INTERVIEW: Chris Hyson - (EP of compositions performed by Kit Downes - Paradise

Bassist/composer Chris Hyson has just released his new EP “Paradise” which features the playing of pianist Kit Downes. This is the third EP from this duo collaboration-the previous two recordings “Little Moon Man” (see link below) and “Alive With Closed Eyes” were released in February and October 2013 Nicky Schrire interviewed him: 

LondonJazz  News: Chris, you’re an accomplished bassist, most notably with the groups “Tiny Beast” and “SnowPoet”. What made you decide to wear only your composer hat and to write for piano for these EP outings? As opposed to playing on them, or having them be duo bass/piano works.

Chris Hyson: It kind of all came about naturally. There was no initial plan to set out and compose music just for piano. I write most of my music on the piano and have always played the piano since I was fifteen or so. When I was studying at the Royal Academy I had a collection of tunes that I had written on the piano and had tried with various different bands and instrumentations and couldn’t really work out the best way of expressing them. After some thought, I slowly came to realise that they were best played as they were written - on the piano. It was then I started to wonder what they would sound like if somebody other than me played them on the piano.

I’m a huge fan of Kit’s piano playing and find his music mesmerising and effortlessly beautiful so I asked him if he’d fancy playing the tunes. We spent a morning at his house drinking tea playing the music. It felt ‘right’ and natural the way the music came out. We decided to record it a few months later, and released it as an EP - ‘Little Moon Man’ in February 2013. It was done on a very small scale - digital release with no press as we didn’t have any label or budget for the PR etc. It did really well and we had lots of lovely feedback and responses to the EP. By the summer I had written some more tunes and it only felt natural to do it again with Kit. We recorded and released ‘Alive With Closed Eyes’ that October and now ‘Paradise’ a year later.

I think if I was to play bass on these recordings, I would be doing it for myself or ‘for the sake of it’. The way Kit uses and orchestrates the piano to express this music is more than enough. I think if I played bass, I would interfere with the thought process and creative journey that Kit is taking the music on.

LJN: Can you shed some light on your collaborative process with Kit. Do you write outlines for each tune or is the notation more fleshed out than a mere skeleton that Kit uses as a springboard for his improvisations?

CH: The process for each song is different. Some are, like you say, a little more skeletal-chords and melody, while some are just notation, and others are a bit of both (notating chords, or queuing improvised melodies). Something I tend to do a lot is write lots of words on the scores and try to describe the feeling I want to elicit from the tunes. There are also a lot of dynamic markings, arrows pointing and tempo marks on the charts. We tend to work the tunes out before recording them in terms of forms and textures. Sometimes Kit will just come out with something completely new whilst recording that we haven’t prepared before-hand or reference something in a completely different way. For me, this is the most exiting part of the process - when the music is being played with and pulled around in ways that I couldn’t have imagined during the writing process.

LJ: Is there a particular reason that you favour the EP format? Or is it just based on the running time? 

CH: Personally, I love the idea of creating both a set of tunes that feel complete and an audio experience that is the perfect amount of sonic information. The EP is a good vehicle for our generation seeing as attention spans are dwindling.

I like EPs and I think that for this project the EP format works best. Keeping each document short and simple. There’s something in this that pushes me to keep writing more music. Also, for the listener, it’s cheaper to buy and I agree that our attention spans are dwindling. So I think there’s enough content to make the listener feel like they’ve had a complete experience of the music without taking up too much of their time.

LJN: There’s a strong emphasis on melodic content and a lot of the sonic landscapes are cinematic, meandering and very evocative on all three EP releases. Are you consciously inspired by film music or is there another influence in your mind when writing in this context?

CH: I’m not hugely inspired by film music in particular, however I did used to listen to Thomas Newman’s music. I have a lot of friends who are actors and writers so I see a lot of film and theatre - maybe this influences the way I write as I tend to reflect and imagine when composing. My musical influences vary quite a lot. I listen to a lot of folky and singer/songwriter stuff like Joni Mitchell, James Taylor, Feist, Tom Waits, Bon Iver, Billy Joel, Patti Smith, Kate Bush. Also jazz - Keith Jarrett, Bill Evans, Paul Motian, Lee Konitz, Frank Sinatra, Billie Holliday, Louis Armstrong. Classical music from - Ravel, Debussy, John Cage, Schubert…

I’m also really into new alternative and electronic music - James Blake, M83, Björk, Baths, Lapalux, Kwes, Everything Everything, St. Vincent, Radiohead, etc. I could go on and on. There’s so much beautiful music being made all the time it’s hard to keep up with!

LINKS: Chris Hyson on Soundcloud
Snowpoet Preview ( June 2014)
Chris Hyson writes about Little Moon Man

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