Drummer Joe Luckin discusses the formation of Prato, Bell, Luckin trio and their creative approach

Having released their assured debut album Through the Tunnel late last year, Prato, Bell, Luckin trio are poised to advance their spacious sound. Drummer Joe Luckin, bassist Arron Bell and guitarist/composer Diego Prato are each active members of Greater Manchester’s music scene, but allow their music commitments to carry them further afield. You can catch the exciting trio live at Free Jazz on 5th August – the third installment of our free entry series, which began yesterday with another of Joe’s ensembles, Plume, on the bill. Ahead of the show, we caught up with Joe — still buzzing from his performance with Ignition Orchestra at the Barbican for Garage Classical on Saturday — to discuss the formation of the group and his musical favourites. A perfect introduction for those encountering the trio for the first time.

What brought the trio together and what common ground did you share, as friends and musicians?

Joe Luckin: ‘It was probably about six years ago, or so. Diego knew my first drum teacher, Sam Draper, who plays with Henge, The Gypsies of Bohemia and that lot… so he used to play loads of gigs with them back in the day, and it just started from there, at the RNCM. Diego was looking to jam out some ideas for what I think was his masters degree, with a trio, so Sam passed my number on. He knew Arron through teaching composition at Salford [University], so we just got in a room together and started jamming! It went from there and we’ve played intermittently over the past six years. Sometimes a lot, sometimes a little less.’

What music were you bonding over when you first got in the room together?

JL: ‘It was funk, with a jazz crossover. Diego loves groove music — he’s from Venezuela so he’s big into latin music and can play it, as he was brought up listening to it — and he’s a really great funk guitarist. He used to be in The Mouse Outfit when they first started, then I later joined for a few years, so we had common ground in hip-hop and contemporary music, but he also studied jazz and classical guitar, as I’ve, not studied jazz, but played a lot of that sort of music and Arron has done the same. It’s a big contemporary jazz mix, basically.’

When it comes to arranging the material you cover, what’s the criteria? Do you look for particular musical properties or characteristics?

JL: ‘Yes and no. It always follows an ambient, space groove kind of vibe…there’s a nice arrangement we have on the album called Modaji, written by Harvey Mason, it build on this funky, Dave Garibaldi, Tower of Power vibe. Diego has a sound on his guitar: it’s generally reverb, with delay and it’s ambient — he likes that sound — so whenever we do a cover, it always falls into that kind of territory. We do a version of Move on Up by Curtis Mayfield, which is like a Drum ‘n’ Bassy vibe but again, with the spacey, ambient stuff. So it’s basically covers that fit into that sort of world. John Schofield, we do some stuff like that, some standards that we throw funk and reggae into as well.’

Compositionally, do you work as a unit, writing together in the same room, or write remotely?

JL: ‘Diego writes pretty much all of the original music, then he’ll bring a head [theme or prominent section of a composition] or a lead sheet and we’ll work through it in the room. But Diego always comes up with the seed of each idea, generally. We have written in the room before, we’ve got some stuff — some demos we did ages ago — that we’re going to reignite, as we’ve got some more gigs coming up and now Diego has finished his PhD, we’ll have some time to do some stuff! Diego is the main composer. He studied and teaches it, so that’s his bag really!’

Do the compositions change much when you’re in the room, feeling them out?

JL: ‘It depends, I reckon earlier on, they wouldn’t have changed that much. Now we’re older, we have our own vibe and sound that would definitely change the original idea that was brought in. Back in the day, Diego was older than us and had more experience, so he was guiding us through different styles and different compositional things. But now — because we’d not released music in a couple of years but the album is finished and recently released —  I suspect it’ll be very different, which is nice.’

Have you ever listened to a record and thought that it might be one you revisit for the rest of your life?

JL: “I have songs that I listen to and think ‘I’ll listen to that for the rest of my life.’ I’m a big soul and Motown fan, so there are certain tunes that I always, always, listen to. In the car, when I’m driving I’m always listening to music in the car. Album wise, there are a couple, but it’s individual songs – I like big mixtures and picking things out of albums as opposed to whole records. There are a few records that I do listen to start to finish: Anderson .Paak’s most recent album, I listen to that a lot. Bill Evans’ Portrait in Jazz album is one I listen to start to finish quite a lot. Other than that, mostly individual tunes.”

Individually and with the trio, what are your plans for the rest of this year and looking beyond?

JL: ‘Trio wise, we have gigs at Matt & Phreds every couple of months, so that keeps us ticking over. We’ve got a couple of other gigs booked in arts centres in December, which is really nice. We’re gonna write, which again is going to be fun to do now we’ve got more time. Individually, Diego has just got married, finished his PhD and is gigging loads, he teaches full-time at Salford as well. I’m doing all sorts of stuff: Plume, the Garage project I did with UKG on Saturday, that’s ongoing… generally as a working musician, you never know what you’re going to be doing in six months time, which is pretty exciting. We could be doing one thing one week and the next week, be in another part of the world doing something by chance. So, we’ll see!’

Photo: Prato, Bell, Luckin Trio Facebook page