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If you remember ABC TV’s Countdown in the 70s, then you’ll remember Melbourne rockers Taste and their hit single Tickle Your Fancy. You’ll also be pleased to know that the band is well and truly back. The reformed rockers launched a new single and video, I Am God at Melbourne’s Ding Dong Lounge back in March. The band will next release a new album, Life On Earth in late May. The single launch at Ding Dong was an historic occasion as the band featured their original member and globally celebrated drummer, Virgil Donati. However, Virgil is an in-demand session guy in LA these days and the talented Damian Corniola will take on drumming duties for Taste from here on.

TASTE are Ken Murdoch (lead vocals, guitar), Joey Amenta (lead guitar, vocals), Damian Cornolia (drums), Michael Tortoni (bass). Life On Earth is out late May Remastered versions of the band’s classic 70s albums, Tickle Your Fancy and Knights of Love were released in late 2015 and are available on iTunes now.

Ahead of the album launch, Taste’s bass player Michael Tortoni (aka Artistic Director of the Melbourne International Jazz Festival), sat down for a Q&A with us.

What was your first bass?
I actually bought my first guitar from a next door neighbour who became an opera singer. He sold me his old guitar for five dollars when I was eight.  But my first bass was a $20 Canora, which I bought from a second hand furniture shop.  I think it was called Maples. The Canora was terrible, hard to tune and it had a warped neck. What do you expect for $20? I was always fascinated by the bass even though I had the guitar and then the school band needed a bass player. They asked me to play bass, so I got my hands on this really cheap bass and then two years later, I was in what became TASTE. I was 15 and I bought a Fender Precision, which I still own and play on stage.   It’s a classic rock bass with a beautiful sound.  I bought that bass from Frank Corniola, who was working part time at Brashs.  He went on to create the famous Drumtek store in Northcote. I went on to own and run Bennetts Lane, the jazz club and now Frank’s son, Damian is our drummer.  The other bass I use to record with is an 80s headless Steinberger. They came out with the tuning down the bottom of the bass, not at the end of the neck like the Fender does.  But they were great basses, one of the first to have an active pickup and I still use that for mainly for recordings. It’s an incredible studio bass.  It’s far more even. I use the Fender Precision in the studio sometimes but mainly for live work.  In the studio, I often use a French acoustic bass for string parts. I do a lot of bowed work on the double bass and I did the string arrangements on the album, Life on Earth.

Through what amp and why?
I use a Mark Bass amp with Mark Bass cab.  They’re Italian and they somehow get a really great sound for bass. It doubles really well for acoustic bass as well. So it sounds nice for electric and acoustic. Acoustic is much harder to amplify but it works really for both.

Do you use effects at all? If so what?
I don’t use any effects. Straight into the amp, so I just use the amp’s tonal qualities.  I find that effects interfere with my sound. I’m always going for a natural sound and I find effects for a bass, especially live, really make getting a good sound more difficult. I think if the instrument sounds good and you have a good amp and good instrument, plugging straight in is the best result.

Taste at The Toorak Lion
Taste at The Toorak Lion

What’s your latest recording and when will you be back in the studio?
“Life On Earth” is the TASTE album to be released soon.  It was a very organic record really.  It sort of happened like one progressive force. It was an outpouring of music of that moment.  That’s the way we write an album. We don’t sort of sit down and write a song and then wait six months to write another song or two. It happens all at once and each song in a sense inspires the next one.  We’re still to release this current album but we’ve already got more songs in the pipeline, so hopefully not in the too distant future.

Any plans to be back in the studio?  Any other side projects?
Probably next year. I have quite a few jazz projects, which I do in between the TASTE gigs. I’m doing a Billy Holliday show at the moment, and I moonlight as the Artistic Director of the Melbourne International Jazz Festival, which runs this year between the 3rd and 12th of June and I have my two favourite bass players playing in the festival this year, Esperanza Spalding and John Patitucci.

What gigs have you been playing lately?
TASTE gigs on electric bass and jazz gigs on acoustic bass .  The crowds have been great. We’ve done a few at Ding Dong Lounge and the crowds have been amazing.  With Jazz gigs I play at Bennetts Lane.

Most memorable gig?
Of recent times, it would have to be the Ding Dong Lounge 25 March 2016 when Virgil Donati joined us for a few tunes.

Why was it memorable?
TASTE still has all the original members expect for our original drummer, Virgil Donati because he is based in LA. So the last gig we did at Ding Dong Lounge was a great reunion of all the original band members.  We got on stage and just looked at each other. It was a bit surreal but it just felt like home.  It was an incredible experience. For all of us to be there playing after 40 years, and for it all to fall into place so naturally was incredible.  Virgil was really impressed. He said it was like a new band and was surprised how little of the old stuff we were playing as we have so much new material, but it still felt like the old band.  We had three fans driving from Adelaide for this gig! We got some incredible love from the crowd.  It has been filmed so we might be able to release some of that footage.  My most memorable gig in the past was at the Bennetts Lane Jazz club when I owned it, and I was playing and did a solo to a full room and the crowd erupted to ecstatic applause. I looked around and thought, “they’re clapping me, in my own club, a full house applauding me and I thought it can’t get any better. This is Utopia. ”

Worst stage nightmare?
It was a TASTE gig back in the day in some country town like Orange or Dubbo.  The thing that I remember is how horrible it was that a girl got hurt.  A young girl threw herself at the band and broke her leg.  We kept playing and I think the roadie got her off the stage to the stair escape.  When we got off stage, they called an ambulance but that was pretty ugly.  I’m not sure how she broke her leg.  We were playing and it was chaotic. In those days, obviously girls would jump on stage or rush the stage and it was one of those moments and unfortunately, this one hurt herself.

Album that changed your life?
The first TASTE album, “Tickle Your Fancy”.  We were still pretty young. I was the oldest in the band at 17 but still young enough to be driven around and suddenly it came on the radio and that was just an incredible first experience and everything changed from that moment on in terms of my expectations.

What gigs are coming up in the next few months?

TASTE National tour – album launch starting with the Crowbar in Brisbane, Fowlers in Adelaide, Frankie’s Pizzeria in Sydney and the Corner in Melbourne.

A bass tip for the kids?
Learn to improvise over a blues  scale because it’s probably the easiest way to feel freedom of being able to play whatever you want to play over a set chord structure.

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