Interview, USA and Beyond

Brad Mehldau tour – Mark Baynes interview

Deutsch: Brad Mehldau selbst fotografiert am 2...
Brad Mehldau

Hi Mark,

 I understand that you were lucky enough to attend one of the recent Brad Mehldau/ Joshua Redman duo Concerts in Australia. Even better you were able to meet them afterwards and so I would love to know something about both concert and meeting. Your impressions will go some way towards assuaging the feelings of jealousy we are all experiencing.

The Concert:

JF. Which of the three Australian concerts did you attend?

MB. I saw both Sydney concerts, one was at the brand new concert hall in Chatswood (North Shore) on the 19th January and the other was at the City Recital Hall, Angel Place on the 20th January.

JF. I am unfamiliar with the venues, so how was the sound quality and how were the sight lines for you?

MB. The Chatswood venue was much better. I noticed immediately that the piano sound was more acoustic sounding at that venue. I spoke to Brad about that, it turns at the sound engineer was forced to use more amplification at the City Recital Hall as the natural acoustics were unsuitable for this kind of performance, so consequently the piano sounded more amplified and forced.

JF. Are you also able to give me an idea of their set list?

MB. Yes, Brad and Joshua played 2 completely different sets. However each night began with a composition of Brad’s, then a composition of Joshua’s, then a Monk tune. They told me later that this was coincidental.

Concert 1 – Chatswood The Falcon Will Fly Again (Mehldau), Note to Self (Redman), In Walked Bud (Monk), Final Hour, Sanctus, My Old Flame, Anthropology, Hey Joe, Encore??

Concert 2 – City Recital Hall Always August (Mehldau), Highcourt Jig (Redman), Monks Dream (Monk), Unknown, Mels Mode(?) The Nearness of You, Unknown, Encore??

JF. What numbers were the standouts for you?

MB. At the Chatswood concert I loved their version of Hey Joe, Mehldau played a superb contrapuntal solo, it was a great crowd pleaser . Also the opening tune, ‘The Falcon Will Fly Again’ was incredible, Redman’s fluency with this tune was outstanding, they really seemed to be on the same harmonic page together. It was interesting hearing Mehldau improvise over rhythm changes during Anthropology, I have heard him talk about the importance of not sounding clichéd when soloing over rhythm changes and to me I really felt like he was constantly searching for originality during this performance, it was extremely effective and refreshing. At the City Recital Hall my favourite track was the ballad ‘The Nearness of You’. I am particularly fond of the way that Mehldau performs ballads, this piece contained all of the things I love about his ballad playing e.g. his independent phrasing, use of the piano’s range and touch were all simply wonderful.

JF. These musicians have played together before and we have heard them recently on Mehldau’s ‘Highway Rider’ and on a good number of Joshua Redman albums (plus a Kurt Rosenwinkel album).   Did you get the sense that they were especially musically attuned to each other or were they just two top-rated professionals doing what they do?

MB. Yes they were definitely in tune with each other rhythmically harmonically and conceptually; this was obvious from the first track. This duo has been performing together for quite some time. Brad told me that they have so much repertoire that they can enjoy a great deal of time without repeating any tunes because they have been playing together as a duo for so long now. Interestingly enough however, the style of the duo was vastly different from one night to the next. Mehldau definitely led the Chatswood concert in many ways, slightly overshadowing Redman balance wise, he played many intense solos that were often linear in texture rather than chordal. This is a generalisation of course but it conveys the idea. The City concert was more balanced, Redman played more soprano as opposed to tenor and there was more subtle interplay between the two masters. Mehldau played with colour and texture much like some of his solo work (Live in Marciac) rather than employing a linear concept. Words that come to mind are ‘soundscape’; ‘explorative’, ‘joyful’ and it seemed to be a more relaxed duo performance. Both concerts were spellbinding however, just very different. I spoke to Brad about his concept, he talked about the ‘cerebral’ process found in improvisation and described how he likes to visualise that part of his playing as being kept behind a virtual ‘curtain’ at the back of his head, always present but just hidden from view. He then went on to talk about how sometimes that this cerebral process is more prominent on some nights than others. Brad told me that this was ok, suggesting his acceptance to the fluid process of improvisation and the humanity contained within.

JF. Regarding the hang; how did you manage to get invited to meet them after the gig? I can only imagine your anticipation in the days prior to that.

MB. I have been in contact with Brad for several years now via email.   He brought his trio to the Wellington Jazz festival and I bumped into him (literally) very briefly afterwards.   He kindly agreed to answer some questions to help me with my studies.  He was later kind enough to put my name on the guest list for both nights at these recent concerts but this won’t be the last time I hear him play this year.  I am playing with King Kapisi at the Babel festival (March 31st) in Marseille, France.  I will be flying to Europe a few days before the gig so that I can hear his trio play 3 times and one solo concert.   Brad has agreed for a hang during that time too; I am very much looking forward to it as I find him to be an honest and very human person. That tour will be on – March 22nd, 2012 Bimhuis Amsterdam (Netherlands),  March 23rd, 2012 Bimhuis Amsterdam (Netherlands),  March 24th, 2012 Bimhuis Amsterdam (Netherlands) [*solo], March 25th, 2012 International Bergamo Jazz Festival Bergamo, ITALY.

JF. Tell me about what you or others asked them and how they answered or what they spoke about.

MB. After the show Brad invited my friend and I to join them both for dinner. I found both Joshua and Brad to be down to earth people who just wanted to hang out after their gig like any other working musician.

JF. Did you gain any musical or other insights from the exchanges?

MB. The intensity in which I was able to listen to both of the concerts has stayed with me since last month and I try to emulate the integrity and thoughtfulness that both players possess in my regular gigs. Since those concerts I have made a list of questions that I will ask Brad when I see him next, so as to better my understanding of his musical concept. Brad mentioned the necessity of finding an original voice in jazz.  After studying the greats this may be the most important thing.  I see originality and full emotional connectivity as being important future goals.

Marks Bio:

Mark Baynes is a British born pianist. He has performed for 15 years as an international artist playing for a long list of clients ranging from the BBC and Auckland Philharmonia plus many of New Zealand’s best-known Artists.                 

 Mark leads a piano trio called ‘The Ironic Trio, their latest release is an all original album entitled ‘In Song’ with Jason Orme (drums) and Aaron Coddel (bass). This has cross over appeal. In 2009 the Ironic Trio recorded an EP entitled ‘In Colour’ which has a more traditional jazz flavour.

Mark is a university tutor / lecturer at Auckland University and Massey University (New Zealand School of Music). In 2008 Mark was awarded the Ariadne Danilow Music prize (Victoria University of Wellington) and the Sir Alan Stewart Postgraduate Scholarship (Massey University) enabling him to pursue further study. Mark now holds an MMus in jazz performance (1st Class Honours) and is currently studying towards his DMA (Doctor of Musical Arts) in jazz performance. Marks DMA topic is entitled ‘Brad Mehldau’s stylistic innovations and their implications for jazz piano performance’.

Advertisements
Beyond category, Concerts - visiting Musicians, Fusion & World, Interview

Natalia Mann interview

Hi Natalia,

I would like to thank you for agreeing to this written interview as I know how busy you are.   This will serve as an addenda to the post on your album ‘Pacif.ist‘ and give context to the Pacifica/Turkish connection.  Above all it will provide an insight into the charts and your choice of ancient and modern instruments. (read in conjunction with previous blog)
Q. Can you tell me a little about the harp you played at the launch?     It seemed smaller like the Celtic harp and wonderfully ornate.  Was that the one that you played on the recording?
Hi John.
 The harp I played at the launch is a nylon strung harp made by Andrew Thom in Tasmania.  It is a standard size for larger celtic harps – 36 strings –  though they can come in any size.  The ornamentation is actually quite industrial – a silver aluminium frame with black dots, and some subtle functional wooden detail. It has a carbon fiber soundboard and an aluminium soundbox covered with leather. But the shape of the arch and column itself is amazingly organic, comparable to dripping glass, with a koru curl.  The “Holden Red” colour makes it quite sexy, like a stiletto.
I played this harp on one piece on the album – Time.  Although most of the pieces were written on lever harp, when it came to recording I preferred to use the concert harp – the sound is richer and deeper.  I used the lever harp on Time because the composition includes string bends that are a sounds you get particularly with levers.  For the rest of the recordings I used my Lyon & Healy Style 23 Concert Grand (a big classic ornate wooden harp like those you see in the orchestra).
Q. Is some of that music improvised or were you following a score (or Jazz chart)?
There is improvisation in all of the pieces except for Interlude for Grozda, which I wrote out very quickly one day and I played that from the notes because I really liked them.  Usually I make a kind of jazz chart with melody, and we go from there.  Generally my aim is to improvise, so we’ll play the first round from the sheet and then expand on the ideas after that.  I love the way Aksam Duasiturned out because there’s so much improvisation in it.  It had one of the most minimal charts.   Greenstones is a piece that is usually ‘set’, ie, I usually play pretty much the same thing every time. In this version on the album, there was an extra melody chasing me all the way to the studio that day.  It wanted to be included in the recording. So when I got there, I tried to make room for the extra phrase.  It resulted in an improvised introduction of 2 or 3 minutes which I think worked very nicely with Richard NunnsTaonga Puoro.
I love improvising, and if I’m not improvising, I don’t mind making mistakes so that I have to improvise my way out of them.  Even if I’m playing the set tune, it’s still got to feel like an improvisation.  That’s the good music.  That’s what I’m chasing.
Q. Were those compositions originals or created out of traditional motifs?
That begs the question ‘Is there such a thing as a completely original work’?  I try to keep things as original as possible.  I try to let the music tell me how it goes rather than the other way around.
The only piece in which I really used a particular template is the first part of Akşam Duasi (Evening Prayer).  That melody came about one day when Izzet and I were looking at a traditional Turkish rhythm called Hafif which is a single bar of 32 counts.  You say “Dum tek tek, Dum tek tek, Du-um te-ka du-um tek tek-a…”  like this.  I made up a melody to help me remember the rhythm, we liked it and it became one of our tunes.  The second half of that piece came about when we were having a lukewarm jam one afternoon and the ezan (call to prayer) began. Suddenly the instruments got hot and took off as if on their own accord, jamming along with the ezan.  It’s simple and it feels good – familiar but from where?
Certainly in my early compositions, I used things that were ‘evocative’ for me, colours and feels from genres I’m familiar with. Greenstones has obvious Celtic influences, but begins with what for me is a bassy Polynesian rowing rhythm.  I recall now that it’s melody was influenced by speech and the motivic nature of the Kanun (Turkish zither).  As I got more comfortable with composing, I became more excited by melodic or harmonic movements that would surprise me.  These days I spend more time trying to figure out what it is that I wrote.
Q. The quality of the percussion work was extraordinary and I gather that your husband is the drummer.   How many percussion instruments were used apart from a normal drum kit.
Yes, Izzet Kizil is an extraordinary percussionist, and is my husband, and is a big influence on my work.  He has a very advanced, distinctive, intuitive personal style.  In fact he is not really a drummer, even though he played kit on these recordings.  He specialises in Middle Eastern hand percussions.  His main instrument is the Turkish Darbuka.  The other instruments he used were Turkish Bendir (a frame drum similar to the Irish Bodhran, which he plays with hands and brushes),  Daf, a Kurdish and Persian frame drum like the bendir but with dangling rings on the inside of the drum which makes the thunder sound that I love.  You can hear him play Kanjira (a small hand-held Indian drum with one zil) and Kup or Gattam (Indian clay pot) on Uc Adim.  He also plays a number of small effects percussions like clusters of seeds and bells.  He sets himself up a little kit made of the above instruments and a small snare and cymbals, which he plays with hands, brushes and sticks.  In Butterfly Effect he also plays percussion with his voice and fingers hitting his mouth and throat.
There is another drummer on the album and that is Riki Gooch.  Because Izzet isn’t a regular drummer, Riki noticed that some of the grooves could use some firmer ‘laying down’, (Gul Cayi, Sunshine Sister, Uc Adim), and he added in some very sensitive cymbal and highhat to complement what Izzet had already done.  Riki and Izzet met in Wellington, spent time and played together, so it was a nice vibe rhythm section even though the recordings happened on either side of the globe.
Q. Is there any connection between your music and the Sufi musical tradition.    Many Jazz groups in southern Europe now use an Oud (Italy especially) and some extraordinary Sufi trained musicians like Dhafer Youseff are having an impact.   I have seen him perform twice and it was a profound musical experience.
I have been very influenced by the sounds of Sufi music and musicians in Turkey, primarily the guitarist Erkan Ogur, and his albumsFuad and  Hiç, the title of which is a Sufi concept meaning ‘anything and nothing’.  In fact Mevlana or Rumi, the father of Sufism, was based in the town of Konya in southern Turkey during his enlightenment period with the philosopher Şemş.  Today Konya is called ‘the kitchen’ of pure Turkish classical music particularly because it is connected strongly with the study of Mevlana.  When I first came to Istanbul, I played mainly with Turkish classical musicians in Sufistic concerts. I will add here that the reason I was very attracted to Turkish music was not only for it’s beauty, but also the fact that it is an artform which melds improvisation with the written note. Recently I performed repertoire from the Sufi composer Yunus Emre with a singer at a Mystical Music Festival.  At that performance I was encouraged to improvise deeply and generously, because this is one of the expressions of union with the divine.
Izzet comes from a Sufistic tradition – his father played percussion for religious reasons. Sufism is a liberal and mystical branch of Islam. Living in an Islamic country with lots of philosophical artists around, Sufism is an underlying feeling.  I think it has been entwined in the development of Turkish music over the centuries, recognisable in the sense of expansive space and melodies of emotional longing for the divine.  I work towards deepening this kind of energy in my music.
Q. Is there a strong Jazz community in Turkey?
Yes there is. It’s relatively small but dedicated.  There’s a club in Istanbul called Nardis which is a dedicated seven night quality jazz place where lots of great Turkish musicians play.   Izzet plays for a group called “Ilhan Erşahin’s Istanbul Sessions” which is a New York-Istanbul jazz triphop outfit which is very popular.  A lot of international jazz artists tour through Istanbul. There are lots of great Jazz festivals going on, musicians coming over from Europe and the states.
Q. I understand that you were born in New Zealand and are of Samoan descent.  Is that correct?   Is there a Pacific influence in your music?
I was born and grew up in Wellington, witha seven stint in Los Angeles in my childhood. My mother is Samoan and my father is Australian – Scottish English descent.  The album is entitled Pasif.ist because I think of it as Istanbul through a Pasifikan’s experience.  The music is my response to the local environment as someone who is from ‘somewhere else’ and far away.  This is the manner of the Pacific influence in my music.  It is also in the concept of feeling the vibe of the environment and being in harmony with it.  Taonga Puoro is the ultimate example of this in my opinion.  If I’m in Aotearoa with a harp, I’m inclined to play clean air music with intervals inspired by tui calls. In the Pacific Islands I’m inspired by the warmth and rhythms of the water and trees.  In fact, these experiences are my references.  The antipodes are fierce with nature.  So moving into the densely populated, polluted, urban environment and foreign soundscape of Istanbul, I both absorbed the experience and reacted to it.
Some things that are particularly Pacific to me are the introduction of Migration, inspired by bird calls and contemporary NZ classical music.  Greenstones is another one.  Seeing the social-political situation between Kurdish and Turkish communities here, it made me think about Maori and the other communities which have journeyed to Aotearoa.  In that piece I always imagine the West Coast of NZ, clear starry skies and cold air. Sunshine Sister (my homesick song) is a sunny island tune about laughing and joy, as is the second part of Aksam Duasi.  Like that, the influence weaves its way through the music.
One of the reasons I started writing tunes here was to find a middle ground where I could communicate better with my Turkish musician friends. One time at a first gig, I said to the band, “let’s just jam this one on a dub groove.”  Well, I started, the bass player came in with something slightly different, the drummer joined with something different again, the violinist changed it more and by the time it got to the second tabla player, I had no idea what we were playing, but it wasn’t any kind of dub that I recognised.  There were suddenly all these alien rhythms my ears were trying to process. It was pretty funny.  So I figured out that we all have different vocabularies according to our experiences. I wrote music that mixed my perspective with a local vibe – where there weren’t too many preset rules and everyone could bring their own interpretations.
Q How many strings on the violin like instrument?  It sounds similar to the Chinese Erhu.
The violin like instrument is the Classic Kemençe (keh-men-cheh) played by Sercan Halili.  It has a three string and a four string version, and in Time, Sercan plays an Alto Kemençe which he had designed for himself.  It is the first and only recording of that instrument.  I love it because it sounds like a raspy old man.  I love all the kemençes for their soulful vocal sound – so etheric.  The instrument is played with a bow, but balances between the knees rather than on the shoulder.  It has gut strings, and the tones are created by pressing against the strings with the backs of the fingernails. It is a very highly regarded Turkish instrument for its delicate and emotional nature. Mostly it is played in Turkish classical music settings; Sercan is quite adventurous.  He is a talented young player fluent in the Turkish classical world and working on a number of cross-over projects.
Q Have you considered doing an even more Jazz influenced album one day?   Your music on Pacif.ist swings.
Thanks man.  I like swinging. I love jazz.  I’m doing a Masters degree in Jazz at the moment, so I reckon there will be a few new tunes popping out that are more jazz influenced.
In fact the first piece of the next album is a jazz tune already.  We were going to put it on this album but felt it needed more time to mature.  That was a session with the great bass player Dine Doneff (aka Kostas Theodorou) from Thessaloniki.  I met him out in Skopje which is where I study jazz with the guitarist Toni Kitanovksi.  Dine later came to Istanbul to record on some pieces and it was such a great experience working with him.
Q.  Could you tell me your link with Rattle Records?   Steve is doing a fabulous job of recording NZ Music and a number of those albums are absolutely world-class (‘Zoo’ by Tom Dennison is my very favourite).
Steve Garden and Rattle Records have been fantastic.  I approached them with my demo a couple of years ago and asked if they’d be interested to release it on their label.  Happily, they said yes, and they’ve been really supportive throughout the process.  There are many artists for whom I have huge respect and admiration on the Rattle label, so I’m honoured to have my album in the same catalogue.  The recent output by Rattle of artists and new music is phenomenal and gorgeous.  Really a cool support for art music in NZ.  Many thanks to them.
Q. What is your connection to Bic – I gather that you have been recording with her?
I’ve been playing with Bic Runga since about 2006, when we did the Acoustic Winery Tour and I played in her band.  Since then we’ve worked together when we get the opportunity.  I recorded on Belle, the title track of her new album.  She invited me to play support for her recent national tour.  So I did the support performance, releasing Pasif.ist, and then I joined her and the band on stage for a couple of numbers.  We had a great tour, with Kody Neilsen and Michael Logie in the band.  I admire Bic’s stellar output and her musicality.  She’s always encouraged me to get my music out there.
I must thank you for the thought that you put into your answers Natalia.   I look forward to your next visit home and to any future albums.
Best wishes
John (Jazz Local 32)
Beyond category, Concerts - visiting Musicians, Interview, USA and Beyond

Cowbop vrs Warrington

The Masonic Tavern in Devonport overlooks the Waitemata Harbour in Auckland and the view from there is always easy on the eye.  Last night it was also easy on the ear; in fact as the evening progressed the music developed a distinctly Western drawl.   On Friday night the Tavern hosted two Jazz groups from the USA; the Tom Warrington Trio and the Bruce Forman CowBop band.  These bands exemplified Jazz-infused Americana from differing prospectives and in that variance lay a world of fun.

It is always a pleasure to see the Warrington Band in town and I always seek them out when they pass through (this is their 4th trip to New Zealand as a trio – Tom Warrington, Larry Koonse, Joe La Barbera).  As soon I arrived I spotted Larry the trio’s guitarist (an old friend) and we were able to spend a good few hours catching up and laughing at the outrageous humour of the CowBop quintet (who played the second set).

The Warrington trio opened their set with one of my favourite tunes ‘you must believe in Spring’ by Michelle Legrand’.  For a guitar trio (minus piano) to do justice to this type of highly melodic tune they must keep out of each others way while the guitar and bass execute the right voicings and establish the melody line (implied or otherwise).  This is what good jazz bands do and this band is extremely good.   Joe laid down a solid beat and his brush work is equal to the best in the business.  We heard Evan’s tunes and originals from the ‘Back Nine’ album and it was never less than swinging, intelligent, well executed  music.  All of these guys are stars in their own right having worked alongside the greats of Jazz and their intuitive feel for getting the best out of the music was communicated to their audience.

Like all Jazz fans I could not resist asking Larry later about the various people he has recently worked with and he singled out Alan Broadbent as someone he just loved working with. I hopefully suggested that they should think about recording a duo or quartet album together.  My one regret was not asking Joe about the Pieranunzi/Philip Catherine date – next time.

When F. Scott Fitzgerald said that there were no second acts in American life he had not foreseen the second act on Friday night.  This was cheeky, sassy, swinging, bop-infused countrified music and against all odds it was seriously hip.  American life was re-branded that night and as we witnessed it in disbelief, we participated in the fun.  Bruce Forman is a Jazz legend, as he has been a fixture on the Jazz circuit for three decades now.  Like Larry he has also been at the forefront of Jazz education and has accompanied some of the musics icons.   Bruce is a natural comedian and he really pushed the envelope with his in-your-face CowBop humour.  It is hard to describe adequately in words, as the context was everything, but suffice to say it worked.   There were musical jokes of the highest order and some home grown corn; both delivered from under a stetson hat with a twinkling eye.  The CowBop bands treatment Besame Mucho sat somewhere between ‘Cheech & Chong‘ and ‘Diana Krall‘ and I loved it.    As Bruce said when he began the set:  ‘If you try this music at home I urge you to do so responsibly’.  Packs containing the bands CD ‘Too Hick for the Room‘ were supplied with a bottle-opener connected to a memory-stick – pre loaded ready for illegal downloads.  The sly BeBop quotes were everywhere and they slid in between the cow-licks with ease.   Bruce added as I was leaving “The good thing is, if you hate this music you just give it to your enemies“.

This was a great night out and the intimate setting added to the enjoyment – thanks to Roger Fox for bringing them.

                      CowBop drummer