Sophie Hunger “SUPERMOON”

Cover_SophieHungerMuch has been written about Sophie Hunger‘s stellar credentials: polyglot singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, bandleader, film-maker, the only Swiss artist ever to play Glastonbury, etc… Yet, visually speaking, there’s little hint that she’s one of Switzerland’s most incisive, defiant and successful artists. Watching some of her live footage on YouTube, I was struck by how demure her physical appearance is; she could easily be mistaken for a young graduate turning up for an administrative internship at the local bank. I mention this simply because after listening to her fifth studio album, SUPERMOON just released on Two Gentlemen, I realise that she is indeed establishing herself as a heavyweight on the Swiss alternative pop scene and personally find her lack of super-sized-me visual representation very refreshing. A woman of substance. Like a tough hand in a velvet glove, Hunger’s musical approach often seems understated but is as tough as a big slap when you decide to pay attention.

Uncompromising, intimate, bewitching

The LP was recorded, mixed and mastered in a variety of international locations, hinting at a healthy investment of the part of her record company and a musical confidence of knowing who was going to bring out the best in her sound. SUPERMOON bears many her usual trade marks: uncompromising, intimate, bewitching. Inspired by a trip to the Golden Gate Park museum in San Francisco, the moon takes centre stage as muse in this work and sets the haunting, floaty, echoey tone throughout most of the 12 tracks.

It’s a generally sparse, languid, introspective work that to its credit doesn’t feel over-produced. Space is indeed the place. The title track is all gentle folk guitar and echo-chamber vocals, languid and contemplative with beautiful harmonies that soon seep in and have you looking at the earth from her dark, lunar perspective.

A perfectly lilting, sombre pace

Melodically beautiful and emotionally rich ballads are plentiful. ‘Die Ganze Welt’ being a prime example of a perfectly lilting, sombre pace that is cut through by her sensitive vocal limpidity. ‘Fathr’ is also a stand-out slowie, wonderfully uplifted by divine string arrangements and again a peg on which to hang a silvery vocal delivery full of depth and feeling. Footballer/actor, Eric Cantona makes an unusual appearance as her erstwhile lover in the duet ‘La chanson d’Hélène’ and together they make a decent enough job of this cover version originally done by Romy Schnieder and Michel Piccoli – possibly a strategic move to please Sophie’s large French following.

The potential to be a screaming smash hit single

Thankfully, it’s not all liquid, languid grey tones, there are bursts of great up-tempo rhythms that retain Hunger’s defiant dark edge, adding some fire energy to the moon dance. ‘Mad Miles’, again inspired by her recent trip to California, has the potential to be a screaming smash hit single with its sinister start, big pop chorus, distorted guitar solo middle and tidy end. Similarly ‘Love is not the Answer’, ‘Superman Woman’ and ‘We are the living’ – all examples of perfectly formed, socially-conscious, urgent 3 minute indie wonders.

The question is does Sophie Hunter really want to get into the smash and grab international pop arena that she sometimes hints at? Or is it preferable for her to stay slightly aloof in the shadowy world of underground cult status? A kind of Swiss PJ Harvey full smoldering talent and recalcitrant attitude? SUPERMOON suggests that both options are possible.

Forthcoming live gigs:
17.05 – Zürich, X-Tra
10.07 – Montreux (Montreux Jazz Festival)
25.07 – Lucerne, Blue Balls 
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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

Yilian Cañizares: Cuban colours on the Swiss musical landscape

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Bringing a myriad of verve, elegance and exotic rhythms to the Swiss jazz scene is Havana-born Yilian Cañizares. Classically trained violinist, singer, songwriter, dancer, teacher – there are many feathers to her cap. With a highly acclaimed 2nd album, ‘Invocación’, recently released on Naïve Records and an anticipated live performance at this year’s Cully Jazz festival, Yilian talks about the music that has shaped her and the important role that Switzerland has played in her musical evolution.

 

How did the violin become part of your life?

Yilian Cañizares: I come from a sporty, musical family and a country where music, singing and dancing are a big part of the cultural identity. As a three year old, singing came first followed by dancing. At music school aged 7, I was directed towards the piano but the minute I saw the violin I felt such a pull towards it that I knew it had to be MY instrument, even though my family thought I was crazy. I still use the piano for composing but then transfer everything to the violin. I’ve had a very strong classical training, but thankfully through the songwriting I’ve been able to develop my own style. At 16, I went to Caracas, Venezuela, to study with the ‘El Sistema’ youth orchestra where violin tuition was more developed than in Cuba. There I had a French violin teacher who told me that Europe was the epicenter for classical violin studies, so I came to Switzerland especially because of Gyula Stuller, (no.1 solo violinist with the Lausanne Chamber Orchestra). The technical and musical level was just of another standard, I benefitted from all the rich musical heritage that had formed Gyula.

How has moving to Switzerland impacted your musical career?

Yilian Cañizares: The impact has been enormous! There is more cultural diversity happening in Switzerland than people think. Geographical centrality is a key element which means that all that’s happening musically and artistically in Europe is within easy reach. Cuba is culturally rich but is locked inwards, not many international artists go there to play, you can’t always hear or get immediate access to what’s happening musically in the world, the learning curve gets cut short. My 15 years in Switzerland have exposed me to so many different styles of playing, listening, learning and teaching. Being here has made me the musician I am today, my style of playing has grown in a way that would have been impossible to imagine in Cuba. There are so many gifted artists in this small country, I feel very lucky to be part of the dynamic Swiss jazz scene. My cultural heritage is respected and welcomed as a richness that can be ploughed back into this multicultural scene. I’m also touched that major Swiss institutions such as Pro Helvetia, La Ville de Lausanne and Swiss Music Export are helping me develop my career, taking me on as a newcomer and helping me transform into a headline act. They believe I am a good ambassador for the young Swiss scene, as well for Cuban music.

How has being in a Francophone environment affected you?

Yilian Cañizares: I once heard someone say that every time you learn a new language you gain a ‘new soul’. Becoming a French speaker has developed a new sensibility in me and a different aesthetic, it’s all part of the person I’ve become. I can now sing and write in French even if it’s harder for me compared to Spanish, but very much part of my musical direction. I feel an affinity with the language and would like to touch as much of the French-speaking audience as possible, so it’s no coincidence that I’ve signed to a French label, Naïve Records in Paris.

 Why did you go to Sweden to record your latest LP?

Yilian Cañizares: Compared to my first LP, I knew I wanted to go onto the next level with regards to my sound.  I noticed that a lot of great current music I’ve been listening to has been recorded in Sweden. They have such great studios, such savoir faire, their culture of sound is really unique. So I was very clear about wanting to use Lars Nilsson at Nilento Studios.

 What are the musical genres that have shaped you and your style?

Yilian Cañizares: I come from a very classical background where Santería music was coming from next door and Cuban jazz from down the street. Then here in Europe I discovered Stéphane Grapelli and what can be done with the violin especially in the jazz context. I’d say that jazz, as opposed to ‘world music’, is what defines me best because of its power of rebirth, improvisation and freedom. I don’t want to be classified as strictly ‘Afro-Cuban’ since musical evolution and transformation is key to what I do and my aim is to be open to many different spheres.

 How would you describe your latest LP, ‘Invocacion’?

Yilian Cañizares: This is my most honest work to date, a real portrait of myself, my lived experiences and all that has shaped me. Above all it’s a homage to loved ones no longer here: my grandfather, family friends, slave ancestors, singers and poets who have taught me so much.  Clearly it’s a very personal, heart-felt work with lots of different influences ranging from a Yoruba traditional prayer to Edith Piaf’s ‘Non, je ne regrette rien’. I hope people can feel the Cuban influence in my work, but also all the other important musical journeys that have helped me evolve. I feel a certain responsibility to represent the ‘new Cuba’, a country with a fragmented population struggling to open up to the world. I am so very Cuban, but for now my place is in Europe.

Band line up:

David Brito (double bass)

Daniel Stawinski (piano)

Cyril Regamey (drums)

Inor Sotolongo (Brasilian percussion)

Forthcoming gigs:

11/04/15 – Cully Jazz (CH)

06/05/15 – Schaffhauser Jazzfestival (CH)

24/06/15 – Basel Off Beat (CH)

25/06/15 – Sunside Sunset (FR)

24/07/15 – Marseille Jazz des Cinq Continents (FR)

15/08/15 – Jazz en Baie (FR)

 

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