Interview: Johann Bourquenez of Plaistow

©Janice Siegrist

©Janice Siegrist

Johann Bourquenez is hardcore

As Johann walked into the hotel for our first meeting, I got Plaistow‘s music. Dressed in black, head shaved, lean – he is stripped back. There’s an aroma of smoke and an intensity quivering a hair’s breadth beneath the surface, a rapid rhythm. The albums, Citadelle and Lacrimosa, with their trance-inducing repetition, microscopic detail and Johann’s rounds of claustrophobic piano notes, feel driven by a desire for the raw and pure. It didn’t surprise me when he said in preparing for the next album (due out in April 2015) he woke at 6am, worked 8 hours at the piano, then took a bike ride in the evening…every day for a month. It could be said Johann Bourquenez is hardcore.

‘…maybe it’s better not to go too far with this’

French-born and studying jazz in Toulouse, he met drummer Cyril Bondi doing a gig in Geneva. Their connection is the cornerstone of Plaistow, you can hear it on the albums. Johann moved to a squat in Geneva (‘a big house full of crazy people’) and he played regularly with Cyril, but not seriously (‘I was partying a lot.’). Eventually they felt there was something worthwhile, ‘I said to Cyril, OK but I’m a very crazy guy so if I do a band…I will do it very seriously, very deeply, and I will expect people around me to do the same, so maybe it’s better not to go too far with this, and he said, ‘No, no, no, no, you don’t know me, if I do a band it’s going to be a mother******.’ So we decided to do it.’ That was in 2007 when they recruited, Raphaël Ortis on bass, though more recently, Vincent Ruiz on double bass.

johann_bourquenez_feat_plaistow‘You have to be physically be in the present’

Their musical angle comes from Johann’s early years of immersing himself in drum ‘n’ bass and techno (he has currently got Rrose on rewind), using machines and synths, ‘I had many years of this kind of experimentation with electronics…and computer noise stuff.’ At one gig, pre-Plaistow, fed up of lugging equipment around, Johann decided to play acoustic piano – opening it up to use the strings to create a more powerful sound. ‘I can play this piano the way I played all those machines, but I found the significance of every move I make is very important , if I don’t move there is nothing, if I do a very small thing it is very meaningful…The movement – that is very important…you have to be physically be in the present. So, I said with Plaistow let’s pretend we are just a jazz trio but we actually are filled with techno and noise walls…let’s make that music but with acoustic instruments.’

‘I will take your brain, trust me…’
Plaistow au Centre Culturel Suisse (Paris) ©Simon Letellier

Plaistow au Centre Culturel Suisse (Paris) ©Simon Letellier

To take these ideas further the art and animations of Nicolas Berger will be integral to the new album. Johann understands that visuals [on a cinema-sized screen] can divert attention from the music so they need to be justified by making the performance an immersive experience. ‘It’s an old fantasy of mine, I would like to have a two hour concert the way you would do with a DJ set – I will take your brain, trust me, and then I give it back to you at the end.’ This best sums up Plaistow’s raison d’être, it reminds me of the theatre of Artaud or Stravinky’s Rite of Spring – primal yet with a care for the concept of ceremony, event, people.

In fact Johann’s next project is the Great Noise Choral which will debut in December. It will feature, ’20 to 30 people only using voice and making some noise’. I’m certain it will be something pretty hardcore.

Plaistow live @ London, Pizza Express, 20 November (London Jazz Festival)
Liepaja (Latvia), Hiks Hall, 27 nov
Cesis (Latvia), Vidzeme Concert Hall, 28 novembre
Daugavpils (Latvia), Mark Rothko Art Center, 29 novembre

The Great Noise Choral at AMR Jazz Club in Geneva, 19 & 20 December

 
“Lacrimosa” to be released on vinyl, November here!
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Marc Perrenoud Talks on the Eve of his US Tour

2014 has been a good year for Marc Perrenoud and his trio of Cyril Regamey on drums and Marco Müller on double bass. They’ve toured China, Taiwan, Europe and are off to the US this month to play five cities and cover about 20,000 kilometres of American soil.

The gigs have followed their well-received third album, Vestry Lamento (released October 2013-April ’14). Frank Alkyer of Downbeat magazine crucially wrote, ‘Would someone please book this band for a tour of the States? We want to see them live!’

 

MarcPerrenoudUSAI spoke to Marc Perrenoud about his feelings on the eve of the trio’s US tour.

Marc Perrenoud I’m very excited. US people are very open, I’m not nervous, I just feel pleasure to go there…Playing in New York is always a big thing, but I am very excited to discover New Orleans, it must be an incredible place…and it’s the birthplace of jazz. There’s so much music there and I’m really looking forward to that, to ‘feeling’ Louisiana.

Sometimes it can be hard to be from a little country but sometimes it makes you more curious…you have to be because we have to leave Switzerland and that’s very stimulating. I am very honoured that these guys invited me, a Swiss guy, to play jazz there – it’s crazy. It’s so cool.

Do you think Vestry Lamento was particularly suitable for US audiences?

Marc Perrenoud There is a very big difference between Two Churches [his previous album] and this one. I was a little bit, not bored, but tired of the top, classical jazz, European style…so I tried to think about what I love about this music – and that is American jazz from the ’60s and even earlier. I tried to put some musical ideas like the energy and the swing style into this CD but with my European culture too, to make a mix of these two cultures.

In this album I was more confident in my partners. I was a control freak before, so I had an idea and would be like – you have to play that and that. Now the ideas are more precise and I can give more liberty to the musicians…It gave more pleasure and more energy to the drummer and bass-player and they had more fun playing because their ideas are in there too. It really grew together.

When will you work on a new album and what direction will it take?

Marc Perrenoud When we finish the US tour we are working for the month of December on the new repertoire and the new trio CD for 2015. I think recording will take place in February or March. After the US we’ll be full of ideas, I think it will be a good moment to write new things. We had a very exciting year, but it will be good to calm down and write.

The direction: you can never say exactly what it is, but I am sure about the manner with which to work and write together with the trio – it will be the same way and same kind of energy as with Vestry Lamento.

With the new album I will try to have a longer release time to focus on a new country every month with good PR. It’s good to have big festivals [to play] but it’s always important to meet people in smaller clubs. At Ronnie Scott’s we jammed til 3.30am…it was nice to meet the London jazz scene and have a real bebop jam session. Then I went straight to the Gatwick Express at 5am [to get to the airport – proper jazz stylee].

What have you found inspiring recently?

Marc Perrenoud I try to often go to concerts but also to theatre – I saw a very good theatre piece of Dostoyevsky, I go to opera, rock, jazz concerts. It’s very important to me to go to live music and performance. I’ve seen Roy Hargrove, a cool concert of Brad Mehldau solo and Joe Lovano.

I have a project next year with actors, poetry and music – trying to make something new. I think jazz is made from these things, we need improvisation in jazz and to do that we need to look everywhere. It’s why it’s unstable and moving because we have to continually find ideas and, sure, other arts are very inspiring.

18/11 Somethin Jazz Club, New York
20/11 Snug Harbor, New Orleans, Louisiana
21/11 The Jazz Station, Eugene, Oregon
23/11 Upstairs at Vitello’s, Los Angeles, California
24/11 Lobero Theatre, Santa Barbara, California

Insights into the 1st edition of the Montreux Jazz Academy

NB-DSC02809Stéphanie-Aloysia Moretti, artistic director of the Montreux Jazz Academy, talks about the first edition of this exciting, pedagogical project where 12 young winners of the prestigious Montreux piano, voice and guitar prizes are further coached by 14 world-renowned mentors at the Sylvia Waddilove musical centre.

How did the idea of musical pedagogy evolve at Montreux Jazz ?

 

Stéphanie-Aloysia Moretti I’ve been working for the Montreux Jazz Festival for over 25 years, primarily as artistic co-ordinator, but also as educational co-ordinator ever since Claude Nobs began the idea of informal musical workshops. Before my arrival in 1989, Claude had always asked key musicians to extend their stay in Montreux in order to talk, teach and interact with the audience, students and fellow musicians. He would announce the workshop details at the end of a concert for the following day, but this meant that only people present at the concert would know what, where and with whom it was happening. I started organising these workshops in advance, incorporating them into the official programme, which gradually made the workshops an important feature of the festival highlighting the importance we gave to the interaction between master and pupil. This eventually led to the 1st official Montreux Jazz Solo Piano Prize in 1999 where a selection of young pianists from all over the world came to Montreux be coached by professionals in the field. Voice and guitar prizes soon followed.

What was the approach to the Montreux prizes?

Stéphanie-Aloysia Moretti We wanted to structure these prizes in such a way to avoid the competitiveness you might find in a sporting event, and instead create a nice atmosphere for the candidates. The young musicians coming to Montreux were treated as a group, made to feel comfortable, lucky to meet and work together, mostly of the same age and level but coming from different countries. At that time it was also an excellent way to bridge the gap between eastern and western Europe of the late 90s. It was important that the contestants be real, complete musicians, not just able to reproduce or repeat music, each had to submit their own composition or arrangement and give a lot of themselves.

When did you realise that musical coaching was not enough?

Stéphanie-Aloysia Moretti Year after year, we began to notice a reoccurring problem. Despite the winners receiving money, a recording contract and a live show the following year at Montreux Jazz – a few months after winning the prize, they would call us up asking for help: “can we have the names of a good agent, manager, how can we find gigs, labels, PR, etc..?” It was clear that being a young virtuoso is not enough in the world of jazz and music, many of our young winners had no idea what direction to go in and how to follow up their prize-winning achievements. We soon realised that the chosen candidates coming from over 40 different countries needed a more practical form of training alongside their musical coaching. Hence the idea of the Montreux Jazz Academy was born – to help young musicians take advantage of the experience and connections of the Montreux Jazz Artists Foundation, the Festival’s pedagogical wing, in order to maximise their self expression as artists and also help them build their career toolkits.

Describe how the Montreux Jazz Academy is set up.

Stéphanie-Aloysia Moretti There are 14 mentors and 12 candidates, or ‘laureates’ as we like to call them. Nine of them are made up of the first, second and third place winners of this year’s piano, voice and guitar competitions. The remaining three are made up of the first prize winners of the previous year. The Academy lasts just over a week from 30th October to 5th November where the young laureates live, work, perform and learn during an intensive week of exchanges with international musicians and music-business professionals. Masterclasses are given on a daily basis on useful topics such as “Understanding the music business/ How do I get signed to a label? / Managing your online presence”. There’s no competitive atmosphere or prize at the end of the Academy, just learning, sharing and a big gala show on the last evening overseen by Lee Ritenour. What’s very precious for me is to have the laureates express themselves freely and get into the habit of risk-taking with ideas and possibilities, this is less present when there’s a competition at stake. After the Academy I know something will change in how they make music as individuals – and not just the laureates, the mentors have also been affected by what they’ve shared here. They didn’t all know eachother beforehand and it was wonderful to see the cross-fertilisation bubbling up between them during the duologs, live gigs and workshops.

How did you go about chosing the mentors?

Stéphanie-Aloysia Moretti I chose mentors who already have a strong relationship to Montreux, first of all because it’s easier to have direct access to them, secondly because I needed to know their resources, what they’re capable of and how curious they are. For example, I chose guitarist Lee Ritenour as musical director of this edition because he has always taught in his career, he has a good relationship with the younger generation and knows how to raise everyone’s level. He’d already been president of a previous Montreux Jazz Guitar prize and had done an amazing job. From the USA we invited drummer Sonny Emory from Earth, Wind and Fire who has an amazing energy but is very different from the classical jazz drummer; saxophonist Charles Lloyd, who opened the first Montreux Jazz Festival in 1967 – a kind of godfather figure; star vocalist Patti Austin, president of the Voice competition a few years ago. We also had the pianist Yaron Herman from Israel, electronic genius Bugge Wesseltoft from Norway, Hammond B3 giant Macoto Ozone from Japan, singer Sebastian Schuller from France and our very own Eric Truffaz. Their interaction made it feel more like a laboratory than an academy, anything could happen! The relationship between instruments and machines was really explored which was very important to me as I wanted new musical territories to be looked at as much as geographical ones. Even Charles Lloyd got to experiment with the power of electronic music.

Does the Academy have a particular involvement with Swiss artists?

1459961_862670483754534_356142560921368328_nStéphanie-Aloysia Moretti The Academy is essentially aimed at aspiring jazz musicians on an international basis, but obviously we are happy to nurture Swiss young talent as much as we can. The exceptional singer/songwriter/guitarist Patrick Rouiller, (one of the star contestants on The Voice Switzerland 2013), was the only Swiss laureate selected for the Academy this year. However we were graced with some top Swiss musicians who took part in our live sessions in the evenings, among which vocalists Anna Aaron, Billie Bird, and pianist Léo Tardin – who was so enraptured with his jam session that he missed his train back to Geneva and ended up with all the other laureates back at the Waddilove centre. Léo, a Montreux solo piano prize winner himself, was blown away to see the high standard of practical teaching, backline equipment and tools on offer. “The best of the best in an informal setting” is how he described his time spent at the Academy.

What will the laureates take away with them? 

Stéphanie-Aloysia Moretti Firstly, all the laureates have said that the practical learning has been crucial: how to get a gig, consider yourself a brand, understand the workings of the music business, etc… They feel more confident to go into the world as a musician and handle their lives. No school normally talks about the practical side but now at last they know what to expect. Secondly, they’ve all mentioned the importance of experimentation and improvisation as a group. They have been stretched beyond what they thought were their capacities, forced to explore new territories and been made to find new ways of expressing their art.

How will the Montreux Jazz Academy be next year?

Stéphanie-Aloysia Moretti I could be a bit more audacious next year regarding styles of music from further afield than just the western world. Maybe bring in mentors from India or the Orient and see what new musical perspectives they could share with us, teach us to feel music more with our guts and less with our brains perhaps…? But for sure the goal will remain the same: to maximise self-expression, risk-taking in each young musician and to teach them the practical tools for succeeding in their music careers.

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