Photos provided by artist
When it comes to bass virtuosos, there’s something in the water in Brazil. Watching players like Michael Pipoquinha, Munir Hossn, Thiago Espirito Santo, Junior Braguinha, Fernando Rosa, and the late, great Nico Assumpção tear through finger-busting passages with confidence and humor can be an ear-opening experience, and it’s a shock to learn that there are so many more players like them.
The latest extraordinary musician to boost Brazil’s profile by balancing sensitivity and jaw-dropping bass chops is Filipe Moreno, who coaxes a universe of sounds from his custom Fodera and Schönitz signature 6-strings. The Salvador native, not yet 30, has already released two ensemble albums (Meu Tabuleiro, from 2015, and Memórias, released in 2019) and an assured, self-titled 2017 solo album on electric bass. Like his previous releases, last year’s Desejo Divino is a gorgeously produced showcase for his compositions and dazzling technique, this time through the lens of his Schönitz acoustic bass guitar. We asked him about his background, his instruments, and what makes Brazilian bass players special.
How did you begin your relationship with music?
I began playing keyboards at the age of seven, but there was music in my house all the time. Three generations of my family are musicians, all very good and intuitive. I picked up electric bass at the age of 13 and moved from Bahia to São Paulo to study and work with music at 18.
Did playing piano at such a young age help you develop your relationship to harmony?
Possibly, but I think I’ve always had a musical ear for distributing frequencies and assembling chords. My father played choro and bossa nova, so my ear was already trained before I played an instrument.
Do you play double bass?
A little bit, but it’s not the instrument I like to play most when it comes to low frequencies.
Which musicians made you want to get serious about music?
The list is long, but here are some names: [bassists] Luciano Calazans, Ney Conceição, and Ivan Bastos, as well as [guitarist] Yamandu Costa.
Was there a point when you decided to focus mainly on 6-string?
I was about 21 years old when I knew I wanted to explore the universe of the six-string bass, due to the harmony, melody, and range of sounds.
What inspired you to do a second album of solo bass compositions?
It came naturally, like every album I make that closes a cycle of compositions.
What is the significance of the album art for Desejo Divino?
It’s about the human need to evolve. In my case, it’s the search for true art without ego, my efforts to touch the real divine and let it flow. The cover art, made by the artist Eduardo Cabuí, alludes to Michelangelo and the Sistine Chapel.
How did you meet luthier Jens Schonitz, and what do you love about your signature Mummel bass?
I met Jens in 2020. I was always researching acoustic basses, but nothing suited me. When I got to know Jens’ work over the internet, I just thought it was incredible how he combined beauty and sound. It was everything I was looking for. The Mummel Filipe Moreno signature model was based on the initial model that Jens already had; we added sound peculiarities and personal design. I like everything about it, from the deep, crisp sound to the artwork that meets the eye.
What do you say to musicians who wonder why you don’t just play acoustic guitar instead of 6-string bass?
They are completely different instruments and they work at different frequencies, but that goes without saying. The way I play the chords might make it sound like a guitar, but I never studied classical guitar; when I arrange and compose, I hear pianos and orchestras. When people tell me that I sound good playing an instrument that wasn’t designed for that, I accept the compliment.
Tell us a little about your composing process.
I don’t have rules. I just practice my instrument, think of melodies, and feel the chords. I never formally studied composition, so it’s all natural.
Do you enjoy playing and composing solo bass more than working with ensembles?
I just like to play. I love playing with other musicians, but it needs to be good. Playing solo requires a genuine delivery and a vulnerability that I really like. One way or another, I always end up learning.
How did you choose the materials for your Fodera?
I had a particular sound, velvety and strong, in mind, so they gave me the combination of woods that I liked.
Do you choose the Mummel mostly for solo situations and the Fodera for ensemble playing?
Each instrument works in both situations. The choices are based on whether I’m asked to bring an acoustic and electric instrument, but the way of making music is always the same.
Will you be doing more with your trio of Sam Watts on piano and Marius Rodrigues on drums?
That’s on my schedule! They are amazing musicians, and I’ve learned a lot from them. Besides the live videos, we recorded the single “Minha Criança.”
What do you think sets Brazilian bass players apart?
I think that the influence of so many people in the formation of Brazil inspires a variety of styles that allow for a lot of creativity and musical understanding. Brazilian bass players are prepared to play any style, and the bass being in the foreground never hurts the music, either.
Do you give lessons? If so, what do you teach?
Yes, I teach. I teach my vision of music only. There are countless music teachers with didactics to teach, but I can only teach what I learned from experiences that reflect the way I play.
What do you find most important to practice?
Listen and try to practice understanding common sense in music. Try to imitate something good.
How would you express the importance of good technique to a beginner or intermediate bass player?
Every technique needs to accompany musicality, and they must go hand in hand.
What advice do you have for bass players who want to take harmony and chordal playing to the next level?
I listen to the frequency distribution and sound mass in orchestral music to learn how to make my chords and harmony sound beautiful and full.
What does the future look like?
On the next album, I’m thinking of having both ensemble playing and solo pieces, but with a little more modernity. I intend to do something next year.
Do you have any plans to visit the U.S.?
When I went to get my Fodera in Brooklyn, I loved the energy of NYC. I want to come back soon to play!