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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.


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”

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.


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.

Take Five Switzerland: Edition II


With musicians Yilian Cañizares, Christoph Irniger, Yael Miller, Mandla Mlengeni, Manuel Troller, Julie Campiche, Nils Fischer and Joel Graf.

I’ve just visited the second edition of Take Five Switzerland, an invite-only, professional development course for musicians. There are sessions on everything from legal affairs to communication skills, and time to network with a selection of European promotors and experts. Run by Serious, the UK’s most standout organisation in jazz, it’s an intense week, softened by the setting of a beautiful, organic farm in the ‘garden of England’ (Kent).


Christoph Irniger

“… great to meet someone from every aspect to build a career” Yilian Cañizares
Edition 1 of Take Five Switzerland in 2013 was my personal introduction to the creative intelligence and ambition of Swiss artists and honestly, my love of music was re-invigorated by them. Their feedback maybe shaped Edition II and the latest group were unanimous in their appreciation of the week. “There is a lot of information that I need to digest,” said Yilian Cañizares, “but it’s been really great to meet someone from every aspect to build a career and in my case that’s what I’m looking for: how to meet the right people to push me, help me with skills to get to the next step.” The experienced Christoph Irniger agreed, “Nothing is really new but when you hear it enough, it becomes clear: there are no shortcuts, you have to be really patient and it’s all about personal connections.”

The ‘personal touch’ was a key theme. It can be used to build a fan base and to address promotors when looking for gigs. The saxophonists, Nils Fischer of the Great Harry Hillman, Joel Graf of pommelHORSE and Christoph, were all keen to think more deeply about what venues might like their sound and target them as part of developing a strategy. Christoph said he would, “Check out who might programme my music and go for that…The spam is what makes the business so hard.”

“…choose clubs that fit our music” Nils Fischer
Jan Ole Otnaes of Nasjonal Jazzscene confirmed this and advised putting thought into targeting venues and writing personal emails to promotors. This came out in useful Q&A sessions that were in relaxed settings (literally around the fireplace) encouraging open dialogue. Nils heard the message clearly, “Now we know to focus on specific countries with the booking, really using personal contact, and choose clubs that fit our music.”


Manuel Troller

“You sharpen your consciousness about things” Manuel Troller
The Sony consultant Wulf Muller was another expert happy to hang out with the musicians and harpist Julie Campiche recognised it was a privilege to have quality time with such experience, especially at a time of uncertainty. “You know, as an artist you feel something – I want to go in a direction, but am I right or am I wrong? Is it my fear speaking or is this good intuition?” Her conversations at Take Five were, “a confirmation that I’m on the right path.” Manuel Troller, a guitarist to watch out for, intelligently observed, “You sharpen your consciousness about things – if someone speaks about something that you completely disagree with then you feel even more strongly about it, or if you agree, it helps you develop new ideas.”

“To have…something that helps you artistically and personally was great” Joel Graf
Yael Miller noticed that one expert said Facebook ‘likes’ were vital, whilst another promotor ignores them. Yilian felt the best advice was to forget Facebook ‘goals’ and, “Look at your audience as ‘friends’, you are building friendships – people you communicate with through music that have common values and ways of seeing life.” In order to do this artists need to learn how to speak openly. “The work with Mary McCusker [a communication coach] was fantastic,” said Joel Graf, “…to have all this information on the course, but also something that helps you artistically and personally was great.” They made short videos simply talking about their music and although Joel wasn’t sure of their usefulness, having to think of concise phrases to describe themselves and their creative work was helpful.

“It made me define what I want to do next, better” Yael Miller
When I arrived at Take Five I discovered that the band Orioxy were splitting up to allow Yael Miller and Julie Campiche to follow new creative ideas. Both were unsure whether to attend the course because everything was changing for them. However the promotors said they loved discovering artists who were transforming and it forced both of them to verbalise their ideas. Yael said, “So then I started talking about it and being open about it. It made me define what I want to do next, better.” Yael added of Take Five, “It was the thing I needed at this time because I’m in a transition period.”

There are some lessons that can’t be learned in Take Five. How do you face moving on from a band and deal with the consequences? These are situations that can be mis-handled but what spoke volumes to me was that Julie and Yael both turned up on the course. It takes balls to deal with changes and to face something like Take Five in a state of uncertainty. Yael’s concerns about taking a new direction were calmed, “One of them told me, ‘This is artist development.’ And it’s true, you have to take time to think about what you want, to be true to yourself…it was really reassuring.”



Charming gardens of Bore Place

“For me, healing myself…was through making music” Mandla Mlangeni
The last word goes to Mandla Mlangeni, a trumpeter from Soweto invited onto Take Five. When he was just four years old his activist father was murdered by a bomb sent to his home. Mandla explained, “For me, healing myself and all the pain that lingered in me, was through making music.” Ultimately all these musicians at one point or another felt this power of music and the professional side of things is there to support that. Mandla added, “Take Five has opened my eyes to a whole new world of opportunity and made me think about my career in ways I never have before particularly when it comes to making contacts.” So, if it helps such people, the future generations of this music, get their work out there, then it’s doing its job.

Take Five


Cowboys From Hell mit neuem Album

cfh_live_farbigWild, furios und rotzig, das sind die Cowboys From Hell. Das selbsternannte „Jazz-Core“ Trio hat vor kurzem sein zweites Album „Big Fish“ veröffentlicht und knüpft damit in bekannter Manier an seinen Erstling an. Nach erfolgreicher Album-Release Tour geht’s im Februar wieder nach Deutschland und im April nach Russland. Ein Erfolg der hart erkämpft werden musste, denn die Schweizer Band stand zwischenzeitlich sogar vor dem Aus, wie uns Christoph Irniger, Saxophonist und Komponist der Cowboys From Hell im Interview erzählt.

Im Jahre 2008 erschien euer erstes Album „Monster Rodeo“, mit dem ihr die schweizer Musikszene mit eurem unverkennbaren Sound schon mal gehörig aufgemischt habt. Es folgten einige Konzerte im In – und Ausland. Doch es dauerte trotzdem 4 Jahre, bis ihr euren Zweitling „Big Fish“ im Herbst 2012 veröffentlicht habt. Weshalb dauerte das so lange?

Christoph Irniger: Wir standen kurz vor der Auflösung. Unser ursprüngliche Bassist Richi Pechota hatte andere Pläne und ist ausgestiegen. Unser Drummer Chrigel Bosshard spielte in dieser Zeit gleichzeitig bei Drei erfolgreichen Schweizer Bands, Lunik, Bonaparte und Marc Sway und hatte deshalb einfach keine Zeit mehr für die Cowboys. Dies führte dazu dass wir einfach keine Zeit mehr fanden für unsere Band und Gigs absagen mussten, was letztendlich auch sehr an der Motivation gekratzt hat überhaupt noch weiter zu machen. Dass wir dann aber schlussendlich doch noch die Kurve bekommen haben, ist eigentlich dem ZKB Jazzpreis zu verdanken. Wir wurden da quasi aus heiterem Himmel dazu eingeladen daran teilzunehmen, was uns natürlich wieder schub und Motivation für unsere Band gegeben hat. Daraufhin suchten wir uns einen neuen Bassisten und stiessen dabei auf Marco Blöchlinger und das hat sofort unglaublich toll funktioniert. Marco ist ein Perfektionist mit einem unglaublich guten Gespür für Sounds. Die Cowboys waren wieder da. Für den Gig am ZKB haben wir uns dann auch vorgenommen neue Stücke zu schreiben was letztendlich auch dazu führte wieder eine neue Platte aufzunehmen. Deshalb hat dies alles so lange gedauert.

Eure Musik ist geprägt von Gegensätzen. Stilistisch schwer einzuordnen. Ihr selbst nennt es “Jazz-Core”, also eine Mischung aus Jazz und Hardcore. Wobei es stilistisch bei euch noch viel bunter zu und her geht.Wo holt ihr euch eure Inspirationen für eure Stücke jeweils her?

Christoph Irniger: Uns stilistisch einzuordnen, da tun auch wir uns eher schwer. Wir drei haben alle ganz unterschiedliche musikalische Backgrounds. Ich z.b. bewege mich mehr oder weniger nur in der Jazzmusik und dabei oft auch in der freien Improvisation. Der Chrigel hat seine Wurzeln sicherlich im Rock, aber er ist ebenso ein unglaublich toller Pop Drummer. Ausserdem spielt er oft mit Don Li und ist fester Bestandteil der Touns’ Szene. Er ist eigentlich der Musiker mit dem grössten Radius in unserer Band. Marco ist absolut der Pop Bassist, der u.a bei Bands wie Lunik, Myron spielt. Die Stücke werden vor allem von Chrigel und mir geschrieben. Marco ist dann derjenige, der ein gutes Gespür hat, wie man das interessant umsetzen könnte. Er geht da jeweils sehr pragmatisch an heran und tüftelt so lange bis er zufrieden ist. Diese Kombination dieser drei Musiker bringt sehr viel Spannung mit sich.

Ein herausstechendes Merkmal eurer Musik ist bestimmt der Sound deines Tenor Saxophons der jeweils so stark verändert wird, dass man teilweise sogar meint eine verzerrte Gitarre zu hören. Dann glaubt man aber wieder eine Art Synthesizer zu hören, aber selten bis nie den originalen Sax sound. Du selbst bist ja vor allem auch in der freien Szene verankert, wo Effekte in dieser Art eher unüblich sind. Was hat dich dazu getrieben, dich trotzdem so intensiv mit den Effekten auseinander zu setzen?

Christoph Irniger:Eigentlich muss ich gestehen, dass ich überhaupt kein Soundtüftler bin. Ich habe zwei Multieffektgeräte, eine Filterbank und eine Loopstation. Daran schraube ich jeweils so lange herum, bis ich einen Sound gefunden habe der mir gefällt. Natürlich kenn ich mich mittlerweile mit diesen Geräten schon ganz gut aus. Aber fragt mich einfach nicht nach solchen Fachbegrfiffen wie „Envelope“ oder „Decay“ usw. davon hab ich keine Ahnung. Durch das ausprobieren mit diesen Effekten und den vielen Proben mit den Cowboys hat sich mein Sound immer weiter entwickelt. Und natürlich hör ich mir nach wie vor Bands an, die mich musiaklisch sehr geprägt haben, wie z.b. Rage against the Machine, Massive Attack oder AC/DC die für mich zu den wichtigsten Bands überhaupt gehören. Mit den Cowboys wollte ich einfach lauten und wilden Rock spielen und so hab ich mich auf die Suche nach dem passenden Saxophon Sound gemacht.

Einer eurer Songs trägt den Titel „Horror Show“. Gibt es da eine Geschichte dazu?

Christoph Irniger:Ja da gibt es eine Geschichte. Ich war mit meiner Familie in den Ferien in Irland. Wir haben uns dort ein Haus gemietet, sozusagen im Niemandsland. In der Nacht war es dort jeweils so dunkel, dass man überhaupt nichts sehe konnte. Kein Licht, alles war Schwarz. Man konnte nicht mal den Himmel von der Erde unterscheiden. Und als ich da so aus dem Fenster ins Schwarze rausstarrte habe ich mir vorgestellt in mitten einem Horror Film wie z.b. Blair Witch Project zu sein. Die Geräusche die ich wahrnahm hab ich so interpretiert, dass da draussen nun irgendwelche Banden um unser Haus schleichen und uns beobachten. Naja, nicht gerade der beste Moment um sich solche gruselige Szenen vorzustellen. Das war schon gespenstisch. Und dabei ist mir dann irgendwann die Idee für diese Basslinie von „Horror Show“ eingefallen und so ist dann eben der Song entstanden.

Demnächst seid ihr wieder auf Tour. Auf welchen Cowboys Ritt in die Hölle freust du dich besonders?

Christoph Irniger: Wir sind gerade daran neue Stücke zu erarbeiten, worauf ich mich natürlich sehr freue diese bald live zu präsentieren. Und Natürlich freue ich mich sehr auf unsere gemeinsame Deutschland –Tour. Das ist immer etwas spezielles, wenn man einige Tage zusammen weg ist und jeden Tag spielt, daraus ergibt sich eine ganz andere Dynamik, als wenn man jeweils einzelne Gigs spielt. Und das ist auch 10 mal mehr Wert als zu proben. Im April geht’s dann nach Russland auf Tour und darauf freu ich mich natürlich auch sehr, nicht zu letzt, weil es für uns absolut Neuland ist.

Upcoming Dates in Switzerland:

31.01.13 Moods, Zürich

01.02.13 Bejazz, Bern

2.02.13 Treibhaus Luzern

Weitere Tourdaten

Album “Big Fish” reinhören

Bildschirmfoto 2013-01-25 um 12.56.25

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