A BAND IS BORN,
Spanish musician and composer Tomás Merlo finds his dream trio:
V-M-L, with Jorge Vera and Miguel Lamas
feature by Greg Howard
There's somethings truly exciting about finding the perfect group to perform tyour favorite style of music. Communication between the players is instant and free-flowing, and their enjoyment is contageous and obvious. I know this because right at the time I first met Tomás in 1999, I was discovering my own favorite bandmates in The Netherlands. As a young Stick player attending his first Stick seminar in Leeuwarden, Tomás was in the audience for the first concert of the progressive fusion Greg Howard Band. But this isn't about me, I only bring it up to say how much I share his enthusiasm for his new connection with keyboardist Jorge Vera and drummer Miguel Lamas. V-M-L (Vera-Merlo-Lamas) is all about the musical style most dear to Tomás's heart, '80s jazz fusion, as brought to life by musicians like Allan Holdsworth. It's great to hear a refreshing take on this style emerge in the hands of three such capable instrumentalists.
I met you at the 1999 Stick Seminar in Leeuwarden, Holland. You were a very young Stick player then, and in the interim you have pursued a successful career primarily as a bassist. Now you seem to be on fire with The Stick! What happened to light this blaze? What was the spark? And how does all that bass experience influence your writing and playing?
One year after the 1999 Seminar I started studying at the jazz conservatory of Amsterdam, both electric and double bass, sadly I had to sacrifice playing The Stick because I didnt have enough time to focus on three instruments. After I finished the conservatory I started working as a professional bass player, doing a lot of jazz, touring with pop artists and recording for many people, and continued like that until today.
In the meantime I had a few attempts of coming back to The Stick but I always ended up selling it because I didn´t have time to invest in the instrument. But two years ago I found the Stick I have today and I said to myself, "it's time to do something with it for real." I had this debt with the instrument, so I started taking it to gigs, to the school were I teach etc... and finally last year, in March, I went on a one year world tour with artist Joan Manuel Serrat
and I took it with me. On these tours you have a lot of time for yourself, you spend tons of hours in hotels so it was the perfect setting to practice the instrument, and think what I really want to do with it.
The good thing about coming back to the Stick after so long, almost 20 years, God...!!! is that I´m a fully formed musician now. Because I´m a jazz bassist I have a full understanding of harmony, and this is fundamental in order to play an instrument like the Stick... and of course I have the experience of having played with first class musicians for 20 years in many different styles, learning from other musicians in the end is the best school.
Most Stick players don't play in groups with keyboardists, perhaps because there is already so much sound coming from the instrument. What kinds of opportunities as a Stick player does playing with a great keyboardist like Jorge Vera give you, compared to just a Stick and drums duo, or working with a lead instrument like trumpet or sax?
The main reason I play with other people is because I don't like playing alone ha ha, i'm a jazz player and I love interacting with other players, making music together on the spot, this is for me when magic happens in music, but it's also a challenge with an instrument like the Stick. Of course you can do a lot with it if you want but when you play with other instruments you have to respect each other's space, learn when to shut up, play in the right moment the right things. If you can do that then the magic happens.
I also like to change roles, for example in my tune "Delfos" with V.M.L the keyboard player plays the bass while I solo on the melody side, I could do that myself but changing the colour also adds a new dimension there, the fact you can do that doenst mean you have to do it all the time.
Your In a Hotel Room
solo project was recorded in an unusual way. Can you explain how it came about? and what challenges you found making an album "on the move"?
It all started as a challenge to myself while touring, to force myself practice different things with the instrument, and it ended up as an album, solo and with a few beautiful collaborations. Sometimes a had very little time, maybe only one day in one particular hotel and the idea was to either compose or arrange something in every hotel, so i had to do it, doesnt matter if i had just a few hours, so that was a great challenge.
V-M-L recorded three video's in the studio recently, "Pac Man" is Tomás's favorite.
Your new trio is a very exciting band, and the chemistry between the three of you is obvious. How did you meet Jorge and Miguel, and is this your first collaboration with them? Is there an album coming from this group, and some touring?
I met them almost eight years ago; we play together in many different projects. I always liked playing with them, we always had good chemistry so it was about time to do something together.
Making an album depends on the demand, for now we just recorded a few videos to see how it works, if we feel the need of making an album we´ll do it. We live in difficult times now for selling albums, most of the people listens music in Spotify or Youtube and you end up with boxes of CDs at home, so with this project I prefer to wait and see what happens first. The idea is to start playing around after the summer, now the three of us are very busy touring but from September on is a very good time.
Well, I really look forward to more. The compositions and the playing are really fantastic!
What kind of Stick do you have and in what tuning?
It's a Grand Stick from the 90´s with the Stickup and Classic 6+6 tuning light gauge.
"In a Hotel Room"
Thomas recorded these tracks while on a world tour with singer song writer Joan Manuel Serrat. You can read about his preocess in the interview below... The ten-track record is available as a download on BandCamp
Check out Tomás's version of Jaco Pastorius's "Portrait of Tracy", from his album In a Hotel Room.