boland Sextet, and the Clarke Boland Big Band. In 1997, Frisina issued his debut 12", "Neos." Its music stemmed from his desire to repurpose works of legacy artists from the Latin/Brazilian and jazz continuums for dance music audiences.
Frisina's production work for Ishtar continued, but he was also DJing in Milan and across Italy and France. In 2001, he released the international club smash "Descarga," which charted in Europe, Asia, and even the U.S, wedding salsa and samba to deep house. He followed a few months later with "Saeta" before releasing Ad Lib, his debut long-player from Schema. The full-length added Brazilian influences from bossa, samba, and forro, as well as West African Candomblé, to an already heady meld of Latin jazz and electronic dancefloor funk. After spending 2002 working on the Space Program Modern compilation and collaborating on the track "Mambo de los Dandies" for Conte's Jet Sounds Revisited, Frisina issued his sophomore full-length, Hi Note, in 2003; it set radio stations from the U.K. to Tokyo on fire and drew the attention of remix producers across the globe. That same year, he and Conte issued the EP Two Unreleased Gems from the Freedom Jazz Dance Project.
In 2004, he issued the seminal Gerardo Frisina Blends Sabu Martinez & Sahib Shihab 12" that showcased the full breadth of his production style and prefaced his next long-player, 2005's The Latin Kick (its title borrowed from a 1972 Cal Tjader outing). The set offered his iconic treatments of Horace Silver's "The Gods of the Yoruba (Belem)"/"Cohete" and Freddie Hubbard's "The 7th Day" alongside the originals "Latin Seeds" and "African Seeds" from the Sabu Martinez and Sahib Shihab EP. The record was such a hit, Impulse Records hired the producer to remix Dizzy Gillespie's "Swing Low, Sweet Cadillac" for its 2005 Impulsive! Revolutionary Jazz Reworked compilation. The label also singled it out for the promo sampler alongside RZA's remix of Charles Mingus' "II Bs."
In 2007, Frisina issued Note Book: A Journey in Sound, a compilation of remixes and unreleased tracks from the previous three years. Highlights included his redo of Sun Ra's "Stardust from Tomorrow," Idea 6's "Windy Coast," and his own "Tokyo Dream." Over the next two years, Frisina spent his time collecting musicians and songs for a new recording. He issued two Brazilian-themed 12" EPs in "Donke de Batucadas" and "Samba Skindim," before the double-length Join the Dance appeared from Schema. The full-length featured Frisina's arrangements of ten originals and covers performed by a live-in-studio jazz octet with effects from Paolo Fedreghini. In addition to his originals, the recording also included as its single a reenvisioned cover of Neil Ardley's "Will You Walk a Little Faster?" sung by British jazz vocalist Norma Winstone, as well as a Brazilian-flavored reading of Duke Ellington's "I'm Gonna Go Fishin'" sung by Francesca Sortino. Join the Dance registered on digital charts from Rome to Rio and from Kyoto to Los Angeles.
Over the next couple of years, Frisina focused on performing live as both a DJ and a bandleader; he toured Europe and Asia before returning to the recording studio for 2014's Movement. The savvy club-flavored set refocused Frisina's sound on the intensity of the dance floor in a weave of Afro-Cuban jazz, forro, psychedelic samba, and soul jazz filtered through swinging house, neo-electro, and dub. The set reached the Top Ten on the Italian charts and its tracks were sampled by other producers worldwide. After producing a pair of 12" EPs in 2015 -- Presents Liviana Ferri and Cubafro, "Ye Maya E"/"Confiance à la Musique" and his own Olympia EP -- Frisina delivered Blue Latin in 2017 to stellar reviews. He wrote five of its six tracks; its only cover was a radically rearranged read of João Donato's classic "Naquela Base." Frisina recontextualized the piano melody and transposed it for the entire horn section. The outing was so seamless in presentation, it was initially difficult to discern where organic instrumentation ended and electronic production began.
That same year, Schema issued his Modern Latin Jazz compilation and Rhythmic Conversations, a set of Latin grooves set to post-bop and house charts, followed by world tours. In 2019, Frisina previewed an Afro-centric direction on the Marombo EP and also issued the collaborative Gerardo Frisina Meets Toco, "Tà Na Hora"/"Craque" EP. He followed in 2020 with the double-length Moving Ahead. It featured a collection of Afro-centric tunes Frisina penned and arranged for a touring nonet that included Gambian kora player and vocalist, Haruna Kuyateh. ~ Thom Jurek