Take Four Musicians (part 2)

Yael Miller “It was very difficult at the beginning, very upsetting”
As Orioxy’s key composer and vocalist, Yael says, “We did amazing things, were in amazing places and had crazy experiences – it is why it’s good that it finished now before it became bitter…” Like bandmate Julie Campiche, Yael was re-assured about the decision to split up, at Take Five Switzerland & South Africa, even though it affected others, “It was very difficult at the beginning, very upsetting.”

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Photo Gerald Langer

Yael has faced tough challenges before. From Tel Aviv, she spoke of a childhood almost lost to shouldering heavy responsibilities. So it’s unsurprising when she says it was a feeling of duty to compose for a whole band that caused her writing block. Her desire was to go more deeply into personal expression, like a singer-songwriter, where lyrics lead. “This is not so acceptable in the mainstream jazz world, so I’m shifting it a bit…not feeling obliged to fit in.” It’s as if Yael is finding the freedom that was compromised as a child.

Orioxy’s drummer, Roland Merlinc will be part of her new trio, “We want the same things,” she explains, and Baptiste Germser, a bassist and French horn player who has a Paris studio. “We close ourselves away for three or four days and just rehearse and record from morning to evening, then we go and drink beers, and then continue.” It’s time for Orioxy to explore who they are now and I’m excited to hear their individual projects.

Mandla Mlengeni: “I was a troubled child and I was always in trouble”
Screenshot 2016-04-04 19.40.09Someone else shaped by a dramatic early life is trumpeter Mandla. Brought up in a turbulent Soweto by a young, single mother after his lawyer father was murdered, he admits, “I had to find coping mechanisms. I went to see psychologists, but I didn’t know how to deal with it, I was a troubled child and I was always in trouble.” His childhood is hazy but he remembers sitting on his dad’s shoulders, hearing music at political rallies, and a small, blue piano he brought Mandla from London when working on a case concerning South Africa’s ‘hit squads’.

Listening to Mariah Carey and Boyz II Men on the radio, he says, “I thought composing was a sacred gift and being a musician was something bestowed upon you, like being a ‘sangoma’, it was a calling.” An exchange to Norway introduced him to composing in a simple way, but he left the first piece he wrote for a couple of years, then, “One drunken night, I was with a friend and we were jamming and I started playing this song and he asked, ‘Hey man, whose song is that?’” This encouragement eventually led to his 2015 debut, Bhekisizwe.

It was a long process but the recording fell fatefully into place: finding a studio and having saxophonists Shabaka Hutchings (UK) and Ganesh Geymeier (CH) in town to guest. And now, Mandla says, “I’ve sold all the albums so I have to re-print and strategise as to how to get into markets other than South Africa.” With a tenacity that secured him gigs even before the album’s release, he’s one to watch for.

Joel Graf: “We have to find new strategies”
PommelHORSE’s sax player is also thinking about a game plan. This quintet met studying in Bern and are good buddies but says Joel, “We have to find new strategies, new ways and that includes a new label…and better ways to market the band.” I can’t help chuckling when Joel explains they took an actual pommel horse on their early tours. “When we first played shows, audiences in Germany thought we were a music and gymnastics show…they were kind of disappointed.”

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Photo Peter Tümmers

My favourite track on their last album was Joel’s ‘Drunk on Christmas Eve’, and I’m intrigued to see them play live at jazzahead! this month. “There’s always big competition,” he says of this music fair, “…selling yourself and your music, it’s hard work.” He talks of feeling overwhelmed by everything a band should be doing and how you can lose sight of why you ever went into music.
Joel actually studied IT first despite coming from a sort of ‘Partridge Family‘ with the six musical siblings all playing instruments. In a way pommelHORSE are his new musical family and although each of them play various styles e.g. classical and heavy rock, they gel together. “I love our combination of music, but really we have to move on, make our music better and move forward.”

Yilian Cañizares “You know what you want, but you don’t know how to get it”

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With Ibrahim Maalouf                                    Photo Marc Bertolazzi

Yilian is looking at how to progress too. “When you are trying to build something, sometimes you can feel,” she searches for the right word, “…lost, because you know what you want, but you don’t know how to get it.” She is often invited to play with others after they see her perform, such as Richard Bona, Ibrahim Maalouf and Omar Sosa (with whom she’s just recorded an album) but she wants more exposure.

In fact Yilian sums up a major issue in Europe, “Right now it’s quite difficult because culture [representation] in all media is getting smaller and smaller and sometimes they just speak about pop music or celebrities. It’s quite frustrating.” That’s an understatement – don’t get me started on UK press coverage of this music, but Yilian knows there’s more she can do, “I believe it’s very important to always be in the creative process, I like to see it as an everyday process…maybe we are sure about that as musicians, but we don’t apply the same concept to other areas of our career.”

I suggest that she must get homesick and Yilian graciously replies that she’s blessed to be able to pursue music at this level, but does want to see her Cuban family more often, “I am split into two feelings…and I try to transform this into my music and creativity, that’s how I manage it.”

Take Four Musicians (part 1)

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Take Four Musicians (part 1)

This is the first of two articles; sketches of musicians that took part in Take Five Switzerland & South Africa.

Manuel Troller
“How do we make a classic guitar-bass-drum trio sound like something else?”

I’m re-naming Schnellertollermeier as Nitric Acid (hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen). They are not a trio, but a chemical reaction. Seeing them perform at a Lume event in London I felt the room may combust into flames during the title track of their album, X. The sustained tension of Manuel Troller’s Telecaster plucks, Meier’s afro-beat-punk drums and Schnellmann’s distorted, demanding bass, pin you into a tight corner, forever, it seems. A sudden breakdown into nothingness releases the hold before industrial drones and a poetic, distant guitar change the mood. It’s psychotic and clever – throwing Mr Hyde at you first and, much later, the sane Dr Jeckyll.

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Schnellertollermeier play London’s Lume night

Guitarist Troller admitted, “That was a huge job. How do we make a classic guitar-bass-drum trio sound like something else? Like one compact organism; with different elements, different functions, but all going for the same thing.” When it comes together, the sound is seismic; the gig was a whirl of grunge, classical, jazz, blues, rap and rave. Troller is cat-like, darting around the ‘dry and heavy’ bass, at other times he is obsessive, a strumming nutter. I’m as thrilled as they are that X was in the Wall Street Journal’s best music of 2015 (alongside artists like Björk). It’s rare to have such an album picked up by the mainstream.

“I’m really happy at the moment,” says Troller who has good things ahead. He’s an associated artist at Lucerne’s Südpol with the trio playing unfinished music to audiences to give insight into the composing process, then he’ll be in Chicago for an autumn residency and US tour. He’s developing solo material and performing with author Michael Fehr. I first saw him play with Nik Bärtsch’s Rhythm Clan at the EFG London Jazz Festival and solos from him and Sha were highlights.

“I’m more interested in people like Marc Ribot”

“Some of the elder generation in Switzerland used to tell me, ‘Man you have to decide what you really want to do.’ For me it’s not the right way. I’m more interested in people like Marc Ribot who are working in different fields but have their own language, their own personality that they bring to all sorts of music.” Manuel has also played with Sophie Hunger and senses such artists are helping to sketch a profile of Swiss musicians for countries like the UK. “I also feel there is a self-confidence growing which is necessary.”

Julie Campiche
“There is something in me that needs to learn to accept the compliment”
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Photo: Laurent ML

Confidence was a theme in my conversation with Julie Campiche. “I’m happy and confident,” she tells me, “and I wasn’t like that two months ago, I was much more afraid.” Julie is part of the quartet, Orioxy, who are dis-banding and she describes the build-up to this split as ‘a crisis’. It’s clearly a difficult time for any band and although she began a trio project she felt too unsettled to make it work. The Take Five programme – and interactions with other professionals helped, but Julie realised she faced a common Swiss issue – being comfortable with her worth.

After gigs she often had people praise her playing, but made excuses – they don’t know the harp, they were just impressed by the instrument, not my playing. “There is something in me that needs to learn to accept the compliment…I have built some tricks to seem like I’m accepting it, but with all the crisis stuff, I was confronted by that…I laughed at myself because I realised I had escaped as long as I could and now I had to face it. Good luck Julie!” She feels the revered Malcolm Braff whom she plays with in Jibcae has found a good balance, “…knowing you’re good, accepting it, being comfortable with that and knowing it’s not about you, it’s what you are able to do, what you enjoy doing…the priority is so clear with him – it’s music.”

“I love to go into the world of the music atmosphere for someone else”

Julie isn’t scared of the business side of music and is organised, but wants to stay active whilst stepping away from planning too much, just, “play with people, find the people to work with on my project,” and explore being a side woman. “I love to go into the world of the music atmosphere for someone else. What can I bring into that? What can I serve in his or her music?” It’s an exciting time being in a place of ‘not-knowing’, having space to truly explore and Julie deserves to relax and enjoy the freedom that can bring.

Christoph Irniger
“My way of thinking about jazz is based in the American way”

I find saxophonist Christoph Irniger a little impenetrable, guarded, but he comes alive when working through an explanation of his music. He excitedly refers to Theolonius Monk: “When he’s soloing you always hear the song – and that’s what I’m for, that’s my approach to music, in that kind of tradition.” That’s clear when you listen to recordings of his projects: his trio, the quintet Pilgrim, quartet Counterpoint or the more electronic project, Cowboys From Hell, there is a sense of respect and nostalgia for be-bop. “My way of thinking about jazz is based in the American way and it’s connected with melody. I always try to play melody even if I’m playing avant-garde music.”

Over the years, Christoph has forged a relationship with New York (his ‘musical home’ alongside Zurich) and cherishes the chance to be part of the scene there where the propulsion to simply ‘play’ supersedes thinking or planning. Bonds with the New York based drummers, Ziv Ravitz and Nasheet Waits mean a lot to him and his stays ‘over the pond’ give an alternative lifestyle and viewpoint for composing.

“… the way to work on music is to play gigs”
Pilgrim_Erwin Van Rillaer

Pilgrim photo: Erwin Van Rillaer

Pilgrim’s new album, Big Wheel [Live] is out in the autumn (Christoph’s third release on Intakt Records) and they’ve been picked to showcase at jazzahead! the renowned trade fair in Bremen. But he’d like more gigs and larger venues. “The main thing is to play music…to go further, to search for new ways…it’s like a scientist, and the way to work on music is to play gigs, the live situation.” And the bigger the audience the more you get reflected back, “It’s like a mirror, it’s the best way to develop your music.” I’m sure more gigs will follow but as Christoph knows, “There are no shortcuts.”

Nils Fischer
“I also like playing different styles, it gives me a lot of energy”

Although Wayne Shorter is still the most important influence for saxophonist Nils Fischer, he is coming at music from a spectrum of points. “I often have periods where I listen to one or two albums all the time, it’s not something I do consciously but I love it. I’m listening to Warpaint, an incredibly good female band from the States. I love the album of Kendrick Lamar. I like listening to different things and I also like playing different styles, it gives me a lot of energy.” His main project, quartet The Great Harry Hillman, describe their music as ‘jazz of today’ and I find it spacious and engaging. Last year they won the ZKB jazz prize at Moods in Zurich and played at London’s Match&Fuse festival.

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Nils Fischer

Starting drums at six Nils moved to sax aged eight, after seeing one in the gospel choir his mother sings with. His dad is an organist and his sister is going into musical theatre, but he questioned playing professionally. “It was a hard decision…it came naturally, I wasn’t forced to do it, but when I decided to do it, I really said yes to it.” A chance encounter at a workshop led him to leave his native Germany to study in Lucerne where he met his band. “It’s almost too romantic to say it, but we really had our first lesson together and from then on that was it.” When GHH played London their musical chemistry and friendship was clear, “We have a lot of fun always when we are together,” and I witnessed that…

“Our sound is pretty detailed”

The other side of Nils is he is pro-active and organised, dealing with the bands’ bookings. “I like talking to people, making relations, that’s fun,” he says. That’s the sort of band member you want to hold on to. He is planning GHH’s tour with the Austrian trio, Edi Nulz and something new in November – a heavily produced EP with layers of tracks. “Our sound is pretty detailed…it’s a step further to really make it structured on the record so it’s different from the live thing…we will clearly separate it – give something different on the EP from the live feel of an album.” I’m very keen to hear what they come up with.

Bad Bonn @ Cafe Oto

BBSB_Cover_final_23-2-16_simuliertThe day after the successful launch event at Rough Trade East, the celebration of the publication of the“The Bad Bonn Song Book”  continues. Bad Bonn crew moved North to Dalston for a celebratory Kilbi night at the legendary avant-garde/jazz/folk venue Cafe Oto. Another sizeable and appreciative crowd was served a diverse programme of Swiss artists that showed off Bad Bonn´s sense of adventure to good effect.

First off was Strotter Inst., aka Christoph Hess. Operating in a border area between noise and conventional music with a pair of “treated” old record players and a series of similarly adapted vinyl records, Strotter Inst produced a minimalist and yet richly textured drone that somehow pulsated with rhythm and held the audience´s attention with remarkable ease.

Next came percussionist Julian Sartorius who, judging by the conversations afterwards, was perhaps the biggest success of the evening. Playful and yet precise, subtle and yet powerful, his uninterrupted half-hour performance was a master class of innovative and controlled solo percussion. In sharp musical contrast, the synth duo Papiro reconnected the audience with early Krautrock history with their slowly shape-shifting take on dreamy Ash Ra-Temple-type sounds.

 

The evening was rounded off sweatily by Camilla Sparksss, Barbara Lehnhoff’s fiery electro outfit, consisting of just herself and a dancer. Combining punky vocals with minimalist electro rhythms and melodies, her short, sharp bursts of high-octane songs were completely different from everything else that had been heard before then, and all the better for it.

Contributing greatly to the success of the night were the DJs Andy Votel and Doug Shipton whose selection of records was perfectly in tune with the spirit of Bad Bonn. In short – the two Bad Bonn nights in London turned out to be an unqualified success.

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