INTERVIEW/ PREVIEW: Alex Munk (Green Note/EFG London Jazz Festival, 18th November)

Alex Munk
Guitarist Alex Munk has been developing his own quartet to play his own music, leading up to an appearance in this year's EFG London Jazz Festival (Green Note, November 18th.) In this email interview with Sebastian Scotney, he tells the story:
LondonJazz News: Where are you from?  When did you take up the guitar and why?

Alex Munk: I was born in London although we moved to Buckinghamshire while I was still young. I started playing classical guitar at primary school. At secondary school my heart had fallen for the electric guitar my Dad had bought me when I was about 13. I started playing along with some pop/rock records, wailing away with pentatonic scales over the top. Everything I touched turned to gold back then, all I had to do was stick with that 5 note shape, crank the distortion and I was Hendrix reincarnated. My ears have become less forgiving with time.

My brother was also a huge influence. He is a few years older and he suddenly got really into music while we were both at the same secondary school. Even back then he had these great ears that could churn out requests as fast as you could name them and he quickly gained this reputation about the school as this talented, somewhat eccentric musician who could entertain the crowd. I fancied a bit of that as well!

LJN: You left RAM in 2011, what's the story been since then?

AM: I've been very lucky to have been involved in some fantastic sideman projects. I play guitar in the Stan Sulzmann Big Band which is a dream of a band. Also I've recorded albums with Dave Hamblett, Jack Davies, Joan Vidal, Matt Anderson and Reuben Fowler, all sterling musicians and writers. Being good chums with guitarist extraordinaire Chris Montague has been a real bonus and I've filled in for him on occasion in the bands of Trish Clowes, Threads Orchestra and Michael Roberts. Similarly the head of jazz at the academy Nick Smart has been hugely supportive.

It's only recently though that I've decided to stick my own flag in the ground and launch my own project, it's taken a few years to put the music college thing into perspective and playing other people's music to really figure out the kind of music I want to play.

LJN: What's the best thing that's happened in the past three years?

AM: I'd have to say this whole experience of getting my own band off the ground has been really significant. I've been writing the music since December last year and we've been rehearsing it for ages so it has been incredibly rewarding to start playing it live. Another positive side effect is that it has forced me to engage with this digital world, which I've been putting off for years, and to start making a bit more effort with the promotional side of things. To this end, I've finally got a website together and we recently recorded some videos of us playing which I'm really proud of.

LJN: And you're playing at the EFG London Jazz Festival - what's been inspiring your writing recently?

AM: Over the last few months I've been delving into the music of Tigran Hamasyan and that's been a huge inspiration in so many ways. His music is incredibly intricate and complex at times but it never fails to grab me on a very immediate and visceral level. I love its huge, rock energy and the drama of it all, but it's also very melodic, something I'm always striving for in my own writing.

In terms of the rock energy thing I'd also have to cite Wayne Krantz, whose time feel and rhythmic imagination really appeals, and also bands like Troyka and Phronesis, who make very effective use of riffs and grooves with interesting, interlocking parts rather than just melody/accompaniment.

The more melodic side of things probably comes from my Leeds days as a big Pat Metheny enthusiast, although I don't underestimate the influence of all the poppier things I'm into as well, like John Mayer, James Taylor and Sting. Hopefully it all finds its way in there.

LJN: Who's in the band. And why these musicians in particular?

AM: The band is Matt Robinson on piano/keys/rhodes/whatever he can get his hands on, Conor Chaplin on electric bass and Dave Hamblett on drums. They're all brilliant and are some of the most in-demand players around London.

Matt Robinson and I spent a couple of years at the Academy together. As well as being a phenomenal piano player with a knack for playing the right thing at the right time, he and I share a lot of the same interests musically and we can often be found drooling over the same Tigran Hamasyan gig/youtube video. He also designed a bespoke website for me. In short, he's a bally hero.

Conor Chaplin on bass is one of the most frighteningly gifted musicians I've played with. He picks up everything incredibly quickly and plays it with impeccable sound and groove, even though that bass of his seems so low it almost dangles round his ankles.

Dave Hamblett and I also go back to academy years and playing in his band was a huge deal for me, a real honour. He's a very complete musician who contributes so much to the shape of the whole composition with his exemplary musical instincts. We also share a lot of the same interests musically; we both turn to putty in the hands of a glorious melody.

LJN: Where and when is the gig?

We're playing at the Green Note in Camden on the 18th November, alongside the fantastic piano player Rick Simpson and his band Klammer. Doors are at 7pm, music starts at 8:30pm. BOOKINGS

alexmunk.com

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