INTERVIEW: Django Bates - new album on ECM The Study of Touch (co-publication with Jazzthetik)

Django Bates' Beloved Bird Trio in 2011
Photo credit: Roger Thomas  


DJANGO BATES has a new CD out: The Study of Touch, with his Beloved Trio of Petter Eldh and Peter Bruun is due out on ECM for release on 3 November and marks his debut as leader on the label. Sebastian interviewed him about it. 

(This is the English version of a feature in German in the November/December edition of JAZZTHETIK magazine which is out today. We are co-publishing with them):

How did it happen, I asked Django Bates? What was the story that led to him making his first album as bandleader for ECM?

The recent history is straightforward. It begins in a car in the early days of January 2015. Django and his manager Jeremy Farnell were travelling on the A96 motorway towards Munich. Jeremy had a spur of the moment whim: realising they would have time to spare in the Munich area, he suggested they could ring ahead and see if by any chance Manfred Eicher was at his office and free to see them. Luck was on their side, he was. And after a short discussion Django remembers Eicher floating a suggestion to him: Aha. So you are ready to record a trio then? “I just heard myself saying, yeah,” Bates remembers. “That was it. Completely unplanned. A commitment. To record a trio” And that set the creative wheels on motion. “I thought that this is the moment to take the next step from the Charlie Parker arrangements and focus on my own music with this trio. I don’t know why, the two things went together. We started to put a playlist together. We had a piece called Sadness All The Way Down. And I had plan to include Happiness all the way up. And we started to think - what kind of musical journey do we want in between. And when you are recording for a producer you respect… I like that.”

That is the recent history. But as often tends to be the case with this this uniquely versatile and chameleon-like musician, this eternal Wunderkind - there are more complex and involved chains of circumstances, connections and imperatives too. For example, one can turn the clock back roughly thirty years to Bates’ first experience of recording for ECM. In the mid -1980s he was a member of First House, the group led by saxophonist Ken Stubbs. Evan Parker had recommended the band to Eicher. Bates vividly remembers his first meeting with Manfred Eicher in Oslo after a long journey by ferry and land. His first two recordings on the label as pianist were Eréndira (recorded 1986) and Cantilena (1989). “It was all so unlikely. We were all so young.” And Bates also has happy memories of two albums from the 1990s, with a particular quiet and intense aesthetic that he made with Sidsel Endresen, Jon Christensen and Nils Petter Molvaer. So I Write and Exile .“Through that process I was able to show myself to Manfred as a composer as well as as a piano player.”

And then there is an even earlier time in the past. Django Bates also talked about his admiration and respect for what ECM stands for: “People like Iain Ballamy and I had sat around listening to albums like Belonging and My Song (Jarrett), 80/81 (Metheny) and Gnu High (Kenny Wheeler). The first ECM track I heard was Questar from My Song. As soon as I heard it, I felt that a that at last the dots had been joined up between the jazz music I had grown up with at home and the classical music that I had encountered when I tried to learn about music.”

And then there is another story - how the trio with bassist Petter Eldh, originally from Gothenburg in Sweden and Peter Bruun, from Aarhus in the west of Denmark came into being. It goes back to the time in the 2000s when Bates had a teaching post at the Rhythmic Conservatory in Copenhagen. He remembers the intense practice ethic of some of the players - “the guys and women who came from other places, because they didn’t have a cosy home to go to at the end of the day, they just went to a practice room and continued.” Bates remembers listening from the corridor. The bassist was “playing like a mad punk but with all the jazz training. And the drummer was equally intense, but at a volume where the bass can really sing.” And whereas until that point Bates had tended to rule out the idea of forming a trio, the encounter with Eldh and Bruun made him change his mind.

The three met more or less every week for a year to play. It was free rehearsing with no music, just experimenting with ideas and set-ups. Then came the opportunity do do a homage to Charlie Parker. “After all that work, it was easy.”

The release of The Study of Touch is an important milestone, but for Bates, who has been described as a musical maximalist, what is important is that it is just one of many facets of his creativity: “For me it’s been perfect to have Saluting Sgt. Pepper, the Belovèd album, and a new project with Anouar Brahem all appear in the same year. In fact, I would have liked it they’d all come out on the same day because there’s a message behind the madness. The message is: I refuse to be pigeon-holed, and (even as the music business becomes more challenging), I will insist on finding a way to continue putting music “out there” for consideration, enjoyment, and criticism.”

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