The TWO blues band: small number, big sound

TheTWO_(CH) - copie

The TWO have been making waves on the Swiss blues scene for the past three years, bringing depth, integrity and colour to what sometimes feels like a long-lost musical tradition. Made up of  Mauritian Yannick Nanette (lead vocals, guitar, harmonica) and Swiss Thierry Jaccard (lead guitar, backing vocals), this tight unit is highly thought of in the Swiss blues community and has even caused ripples abroad by reaching the semi-finals of the International Blues Challenge in Memphis earlier this year.

 

The blues musical tradition has never felt so alive

Watching them play live at La Fête de la Musique at Lausanne’s The Great Escape, I was struck by how authenticity and simplicity are key to their success. Totally committed to their honest, organic sound without a hint of flim-flam to embellish all that is beautiful in its raw and rootsy state. Inhabited by some past life blues ghost once guitars are in hand, The TWO postively levitate with a feel-good factor even when the timbre is plaintive and sombre. The enthusiasm for their musical mission is palpable. The audience are with them, behind them, for them. The blues musical traditon in their hands has never felt so alive. « I’ve got blues in my bones, I’ve got groove in my soul » wails Yannick with a fire-breathing intensity and a voice that bridges the distant Creole with the Delta. It’s a haunting voice that cannot fail to penetrate, transmitting despair in a way that’s more unique than rare, thankfully it is equally uplifting in parts reminding us that the blues is also a music of hope and dreams.

 

“The blues is an enormous canvas to paint on”

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I recently came across this quote from Roger Daltrey talking about his early influences with The Who: « Because it’s so simple and heartfelt, the blues is an enormous canvas to paint on ». Much from little is exactly the tradition that The TWO are carrying forward with effective heart and spirit. Their album ‘Sweet, Dirty, Blues’ was released last November off their own backs and is an honest, raw, relevant work reminding us that all forms of popular music stem from the stripped down simplicity of a nifty guitar riff and a pained, sincere voice. They’ve also just put out an 7-inch single on Lausanne’s Rocafort Records which can only be purchased at their live gigs. I have a hunch that more people will be talking about this vibrant, engaging duo after their first official appearance at Montreux Jazz this summer.

 

Some questions and answers with The TWO:

How and where did you meet? How long have you been playing together?

The TWO: We met five years ago in Sierre. Thierry was playing at the Hacienda concert hall with the funk band, Brainless. I loved their sound so much that I (Yannick) asked if I could join in for a jam session at the end of the show. They agreed, I rushed home, got dressed nicely, took my harmonica and the story began. Since then I’ve been touring with the Brainless band. Thierry and I quickly saw we had a special feel for the blues and soon decided to work together. Three years have gone by since then and we’ve been grooving restlessly wherever the music takes us.

Name some of the blues inspirations that have impacted on your sound and style of playing.

The TWO: Eric Bibb, Keb Mo, Ray Charles, Eric Triton, Menwar, Zanzak, Baster, Kaya.

There’s not a lot of Swiss blues music around, do you feel like a rare breed?

The TWO: The blues can be everywhere as long as the music is honest, as long as one drives it out from one’s soul, as long as the music is vital, as long as it is an urge to sing or die. What we mean is that the blues is not an aesthetic, some kind of drawer where one is categorised to suit a music market. In the beginning black people were singing to find a light, to cheer up and encourage themselves to bear the conditions of slavery. The blues was a prayer, a cry to come together, to be one, united to face hardship and suffering. Our blues comes from here and we sing with our soul, this same desire to make people come together and move for change. In Switzerland artists like Mark Kelly, Sophie Hunger and many more sing with this fervour, honesty and soul, which for us is the blues.

How did your trip to Memphis affect you?

The TWO: We were really happy to go there, proud to sing our blues where the blues was born. It was some kind of pilgrimage but there in Memphis, many questions came up. We realised that the blues cannot be imprisoned in a place. Music is art and if try to hold it for yourself, keep it in a museum, it withers and dies. The blues is everywhere! No matter where you are, no matter who you are and where you’re from, you can have the blues. It is not an American thing, it is a human thing.

Are The Two always going to be just you two?? Will there be more musicians featured on your forthcoming work?

The TWO: Music is about meeting people and sharing. From time to time we play with a drummer, Felix Bergeron and a violinist, Bastoun. In any case, The TWO is more than just two guys playing their guitars. So many people work behind the scenes, are unseen and these people help our music to be what it is. For now we are touring with our album ‘Sweet, Dirty, Blues’ that came out last year. Time, music and crossroads will tell what happens next.

 

Forthcoming live gigs:

03.07 – Summer Blues, Basel

04.07 – Gena Festival

08/09.07 – Sierre Blues Festival

10.07 – Vallemaggia Magic Blues

13.07 – Montreux Jazz Festival

18.07 – Cahors Blues Festival (FR)

19/20.07 – Verbier Festival

22.07 – Narcao Blues Festival (IT)

23.07 – Blue Balls Festival , Lucerne

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‘Jazz Talks’ with Michael Arbenz of Vein

Vein“It’s more like being a company than being a musician”

Vein know the business of music. Having met their drummer, Florian Arbenz and pianist, Michael (his twin brother) one thing is clear to me, they have a quiet but effective strategy for being a working band. Stay focused on the goal, don’t be afraid of the dirty work and take risks. Along with double bass player, Thomas Lähns, they also work hard. “Today as a musician you can’t say, ‘I just want to have my fee and that’s it,’ explains Michael, “you have to invest some money sometimes and if you do it right you get it back. It’s more like being a company than being a musician just practising and dreaming – that would be very nice!”

Cover_VEIN_Jazz_TalksVein are building their career, brick by brick. Jazz Talks is Vein’s ninth album and features legendary American saxophonist, Dave Liebman. His career includes stints with Miles Davis and Chick Corea – a tangible link to the heritage of jazz of which Vein are clearly so passionate when you hear ‘Walking With a Start’ or ‘Black Tortoise’. Live, Michael ripples with influences from Stravinsky to Bill Evans, but Vein are so steeped in the jazz tradition that they are able to weave in their own voices. Not an overnight achievement. “I think it’s more honest to find something personal and stay with it,” says Michael when we discuss their music style.

Hooking up with celebrated artists has been useful, it nurtures their skills and can connect them to foreign audiences. However, it takes some guts (and talent) to achieve. Greg Osby of the infamous M-Base Collective was the first Michael approached when he was just 23 years old. “It was back in the old days – there was a fax number on the back of one of his CDs and I faxed him and he was very open to play with young musicians, he still is.”

“The good thing was that it was normal to be a musician”

Vein not only make these approaches (a collaboration with a UK saxophonist is next in the pipeline) they also do all the administration and manage themselves. If you check their tour dates below you’ll see what they achieve. Also when you have someone like Liebman in the band, the hotels and travel need to be well organised. Did having parents involved in music (they are both musicians and teachers) help them to understand the business? “The good thing was that it was normal to be a musician,” he says, as musicians can face opposition from their own family, “but it’s more like we’re not afraid to do the dirty work, to call people, it’s a lot of work that’s not nice to do.”

Their curiosity for the piano their father played had them starting music as early as 4 or 5 years old. “The music education was very present but my parents didn’t push us, so it was very natural to get into it.” They also both learnt drums and Michael recalls that making music together was a form of playtime for the brothers, “And after, in our teenage years, it became more serious and it was great to have someone who was the same age and had the same interests.”

“I think we were attracted by the very positive mood of it”

They began listening to their parent’s jazz records and heard Louis Armstrong, Art Tatum and Fats Waller. “I think we were attracted by the very positive mood of it, also it’s kind of virtuoso, and rhythmical with the drums…but I think when we were kids we weren’t analysing it…Louis Armstrong: it’s almost like a celebration or something and we were attracted by that.”

For me, there is almost a telepathy between Michael and Florian onstage but Thomas is an equal member of the crew. “Vein is a collective and this is an important philosophy of the trio…We try to develop to find more possibilities and more freedom on how to play together on an equal level.” The band are always looking for how they can break the traditional roles of a piano trio and be truly multi-dimensional. When I ask what he wants to work on he replies, “Everything…I don’t like to relax and think, ‘Oh now I can do what I want,’ this is dangerous for music. I like to go on and improve everything: to compose better, play better and have more to say – that’s the most difficult”.

Vein will be one of the four Swiss acts that Swiss Vibes is presenting at Montreux Jazz Festival (Château de Chillon) ont the 10th of July. Be there!

16. April VEIN feat. Greg Osby, De Singer, Antwerpen/BE
17. April VEIN feat. Greg Osby, Jazz Celebrations Gorzow/PL
19. April VEIN feat. Greg Osby, Künstlerwerkstatt Pfaffenhofen/DE
20. April VEIN feat. Greg Osby, Jazzkongress Freiburg/DE
21. April St. Ives Jazzclub/UK
22. April Grimsby Jazz/UK
23. April Newcastle/UK
24. April Capstone Theatre. Liverpool/UK
2. Mai Jazzkeller Frankfurt/DE
8. Mai Jazzfestival Schaffhausen/CH
26. Mai VEIN feat. Dave Liebman, Band on the Wall/UK
27. Mai VEIN feat. Dave Liebman, Porgy and Bess, Wien/A
28. Mai VEIN feat. Dave Liebman, Vortex London/UK
29. Mai VEIN feat. Dave Liebman, Jazzlines Birmingham/UK
30. Mai VEIN feat. Dave Liebman, Porgy en Bess, Zeeland/NL
31. Mai EIN feat. Dave Liebman, Platformtheater Groningen/NL
27. Juni Glasgow Jazz Festival/SCO
10. July Montreux Jazz Festival, Château de Chillon

Elina Duni: Songs of Love and Exile

© Nicolas Masson

Elina Duni Quartet © Nicolas Masson

Elina Duni moved to Switzerland when she was ten, five years after she’d first stepped on a stage to sing in her homeland, Albania. Later, studying music in Bern led to a crucial meeting – with pianist and composer, Colin Vallon. It’s Vallon, along with drummer Norbert Pfammatter and now Patrice Moret on bass, who held a mirror up to Elina so she could see who she is and be free to draw on the rich cultural soil of the Balkans.

Elina’s second album for the major label ECM is Dallëndyshe (The Swallow) and listening to it immersed me in a bubble of ancient and distant lives where women call their loves ‘Ylber’ (rainbow) as they watch them leave green hills for work or, war. With titles such as ‘Nënë moj’ (O, Mother) and ‘Kur të pashë’ (When I Saw You), Elina describes them as ‘songs of love and exile’ but somehow the purity of the melodies and simplicity of delivery make them timeless.

What were you driven to express and explore in this album?

Elina Duni I think the word ‘timeless’ is very important in this case…You can feel the songs’ strength because they’ve crossed centuries and the melodies are archaic and deep. It’s this mixture of the contemporary perception each one of us has being a musician living in today’s world and the fact [the songs] are related to something that concerns all of us – we are all migrants, it’s the fate of all human beings: leaving behind something you love, going abroad, going from countryside to city, themes that are universal.

Where and how are did you find these traditional songs?

Elina Duni You may be surprised or maybe not, I found them on YouTube! Albanian friends are always suggesting songs and a friend of mine living in Greece put ‘Fëllënza’ on my wall on Facebook.

‘Fëllënza’ has a melody that has my dopamine triggers firing like Dirty Harry and Elina’s voice is so intimate you feel she’s singing with her head next to yours on a single pillow. Colin Vallon’s tangential arrangement steers it clear of saccharine-slush whilst on ‘Unë në kodër, ti në kodër’ (Me on a Hill, You on a Hill) he hypnotises, plucking piano strings like a cimbalom.

Elina Duni This is one of the songs where Colin wrote the arrangement with the bassline and the ‘mantra’, I had the melody and rhythm but he takes the song to another level…The three of them are wonderful musicians, they never play ‘1st degree music’. For me, art is the distance we take from things, it’s playing or looking at them in the 2nd, 3rd and 4th degree…Balkan music can be so pathetic [evoking pity] and it’s really a trap, somehow this distance from the pathos is the art.

When I started singing these songs Colin told me to imagine how Miles Davis would sing these themes – as simple as possible. When I do an ornament then it’s really thought out, I try not to do too much so when I do something it stands out. It’s the manner for the whole quartet.

You said that we live in a time where there is a need for poetry, say more about this.

Elina Duni Poetry has its own music, you can listen to a poem that you don’t understand and still cry with it… [the language] Albanian has something very interesting, it has a lot of sounds in it and it is a very, very old European language. It has Latin and Turkish words and, they say, also from the Celts, and it has something very deep and at the same time, strange.

Tell me about your childhood in Albania and how you feel about your homeland now.

Elina Duni There is a phrase, ‘there are two tragedies in life: to have a wonderful childhood and to have an awful childhood’. So, I had a wonderful childhood. In Albania it was another time that doesn’t exist anymore, there were no cars, no consumerism, no Coca Cola, no aluminium…we used to be happy when we could eat a chewing gum because it was very rare, or chocolate. We were raised in the neighbourhoods, everybody was going to everybody’s houses…and we were free. We grew up jumping, climbing the trees and running and fighting and being outside all the time…the imagination played a very important role. Everyone was writing poetry and reading…I think this was a golden time.

© Blerta Kambo

© Blerta Kambo

For me Albania is always inspiring, I go very often, it’s like all the countries that are transforming themselves, they have something alive there. Unfortunately Albanian society is still macho and patriarchal, it’s changing slowly, but there is a lack of models for women…The best thing is to educate women…and to show that being free is not being a sexual object which is hard because the media promotes this – and the singers too. There are so many in Albania, every good-looking girl puts on a mini skirt, makes a video clip and she’s a ‘singer’. I try to do my best to promote another model of woman.

What other projects are you doing?

Elina Duni I’ve been doing a solo project where I sing Albanian songs with guitar but I also did an album a year ago as a singer/songwriter where I wrote songs in Albanian so I’m going on writing, in French and English too…I love the quartet but I am trying to diversify so I’m writing as much as possible to find my way into music – which is not as simple when so many things have been done and you want to find your own original way at looking at things.

I still don’t know where all this is going to lead, the thing is I love acoustic music so maybe this can be a duo with voice and piano, it depends on who your partners are on the adventure, who you find. I would like to go more electric because it is a sound that really attracts me. These days there are no boundaries and you can explore without losing your identity. I love to sing my songs, that’s my biggest dream.

Elina Duni website

Elina Duni Solo
12.04.15 Cully Jazz Festival – Cully, CH
Elina Duni Quartet 
21.04.2015
 Jazzkaar Festival – Tallinn, Estonia
22.04.2015 
Viljandi Folk Music Center, Estonia
24.04.2015 
Salle des Fêtes de Carouge – Genève, CH
26.04.2015 
Dampfschiff – Brugg CH
29.04.2015
 Centralstation – Darmstadt, Germany
09.05.2015 
Treibhaus – Innsbruck, Austria
10.05.2015
 Bee-Flat im Progr – Bern, CH
27.05.2015
 Moods – Zürich, CH
29.05.2015 
Paradox – Tilburg, Netherlands
31.05.2015
 Rote Salon – Berlin, Germany
13.06.2015 
Schloss – Thun, CH
21.06.2015 
Bibliothéque Universitaire et cantonale – Lausanne, CH

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