INTERVIEW: Peter Jones (Under the Setting Sun album launch 26 August, Jazz Café Posk )

Peter Jones
Photo credit: David Jacobson
Vocalist PETER JONES' third album, Under the Setting Sun will be released at the end of this month. It consists of new songs which are product of a songwriting partnership with Trevor Lever. Sebastian found out more: 

LondonJazz News:  How does your (combined/collective) writing process with Trevor Lever work?

Peter Jones: Songwriters used to be asked: which came first, the music or the lyrics? With us it’s different - it’s more like he’s the starter and I’m the finisher. So he will usually come up with a sequence of chords, to which I will write a tune and eventually a set of lyrics. We send files back and forth for a while, since he lives in Somerset and I’m in London. Then we’ll then get together and collaborate on the final version of the song.

LJN: Is there a theme to the songs and to the album?

PJ: In the first instance, having gone through a lengthy bebop phase a couple of years back, I thought I’d set myself the challenge not only of writing original material, but material that wasn’t swing, and rather more contemplative in mood than I’ve done before. They’d be songs you’d want to chill out to at 2am. You might think that would lead to a modal kind of vibe, and in fact one or two tunes have quite a simple structure. But having spent so many years trying to write like Donald Fagen, I find minimalism difficult. One example is a tune called 1969, which was just intended as a blues. Then it became a blues in 5/4, then it became a 14-bar blues in 5/4. You see what I mean?

LJN:  Is it a sequence or is it separate discrete songs?

PJ: It isn’t a concept album, so I suppose the only sequencing involved was deciding what order to put the songs in.

LJN:  JazzFM has picked one of the tracks...   

PJ: Jez Nelson played Your Secrets on his show Somethin’ Else the other day. It’s one of the most sparse tunes on the album, built around the idea of Three. So it has a simple three-chord waltz-time (3/4) structure and a three-part vocal harmony throughout. It’s not really about anything, it just captures a quiet, intimate, romantic mood.

LJN:  You have some of the musicians from your previous albums involved...

PJ: This is my third album, and I’ve had Neil Angilley on piano and Davide Giovannini on drums for all of them so far. Vasilis Xenopoulos was also on the first album, One Way Ticket to Palookaville. I first heard Neil play at the 606 with Steve Rubie’s Brazilian outfit Samara, and I was so knocked out that I then went to see his trio at the Archduke. Davide was the drummer, and Davide Mantovani was on bass. I just loved the depth and sophistication of the sound they produced. For my launch gig I couldn’t get Andy Hamill, who plays on the new album, but thankfully Davide Mantovani was available. So now I’ve got the entire Neil Angilley Trio, plus Vasilis Xenopouolos on tenor and flute, and Roger Beaujolais on vibes, since Anthony Kerr was also unavailable.

LJN:  What led to the choice of Anthony Kerr this time?

PJ: For me the vibes convey coolness and reflection; it was the 2am thing again. I went to a talk Anthony was giving at the Richmond Rhythm Club, talking about his musical life and about the vibraphone as an instrument. But more than that, I loved the way he played it, often just sketching in a few notes here and there. If you’ve got vibes and a piano - instruments with a similar range – you don’t want them bumping into each other, and I thought Anthony had the sensitivity to avoid that, so I asked him to play on the album. More recently I saw him with Georgie Fame, and realized that he also spends a lot of his time playing blues and r&b as well as jazz. He’s a real stylist.

LJN:  You are in the process of writing a biography of Mark Murphy. Has being so involved with his work influenced you - and in what ways?

PJ: It’s actually finished, and should be out next April. Having Andy Hamill on the album was a real bonus - he was Mark’s UK bass player - and he also plays chromatic harmonica on a couple of tracks.

Having listened to everything Mark Murphy ever released, and some stuff he didn’t, I realized that he wasn’t just a bopster, or even just a jazz musician – he also recorded pop, rock, blues, easy listening, ballads, the spoken word, poetry… and mastered all of them. In terms of influence, the thing I really like about him is his musical courage. It’s easy to stay in your comfort zone, but Mark thrived on challenges. He actually loved it when musicians got lost during a tune, because that meant even more improvisation was needed to find your way back. I’m not yet at the point of welcoming cock-ups on stage, but I’m aiming for Mark’s confidence and positivity and love of adventure.

Peter Jones is also a regular contributor to LondonJazz News 

LINK: Peter Jones' website

Under the Setting Sun is released on Friday 25 August, distributed through Discovery Records. Peter appears at Jazz Café Posk on Saturday 26 August with Vasilis Xenopoulos (tenor/flute), Roger Beaujolais (vibes), Neil Angilley (piano), Davide Mantovani (bass) and Davide Giovannini (drums).

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