INTERVIEW: Jim Hart (touring with Cloudmakers Trio 'Five', Jan - Mar 2017)

Jim Hart. Photo credit: Alex Bonney

Vibraphonist and drummer JIM HART will shortly be setting out on his first major tour of the UK as leader since 2014. There are fifteen tour dates in January and March 2017 - list below.

He made his home in the Alsace region of France in 2014 but has been over in the UK regularly to teach and play. So this interview with Sebastian is both a catch-up with recent developments, and a preview of the January tour:


LondonJazz News: The band you will be touring with, Cloudmakers Trio... is now a quintet. Can you explain please??

Jim Hart: Cloudmakers Trio - with Michael Janisch and Dave Smith -  grew out of a collaboration with Ralph Alessi with whom we recorded the first album Live at the Pizza Express in 2010. Since that time I put my energies in to trying to develop the trio on its own to explore and develop what I imagine possible musically within the quite under-exploited vibraphone trio format. We have done two albums since then – one in the studio and one live – and have toured quite extensively culminating last year in a 10-date tour of the USA and Canada.

That tour was really great and we had a great reception out there. It felt like an important moment. Part of the feeling was a sense of completion. Like I had found what I was looking for in the trio and was now ready to start searching for something else. My son had been born a few months earlier and that combined with the move to France the previous year was enough to make me want to take a step back and think about where I wanted to go next. To take a little time to think about what to write and who for. I was sure I wanted to do something a bit bigger. I think that from playing a lot in the groups of Marius Neset and Ivo Neame I was quite inspired by the way that they both compose for quintet and larger ensembles and create beautiful textures.

At one point I thought that it might be fun to start a new group from scratch but I love playing with Mike and Dave so much and thought it would be a shame not to develop the trio in to a larger group. I very quickly knew who else I wanted to play with and once I had them on board I got to work on writing a whole new set of music for the Cloudmakers Trio 'Five' project. The music came very quickly once I got in to the flow.

LJN: The new members might be less familiar to UK audiences who are they ?

JH: Guitarist Hannes Riepler is almost certainly known to London jazz fans as he has been an important figure on the London scene for some years having run various jam sessions on a long term basis including the current downstairs at the Vortex jam on sunday nights which is an important social centre for London musicians and which Hannes uses as a platform to invite and collaborate with many internationally touring musicians when they are in town. He has recorded two albums under his own name, the latest of which is with his quartet featuring Chris Cheek on tenor. He is from Austria and studied in Holland but has been living in the UK for 10 years now. We play together in a band called Electric Biddle with French saxophonist Julien Lourau and electronics/keyboard wizard Dave Maric. I really like what he does with pedals and loops in that band, and was definitely hearing his sound in the music that I wanted to write.

Antonin-Tri Hoang is one of the young stars of the french scene. We met a few years ago playing on an album for the Czech bassist Jiri Slavic. His alto and clarinet playing really made an impression on me and not long after I got the chance to invite him to do a Jazz on 3 radio broadcast with Cloudmakers. We played some of the material that we had done with Ralph Alessi and some of the Abstract Forces trio stuff. He just came in and fitted in with the music so well. It was really exciting. We also played one of his compositions from his debut album with Benoit Delbecq, which worked really well with Cloudmakers too. Antonin was in the Orchestre National de Jazz for 5 years and is currently playing in Eve Risser's White Desert Orchestra, the Umlaut Big Band and leads his own contemporary improvising quartet Novembre and is also regularly playing solo. What I really love about his playing is that he combines so many things in his playing in a really personal way. So many contemporary references whilst also been really informed by jazz history.

LJN: Is there a quintet album in the offing? / new compositions? /  what stage is all that at ?

JH: The music is all new and has been written especially for this band and will be premiered on the tour in January. I am hoping that we can document it in the form of a recording during the Jan – March touring period. I'll keep you posted of course!

Cloudmakers Trio 'Five'. L-R: Dave Smith, Mike Janisch, Jim Hart,
Antonin Tri-Hoang, Hannes Riepler


LJN: You are involved as sideman in Marius Neset's group. He criss-crosses all over Europe right?

JH: Yes that's right. In fact I am writing this on a train working its way through the Austrian Alps. It's stunning. We are on a short 4 date tour which has taken us to Vienna, Munich, Dornbirn and tonight we are Innsbruck. But yes we play all over Europe with Marius which is great fun. We have done summer festivals in the heat of the Mediterranean in Italy and Croatia and up in the north of Norway in january in 24 hour darkness. It is a great band to play with. Incredibly challenging musically with players who always commit 150% to every note. Marius writes great music and it continues to grow all the time. We will have an album coming out next year with Lionel Loueke as guest which was great fun to record. We have also been playing with the great Swedish cellist Svante Henryson recently which was another rich colour in the music and next summer we will play a show with Stian Carstenson as a guest on accordion. I feel very lucky to get to play with so many amazing musicians.



LJN: And there are other bands too - one working with Ivo Neame.....

JH:  Ivo Neame and I have been playing together for 15 years or so now. We are both in Marius' band and have done several other groups together over the years including my own previous group Gemini in which Ivo played alto sax and clarinet. These days he plays piano and keyboards, as your readers will know, and is one third of Phronesis. I have been playing in Ivo's own group which started life as a quartet and has grown in to a quintet, octet and back to quintet again since around 2008. He is really one of my favourite musicians on the planet. He is such an amazing improviser and despite the fact that he is always prepared to take the biggest risks and jump off the mountain, his playing is so strong. Harmonically, melodically and rhythmically in equal measure.

I also love his compositions. Like in his playing, he has developed a very personal voice as writer. His music really doesn't sound like anyone else's despite the fact that there are sometimes very deliberate references to things which I am aware of. It is great music to play and his approach to being a band leader is that he really wants us all to take risks and see what we can find in the music to keep reinventing it and keeping it fresh. This is my way of wanting to approach this music that we call jazz too so it really suits me. We know each other very well musically speaking as well as personally after all these years and we have a duo project that we have just started recording. So there will be something coming in the future to keep an eye out for. I might even be able to persuade Ivo to dust off his horn for a few bits. We'll see!

LJN: .... and one with Kit Downes?

JH: Kit Downes and I play together band called Primitive London which is co-lead by Parisian based trumpeter Antoine Berjeaut and Loop co-founder and saxophonist/clarinetist Robin Fincker. Kit is on keyboards and I play drums. This a very new band and we have only done a couple of gigs and a recording so far but we have a week of gigs in the UK in January which are on my website – www.jimhart.co.uk. The album is going to come out in the early spring on the Fresh Sound/New Talent label. It's a really cool band which uses the influence of psychedelic library music from the 70s film industry in the UK as a jumping off point musically.

It is great to be playing with Kit again. We were in Stan Sulzmann's Neon Quartet together for a few years and I have a huge respect for him as a musicians and the musical choices he makes. He has such a varied career and you can really hear the breadth of his musical knowledge when he plays. He is a great second rhythm section player to play with as a drummer and he can really hold down a fat groove on the the bass with his left hand whilst tearing it up with his right.



LJN: And then there is Robin Fincker, and Electric Biddle?

JH: Electric Biddle is the band I mentioned earlier which features Julien Lourau on saxophones and electronics, Hannes Riepler on guitar, Dave Maric on keyboards and electronics (he calls his set up the Dave-o-tron and recently wrote and performed a concerto for Dave-o-tron and orchestra!) and myself on drums. We have been playing for about 3 years have have done quite a bit of touring in France which has been great. The band grew out of some improv sessions in a bar called Biddle Brothers in Clapton where Hannes is based and where Julien was living for a brief period. It was really exciting exploring pure improv with all the electronics that Julien and Dave were using and when Julien moved back to Paris we were able to take advantage of the Anglo-French Jazz-shuttle funding programme to do a residency at Le Triton in Paris where we spent 3 days just improvising and recording it all.

From this we cut a record and it will be coming out very soon on vinyl and digital download on Julien's own label Two Birds One Stone Records. Off the back of the Triton residency we teamed up with French agent Laurent Carrier who has been getting us some really nice club and festival gigs around France. We will tour more next year once the album is out. It was really coincidental timing that Julien moved back to France at the same time that I moved there and just as this band was born and started playing there.




LJN:  What is Velvet Revolution? You have a new album out?

JH:  Velvet Revolution is a great trio that I'm really enjoying being part of. It is lead by Daniel Erdmann who is a German saxophonist based in France. I met Daniel at Jazzahead the first year I went which I think was 2009. I heard him playing with Das Kapital and really loved the band and his playing. We stayed in touch and did a session when he came to London. He asked me to join this new project just before I moved to France and we started playing in 2014. The trio also features violin and viola player Theo Ceccaldi. Theo is making big waves in France with his own projects and collaborations as well as being a current member of the ONJ. Daniel writes really lovely music which is in some ways quite simple and very melodic but which has a really strong vibe and the tunes are great vehicles for quite open improvisation.

Both Daniel and Theo are both really versatile players but who have quite strong leanings towards free playing. This group is a really nice combination of musical elements and and it is great playing with them. It is still quite young but we have a lot of touring coming up in Germany and France over the next two years and it will be great to see where it goes. We have recorded an album called A Short Moment of Zero G which just came out on BMC records.

LJN:  And you will make your Festival debut in Strasbourg in the region where you now live later in 2017?

JH:  We will play there with Velvet Revolution in 2017. It will be a collaboration with a special guest which I can't say anymore about at this time but I'm really looking forward to it. It will be great to play in Alsace as I have not actually done much there yet since moving. Most of my French work has been elsewhere. Jazzd'or in Strasbourg is a really great festival and I am really excited about playing there and spending a few days checking out the acts and hopefully connecting with a few more musicians who are based there.

LJN: Has it taken time to get known / be visible in France?  Alsace ? Is that  work in progress / What is the story there?

JH:  As I have already mentioned, I am involved in three bands in France as of now. They have all come about very organically and without me having to really promote myself in order to meet musicians. And I have not been living in a major city like Paris. I have ended up doing these things despite having gone to hide up in the mountains so I consider myself very lucky. I think if I had moved to Paris I would probably be doing more there than I already am but in some ways the move was about having more creative control over what I do by doing less than I was when I was in the UK. I was working all the time in London and that can get a bit confusing in terms of knowing who you are as a musician. So I'm happy that things are taking the trajectory that they are over there and I am in Paris and at festivals often enough to be meeting more musicians who I will hopefully have the chance to play with when the time is right.

LJN: Have there been moments when things have really clicked well with musicians on the continent that you weren't aware of?

JH: Yes I guess the two best examples of that would be Theo Ceccaldi from Velvet Revolution and Svante Henryson who has done some guest appearances with Marius Neset. I did not know either of them before playing with them and they have both been really inspiring to play with. I wonder if it is because Violin/viola and cello are instruments that I have not had much chance to play with in a jazz context and the sounds blend really well with vibes.

LJN: If a UK musician is despairing about Brexit is there any advice you'd give?

JH: I don't really feel like I am in a position to give advice as I don't know any better than anyone what is going to happen. I think it is a very sad situation and the worst case scenario could be very bad for UK musicians. But it may not be as bad as we might expect. I just don't know. So many of the musicians I have met and played with whilst living in London are from other European countries and I feel so sad to think that future young musicians may not be exposed to the same opportunities. The music I have written for the Cloudmakers Trio 'Five' project is actually all about migration of people and cultural exchange. I believe it is very important. It's a sad time we are living right now. I guess we all have to take advantage of all the opportunities that we can and make strong musical friendships now whilst the UK is still officially in the EU.

LJN: What do you miss about not living in the UK  any more?

JH: I think there are two things which go very closely together. One is the attitude of making things happen in the face of very trying conditions and pulling together to create something amazing. The UK is really amazing at this. When I see how people sometimes complain in other countries where conditions are very different and it is safe to say better I realise how strong you have to be to succeed in the UK. The second thing is the tool that you ultimately need to achieve this. Humour. It's just not quite the same anywhere else.

LJN: You used to play both drums and vibes - still both?  what's the story there?

JH: Yes I'm still keeping the balance here. In terms of bands, the current balance is: Vibes 5 (Cloudmakers, Marius Neset, Velvet Revolution, Ivo Neame Quintet, Duo Plus) Drums 3 (Electric Biddle, Primitive London, Duo Plus)

LJN: Thank you and all the best for the tour!

Tour Dates:

10th January – Royal Academy of Music, London, England
11th January – Swansea Jazz Club, Swansea, Wales
12th January – Cambridge Jazz Club, Cambridge, England
13th January – Kings Place, London, England- BOOKINGS
14th January –Stokes Collection Café, Lincoln, England
15th January – Jazz @ The Albert, Bristol, England
17th January – Dempseys, Cardiff, Wales
19 th January – Seven Arts, Leeds, England
20th January – Sheffield Jazz, Sheffield, England
7th March – Watermill Jazz
8th March – The Jazz Bar, Edinburgh, Scotland (CMT Trio)
9th March – The Jazz Bar, Edinburgh, Scotland (CMT ‘Five’)
10th March -Vortex Jazz Club, London, England
11th March - Vortex Jazz Club, London, England
12th March – Herts Jazz, Welwyn Garden City, England

LINKS: Cloudmakers Trio website 
Jim Hart Website

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