Friday, May 21, 2010

Guitar Week: Jakob Bro

This week JazzWrap will take a look at guitarists and guitar driven groups that have or will be making a difference in jazz.
Jakob Bro (guitar; b. 1978)
Balladeering (Loveland)

In conclusion to our Guitar Week I hope we have given you insight into some of the historical figures of jazz guitar. Trust me there are another dozen we could have written about or have written about. We will probably do another one in the future. Today I wanted to discuss a musician whom I have been a big fan of for a couple of years now. I have to admit only until recently did I know he had solo material. I knew his work more from the session/touring collaborations with Paul Motain and recently Tomasz Stanko. That musician is Jakob Bro.

Jakob Bro is from Denmark but has spent considerable amount of time in the U.S. either touring, studying or recording. In his brief recording career he has already work with a large number of revered musicians, among them, Mark Turner, Kurt Rosenwinkel, Paul Motian, Chris Cheek, Bill Frisell, Ben Street and Lee Konitz. Bro has recorded 7 solo albums since his debut, Daydreamer (Loveland Records) in 2003. He has also works with three Danish bands, Bandapart, Got You On Tape, and one of my favourites Beautiful Day (all worth checking out).

Jakob Bro style is confident, ethereal and emotional. At times it reminds me of a young John Abercrombie. While I came to hear Jakob on Paul Motain's Garden Of Eden (ECM; 2006) album, his playing beautiful on that album, but it was the recently released Tomasz Stanko Dark Eyes (ECM) that really turned my head and made seek his own material.

Jakob Bro is a musician who allows his band members to express themselves freely. His seven albums are all very diverse but highly accessible for jazz new comers as well as your typical jazzhead.

The two records I would highly recommend are his 2007 quintet release, Pearl River (Loveland) and the recently released Balladeering (Loveland). At the point of Pearl River, Bro has already achieved the acclaimed within the jazz community to enlist some of the best musicians of the day (Mark Turner, Paul Motian, Chris Cheek and Ben Street). The album itself is a delight in hearing the exchanges between each of the musicians especially with Bro, Cheek and Turner. Tracks like "Pearl River," "Black Is All Colours At Once," "Mosquito Dance" and "Welcome" showcase a beauty and complexity that most artist this days can't come anywhere near achieving.

On his recent release Balladeering (Loveland; 2009) Jakob Bro expands his lush, beauty and melodic themes with the help of Paul Motian, Ben Street, Bill Frisell and the legendary Lee Konitz. Tracks like the opener "Weightless," "Vraa" and "Terrace Place" display the best of Bro's theory of allowing his fellow musicians to fill in the picture he has framed for them. The experience of Konitz and the counterpoint of Frisell and Bro shines throughout the session. Konitz sounds fresh as ever especially on "Starting Point (Acoustic Version)." Ben Street and Paul Motian add wonderful, lush and quite brushes across Bro's compostions, giving them strength and depth.

The album closes with "Starting Point (Electric Version)" which takes a more electronic/reverb vibe which Bro and Frisell tackle with ethereal effect. This is slightly similiar to Bro's previous work (most notably Sidetrack (Loveland; 2005) and is a great deconstruction of the entire album through one long solo (or two solo) loop. At times throughout this recording it is hard to believe that this was done in just two days.

Jakob Bro's mastery of composition and ability to set an stunningly emotional tone to the session makes this one the years best albums for me. So if you do anything this weekend, go out and buy Balladeering. It may not be at your local record store but you will be able to find it online at Amazon and iTunes. I'm pretty sure you won't be disappointed.

JazzWrap were caught up with Jakob while on tour with Tomasz Stanko to discuss his music, his label and what inspires him.

How have the experiences of playing in different size groups helped you develop as a performing musician and as a composer?

I find if very interesting to envision the music I play as a whole and then try to fill in whatever I think is missing - whatever I would like to hear that's not already there. So, playing in many different constellations and listening to a lot of different music has helped me become better at this…

How has your work with Paul Motian and Tomasz Stanko influenced your new album?

I learned a lot playing with Motian - trying to blend in with two horns, bass and another guitar - and sometimes trying to stick out. His compositions and the way that he arranges them and plays them have been a great influence to me over the last ten years. It's like he has created his own world of music combining the way he plays the drums with his compositions. It's very unique. To me, it's all the way up there alongside the great masters.

WIth Stanko I play a lot of unison and harmony parts with his trumpet - so again I'm learning to blend in and at the same time add colors…also in Stanko's band I have a lot of open solos which gives me the possibility to shape parts of the songs the way I hear them from night to night . This kind of freedom is something I can bring into my own music also.

In general, playing in different bands and with different composers has helped me and inspired me in my efforts to get closer to my own way of writing, arranging and improvising. And I've been very lucky to play with a lot of beautiful musicians from both Denmark and abroad.

Balladeering strikes me as a return to the more melodic and atmospheric soundscapes of your previous quintet release, Pearl River. Were you looking to expand of some of the themes created on that album?

After releasing Pearl River I wanted to record a lot of "songs" and arrange them pretty tightly. So, during a full week in 2007 I recorded 25 songs in New York with Frisell, Rosenwinkel, Mark Turner, Chris Cheek, Andrew D'Angelo, Paul Motian, Ben Street and the Danish alto saxophonist Jesper Zeuthen. The music from those sessions will be released as: The Stars are All New Songs (vol.1, 2, and possibly 3) - only vol.1 is already out.

The year after, in 2008, I went into the studio in New York again and made Balladeering. The focus for me on this recording was clearly to come back to the vibe of Pearl River - giving the musicians involved a lot of room to color the music and just open up the songs and see where the music would take us. The material is very simple, almost folk-like...

You've sometimes employed two guitarists or two tenor saxophonists -- what are the challenges and rewards when having two players for a particular instrument?

I like the thick sound of having two of the same instruments playing together. And especially with the case of guitars I like how strings can "melt" together. That way orchestral things, interesting voicings and melodies occur in a very spontaneous and sometimes even coincidental way. I find that beautiful. Sometimes though, a solo is much stronger if there is only one person playing - so the challenge for me with having double up's on instruments in a band is to know when to use that thick sound and when not to...

What is your vision for the direction of your label Loveland?

Loveland Records is kind of a playground for me, a place where I can store the music and the ideas I come up with and where people can buy it if they want…my distributor who is also the co-owner of the label is trying to make it as easy as possible for people to buy my music - it's difficult getting distribution and promotion but things are slowly moving in the right direction.

Who or what are you listening to lately that surprises or inspires you?

I listen a lot to Louis Armstrong at the moment. I also love Lester Young, Miles and countless more…in my teens I fell in love with Coltrane's music - that sound and that expression was the main reason why I decided to explore music.

What will you work on next?

I have some "Live" quartet-recordings with my trio + Tom Harrell, Joe Lovano and Lee Konitz - we did nine concerts in total at the Copenhagen Jazzhouse in 2009.

I need to spend a good amount of time on figuring out which takes sound the best. Also I still have a lot of unreleased material from New York in 2007. The Stars are All New Songs (vol 2 and possible vol 3). Besides, we just recorded "Live at Birdland" with Stanko so I hope that it will turn out to be an ECM album in the near future.

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