PREVIEW/INTERVIEW: Lukas Kranzelbinder and Mario Rom of Mario Rom’s Interzone. (Vortex. EFG LJF, 17 Nov)

Mario Rom's Interzone
Photo credit: © Severin Koller

The Austrian trumpet-led trio Mario Rom’s Interzone were playing on the main stage at this year’s Salzburg Festival. Bassist Lukas Kranzelbinder and trumpeter Mario Rom spoke to Alison Bentley about their music, and their forthcoming gig at the Vortex, their first time at the EFG London Jazz Festival.


London Jazz News: Where are you from and how did you all get together?

Lukas Kranzelbinder: We live in Vienna, Herbert (Pirker, drums) too. Basically, the Viennese scene is not so big - you can get to know each other - and Mario and I both studied in Linz. I studied jazz and he studied classical music. Herbert was teaching there, and after meeting Mario I quickly had the feeling that there was a good connection.

LJN: How would you describe Interzone’s music? I could hear swing, disco, funk, Afro Latin, techno, electronic dance music, Algerian Rai. 

LK: I like to call it a jazz band because for us Interzone has been the best opportunity to express our idea of jazz. It includes a lot of different styles and there’s a lot of improvisation. We like to go in every direction but the heart of it still has quite a jazz attitude.

The good thing with the three of us, what defines our connection, is that all three of us are totally open to any kind of influence while playing. Everything is possible in the moment. We’ve been making music for about 7 years now and anything that comes into our heads in these moments gets into the improvisation. We travel quite a lot – we’ve been to Morocco and South Africa, South America and China, and everywhere we go we try to inhale the musical culture and bring it into our music.

LJN: You don’t have traditional head solo arrangements - who writes the music?

LK: It’s been 50-50 up to our new album (Truth is Simple to Consume) where Mario wrote all the tunes.

LJN: How do you go about writing?

LK: For me personally, all of the tunes that get played happen as a natural inspiration in my life. I don’t sit down and say, now I’m going to write a tune. I tried that but those tunes never got onstage - they always felt too composed somehow. I think every tune I’ve written so far that’s on an album is from when I’m on the road, or with my kids, or when I’m playing at another concert. Recently I’ve been using my iPhone to record everything instantly. I like to think of these compositions as coming out of life. They feel very natural.

LJN: Is American jazz a strong influence? Ornette Coleman, Don Cherry? And New Orleans jazz?

LK: That’s totally true. Ornette, Don Cherry and those guys were basically the common starting point for the three of us. Also, we like to play older jazz, more traditional New Orleans jazz, in combination with free improv. We sometimes call ourselves a free Dixieland band! I’m not sure if musicians from New Orleans would all like what we do, but we played in Rochester for the second time this year and I don’t think we’ve ever had a better reception than there. Our concerts can be quite intense. When we started to make music we all were heavily into playing really traditional jazz - and then moving away from it. When I studied jazz no-one really cared about that traditional music - and I don’t mean '50s/'60s Miles Davis/Wayne Shorter, but '30s/'40s jazz.

LJN: You have structured written parts, then sometimes it sounds really chaotic. How do you get the balance between structure and freedom?

LK: We just do it and hope for the best! I think there’s quite a strong self-consciousness, a strong belief in our own input so each of us can go with something and then we move into another direction. And it’s always changing. In terms of the structure of the songs, the new album is a step forward in that direction - it feels very focused for all of us. We say it has a ‘red line’ through it. Our first two albums got a great reception, and there was a bit of pressure as to what to do next, but we’re all really happy with it.


LJN: Would you say that your music is cinematic? There are changing moods, and you have your YouTube videos... 

LK: Yes. I think both Mario and I have a feeling for these epic scenarios, which also define the band. No-one’s saying, let’s not make this too big. There are dark, very intense moods in Mario’s ballads, for example, or some bluesy stuff I write - it could be music from the cinema.

LJN: Do you feel that a lot of the time your bass plays quite a percussive role? Sometimes you’re keeping a driving groove going, which means Herbert can play quite freely.

LK: A friend of mine once said when he heard me in a concert, ‘I could never keep on playing the same thing for as long as you do!’ For me the most beautiful thing is to play one thing and to play that for 25 minutes. I like to have something defined not by the notes but by the energy. I keep on one thing and build something up with Herbert - he knows that I will just keep that going and he can do his crazy stuff. He’s an incredible drummer. Also Mario plays a kind of repetitive, spiritual thing. If you play uptempo swing that can have that same spiritual vibe.

LJN: You seem to enjoy the groove for its own sake.

LK: That’s right. The focus is not on finding the strangest harmony. Mario is a really modern kind of trumpeter and every time we get too bluesy he just plays his stuff, and it goes in a completely different direction. Or he may play a whole solo in a different key and it sounds completely avant garde. If there’s too much focus on harmony and melody Herbert just goes crazy and we go off in a different direction.

I think that most of the time we’re all soloing at once, especially when we play live. When it comes to extra bass solos it really changes from gig to gig. When I started to play the bass I was a student of Peter Herbert. There were also some really great workshops here in Salzburg. Before I was able to play a blues properly I was learning weird extended techniques - noises that sounded horrible for me at first, but I got into it. I had a phase where I played a lot of that stuff, then I went back to a more basic, rooted kind of music so it’s always a mixture. Nowadays I listen a lot to African music that’s really rooted- pentatonic.

LJN: Who are your other bass influences?

LK: I was a big Dave Holland fan when I started out, and I still am. Then I really got into Charlie Haden. I love Mingus’ bluesy playing. In the last couple of years I’ve been listening more to world music and my focus has widened.

LJN: You’re coming to the Vortex on 17 November.
LK: We’re looking forward to it. I think this double bill with Namby Pamby Boy is a really good representation of a Viennese theme - very different bands but with a similar attitude - very energetic and a lot of fun.

Interview with Mario Rom:

LJN: You have a bent bell on your trumpet like Dizzy Gillespie?
Mario Rom: It’s made by an Austrian company, Schagerl - they sell trumpets worldwide. There’s a famous Austrian trumpet player, Thomas Gansch, who invented it along with the company.

LJN: What difference does the shape of the bell make?

MR: I think it’s mainly a visual thing. It’s not as extreme as Dizzy’s. There are some trumpet players who play pointing straight ahead and some who play downstream. I play a little downstream.

LJN: Who are your trumpet heroes?

MR: I have heroes who are not only trumpet players. But when I was young they were, and still are, the basic ones like Miles Davis, Lee Morgan, Freddie Hubbard, Don Cherry, Lester Bowie. A young American trumpet player, Ambrose Akinmusire - he’s my favourite right now. It’s inspiring what he’s doing; it’s so different from everything I’ve heard on trumpet.

LJN: What inspired you to write the music on the new album?

MR: What inspires me changes from song to song. What I’ve started doing these last few years is recording. Sometimes I write a song, and plan it and sit down. But it may be that I’m walking in the street, and have an idea, and then I sing something into my phone, and forget about it for two years. I went through the last two years of little ideas I’d recorded and made songs out of some of them.

LJN: Is your music influenced by films?

MR: Not on purpose so much – I try to be inspired by books, people, whatever. The film The Naked Lunch was the inspiration for the name of the band, and a lot of songs on the first two albums. The new album not so much, but there is one piece that’s inspired by Twin Peaks, which we all love very much.

LJN: You recorded Blue Velvet - did that come from the David Lynch film?

MR: I’m a big David Lynch fan.

LJN: You have no chord instrument in your band. Does that affect the way you play?

MR: Definitely. I like playing with a chord instrument, but what I like about playing without a chord instrument is that there’s more freedom. And it’s easier to go anywhere you didn’t plan to go. I think we can communicate with each other if there are no fixed forms. If it’s just two instruments playing notes with drums it’s more open and I really enjoy it.

LJN: In the last tune on the gig it seemed like you were playing entirely major patterns.

MR: Yes, we didn’t have that on previous albums, because we had a lot of minor stuff and blues. This is a light, major thing which is new for us.

LJN: Everything is Permitted (title of their 2015 album). Is that true of your music in general?

MR: Yes, we have a lot of tunes which are 90% completely improvised, so it means that when we do this completely free improvisation there are no rules. So it may happen that it goes in an avant garde direction, but there are no rules to stop us going into Dixieland, so sometimes we do. Sometimes a jazz tune ends up in a disco vibe. That’s what ‘Everything is Permitted’ means.

LJN: Because you know each other so well, you can respond to each other very quickly. That’s one of the exciting things about listening to you, that you’re changing direction and following each other very quickly.

MR: It’s fun to do that, to surprise ourselves. We don’t get used to playing the same thing over and over, and we do play a lot of concerts. It could get boring but it’s actually never happened to us. Somebody throws in something and we’re off somewhere else.

LJN: What’s the William S. Burroughs connection for you?

MR: The band is named after the book The Naked Lunch. We saw Kronenberg’s movie because Ornette Coleman’s playing on the score. And that’s where the name came from. Burroughs’ stream of consciousness has influenced us - letting everything out, whether it’s good or bad - and that’s kind of what we’re doing in our music. If anybody has an idea, it has the right to exist.

LINKS: Mario Rom's Interzone website

The Vortex gig

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