I’m riding in the back of a van after being picked up from the Dublin airport. Federico Malaman sits in the seat in front of me—driver on the right, bassist on the left. We’re on our way to teach at a workshop in Sligo, Ireland. Cars whiz past on what seems to me to be the wrong side of the road. Turn signal. Click, click, click … with every click, Federico starts to beat-box a wild rhythm. He’s on the beat … no, the backbeat … no, wait, he’s flipping the time … 16th-notes … I think he’s in 7/8. Federico is turning the turn signal into the hippest beat I’ve heard in recent memory. This guy’s deep.
I already know Malaman from some of his videos: in duo with Victor Wooten at NAMM, in duo with Henrik Linder of Dirty Loops, holding down the funk with Italian popster Mario Biondi, and on his regular Facebook video blasts. He’s a technical funk wizard, yet I hear the roots of classical training in his playing.
Malaman began his career on violin, and then studied double bass at a conservatory in Italy. Later he switched to bass guitar and made a high-profile mark as the musical director of the Italian Dancing With the Stars. In between his touring and recording work with Mario Biondi, Malaman is bringing out two solo projects simultaneously. I grabbed the chance during our week together to ask him a few questions about his roots, his online bass school, and his two new albums, Touché and Sunday Morning.
Tell me about your new project with the trio MalaFede.
There’s already bona fide—now there’s MalaFede. I took my last name and first name and jumbled them to create our new trio name. The core of the trio is Ricky Quagliato on drums and Riccardo Bertuzzi on guitar. This is real fusion music, written by Riccardo, Ricky, and myself. We also feature some guests: Roberto Manzin and Donald Hayes on saxophones, Francesco Signorini on keyboards, and finally Serena Brancale, who is a famous Italian singer.
You do two covers on the MalaFede Touché album: “Street Life” and “Fred.” It’s brave to slap the melody of an Allan Holdsworth tune on the bass.
I love playing the Holdsworth line on “Fred.” I had to have at least one slap bass solo on the album.
You’re simultaneously bringing out a new album with your jazz group Timeline.
Timeline is a jazzy trio with a mix of modal jazz. Sunday Morning features drummer Maxx Furian and pianist Alberto Bonacasa, along with special guests. This is more of my jazz personality, and the MalaFede Trio is more funky.
How do bassists get involved in your online school?
In the first four months, we’ve picked up almost 10,000 subscribers. For now, there is a major-scale course, a pentatonic course, and a slap course. I want to eventually offer more courses and let students pick and choose a complete individual program. Anyone can sign up. I do the lessons in Italian, my native language, but there are English subtitles.
You’re currently playing with Mario Biondi, one of the hottest European pop singers. How do you balance touring with a name act and also keeping your other projects going?
I’ve always loved Mario Biondi’s music, even before I joined his band. He’s one of the greatest artists in Italy, and I can be happy and stretch out inside his band. It’s not jazz, but it’s not pure pop; it’s a mix. I know my schedule with Mario, so I can plan other projects around his concerts and tours.
If you play with only one artist for your whole life, I think you sacrifice something. I like to be free to decide what I want to do in music. It’s not an ego thing; it’s only to be able to do different things. For example, Nathan East just recently did his first solo album after all these years of being a sideman.
Who are some of your main influences?
I’ve been a huge fan of Hadrien Feraud for years. I met him at NAMM in 2009, and he gave me a completely new perspective about how to play the electric bass. Since then, Hadrien and I have talked about doing a two-bass album together. He has given me inspiration like John Patitucci gave me when I was 14 or so. At the beginning, I wasn’t a huge fan of Jaco; I think I understood that I wasn’t ready for it then. You have to study him to get the meaning and genius of Jaco.
A lot of people tell me I’m an inspiration for them, and I smile every time. It makes me happy, but I feel like my inspirations are the true greats—players like Marcus Miller, Ray Brown, and Scott LaFaro. One of my favorite double bass players is Marco Panascia, the Italian double bass player who lives in New York.
I feel like a country boy from a small town—Noventa Vicentina, Italy. I still feel exactly like a young kid who is learning from everyone. So, when I get asked, “Who’s your favorite?”—I can’t answer. Everyone is my favorite. Music is not one thing only.
Example 1 shows Federico Malaman’s line on his composition “Ma Va in Five,” from Sunday Morning, with his straightahead jazz group Timeline. Play the 16th-notes with a connected flow. Make sure you feel the 16th-rest on beat one of bars 2 and 4. Example 2 comes from Malaman’s album Touché with his MalaFede trio. “Fred” is a guitaristic composition by Allan Holdsworth, which Malaman funked up with maximum bass power. Also check out Malaman’s amazing playing in the live video of “Fred” [see Connect].
Timeline, Sunday Morning [2016, Setticlavio Edizioni]; MalaFede, Touché [2016, Setticlavio Edizioni]
Basses Laurus & Mayones basses
Rig Eich Amps
Strings IQS Strings