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!
Plaistow on Facebook

Plaistow on YouTube:

Colin Vallon speaks about “Le Vent”

Colin Vallon © Petra Cvelbar“Le Vent” is Colin Vallon‘s second album for the prestigious label ECM. Listening to it, or to him speak, you might think he’s a bit soft – a gentle soul. There’s a distinct aesthetic to his playing, it’s mindful and sombre as if remembering a lost love. Interviewing him, I found an assured and fiery spirit; a pianist with a clear intelligence, driven to carving out his own, individual path.

“From the moment I could stand I tried to press down the keys”

Music was always around Vallon – when most families were arguing at Christmas, his was gathering at the ever-present piano, singing hymns and Gospel. “I loved the sound of the instrument, from the moment I could stand I tried to press down the keys”. Despite this, he quit piano at the age of 12 because he could no longer play by ear and reading music frustrated him. Then two things happened: his uncle taught him some blues chords that he could play, “Without paper in front of me” and he saw a solo concert of Keith Jarrett, “It was really amazing to hear that.”

He returned to music lessons at 14 and began composing. By 19 he was at the University of Arts in Bern and had his own trio. Here he found the American theory of copying the standards until you could imitate them too restrictive. “But this was also very good for me,” he says, “because it meant that if I wanted to do something of my own then I had to do it really on my own and to be more didactic in terms of composing. I was really independent.”

“It’s a music that has something very raw about it”

However the composition tutor, Frank Sikora, inspired Colin and for his class he recorded, “A huge fence or gate that was screeching, making harmonics and noises.” By 2002 he developed this interest in strange sounds with prepared piano techniques and had begun an enduring curiosity for Eastern European music. “It has something very raw about it and, like this fence maybe [that he’d recorded], it’s a very different sound and it’s something that caught me immediately.” He joined a band with the saxophonist Sascha Schönhaus playing Balkan music and discovered one of his “desert island records”, Le Mystère des Voix Bulgares.

A journey in Albania

Meeting Elina Duni provided fertile creative soil as Albanian music opened up to him and the Trio’s third album, (their first for ECM) was entitled Rruga, the word for “path” or “journey” in Albanian. It was critically acclaimed, so did this make it hard to follow? “There was a bit of pressure,” admits Colin, “not from the label, but from myself..it’s hard to come with a second album…and changing the drummer [from Rohrer to Sartorius], but in the end I’m really happy with the results.”

“There are a few goodbyes, a tribute to Asita Hamidi”

Colin found his material came naturally as he dealt with several deaths and saw a suicide jump from a bridge. “Le Vent was an elegiac album, a lot to do with death…and the passing of time and life. It sounds really dark but it’s not just about that…There are a few goodbyes, a tribute to Asita Hamidi [the harp player] who died…things that are a part of life but I needed to express somehow.” It’s Vallon’s careful listening for, then stating his own truth, that makes him a compelling artist.

Colin Vallon “Le Vent” (ECM)

On tour:

26/04/14 Jazzahead, Bremen DE
27/04/14 A-Trane, Berlin DE
29/04/14 Mokka, Thun CH
30/04/14 Bee-Flat, Bern CH
03/05/14 L’Azimut, Estavayer-Le-Lac, CH
13/05/14 Mokka, Thun CH
17/05/14 AMR Genève, CH
27/05/14 Mokka, Thun CH
01/06/14 Green Hours Festival, Bucarest RO
07/06/14 Paris Jazz Festival, Paris FR

Rusconi at Cully Jazz Festival

ImageI was reminded of the story of the Sorcerer’s Apprentice watching this trio perform. Keen to make magic and mischief, Rusconi sometimes found themselves unable to control the proceedings. This was the first gig of the tour and I think their playfulness will win over audiences, they just needed more child-like energy, a sort of innocent conviction, to pull it off at Cully. However, the band were most captivating when they painted afresh their best compositions from the new album, History Sugar Dream.

‘Psychedelia for Laika’
Ankor was a trademark piece, with Stefan Rusconi’s mournful yet sweet piano, rich with echo and thought, sensitively interlaced with Fabian Gisler’s handsome bass notes. The sparse, crispy drum beats of Claudio Strüby balanced the sound perfectly. Sojus Dream used a repetitive theme as its foundation before a synth keyboard sneaked in, providing Herbie Hancock-like funky accents. The track grew in stature as it built a platform for Fabian’s electric guitar to glide through, providing, as they tell us, ‘psychedelia for Laika,’ the dog who was sent out to orbit the earth in 1957 (and died within hours of lift off). I didn’t feel Fabian pierced deeply enough, so it was down to Stefan’s collapse into a warped and weird circus-style piano to trip the track out.

Bowie’s Life on Mars? started up
So, to the ‘high jinks’ – such as swapping instruments amongst themselves, as in Change (Part One), with Claudio on piano, Fabian on drums and Stefan on guitar, and stopping everything for Fabian to put a record on the Technics deck set up onstage. Bowie’s Life on Mars? started up, complete with vinyl crackles to re-enforce the theme of History Sugar Dream – childhood memories, “A time when dreams and hopes, fantasy and illusion, were reality,” as they write in their press release.

This trio is capable of subtle and complex emotions
I like the way Rusconi seem to feel their way through unknown landscapes in their music, playing with fantasy. At one point I thought of dark, rainy scenes in the film Blade Runner with its sense of nostalgia, loss and romance. This trio is capable of subtle and complex emotions. I’d like to have been taken more deeply into these worlds, that’s where the real playfulness lives.

 

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