AAJ: On Blues Vignette you play interpretations of several jazz standards like "On Broadway" and "Cry Me a River"; would you ever consider covering, and I'm thinking of lollipops here, more modern pop tunes the way Brad Mehldau has?
GS: For me it's about doing what's true to yourself and I'm not so into some of the singer/songwriters that have influenced Brad Mehldau in his music.
AAJ: I just wondered if there were any particular pop tunes from the modern era which you thought were so beautiful that you might like to interpret them.
GS: Not really, though if I do find something I'll do it for sure. I need to listen to more things, but there is so much music out there that there are massive gaps in my knowledge as I'm sure there are with most people. But it has to be something you do because you really want to.
AAJ: You've talked about finding your own voice, do you think this is a quest which has an actual destination or is it just a chimera?
GS: I think it's an on-going process and what your voice is can change completely from week to week, and as I mention in the liner notes for Blues Vignette that when you record an album that's just what you were doing at that particular time.
This is my second record so I'm still a complete newcomer to the process. We recorded it in May and it came out in November and I find it really hard to listen back to it because you already feel like you're doing different things.
And there's a conundrum, almost like a chicken and egg thing: do you record the music and then play it or do you tour the music and then record it? Of course financially, and marketing, means that you have to do the album first and then tour it because then you're selling the album.
But actually the music develops so much more when you tour it and once you've done twenty or thirty concerts it takes on a completely different life from when you started. I think this Blues Vignette album was a combination of things which were learnt for the album and some things which we'd played a little before so hopefully there's a nice balance.
I think with this album there's more of a thread whereas the first album I did, Perception was more of a calling card with different types of things going on.
Finding Yuri [Goloubev] and James [Maddren] has been really fantastic because I absolutely love working with them. Yuri has given the music a strong direction by taking it back to the classical side because he's a fantastically trained classical musician and his arco is quite a special sound.
AAJ: He is amazing. His double-bass playing has the fluidity of a fretless electric bassist. How did you hook up with him?
GS: I met him when I had to dep at the last minute on a recording by Klaus Gesing, who's a wonderful saxophonist from Austria. I got the gig through Asaf Sirkis, who was the drummer in the band and who very kindly recommended me. So I came in at the last minute and learnt all the music and did this recording which was Klaus, Asaf, Yuri and myself.
So that's how I met Yuri but it's one of those things where I feel like I've played with him all my life because his musical direction has the same kind of story. And James plays with such clarity that he really brings the music to life. He's only twenty-two, but he's so mature in the way he plays, and he can throw bombs in there and let rip when it's the right time, but he plays so supportively and just makes everything sound really good, which is such an amazing gift.
I think that's how you should approach playing music in any groupyou are there to make the other people sound better. If you only go down your own path and play only for yourself then that's only half the idea, really.
You know, the whole is greater than the sum of the parts and finding people to create that like James and Yuri who throw so many amazing ideas in there that I really want to play off their ideas as opposed to my own. It's so much more exciting playing off other peoples' ideas.
I like the bass to be very melodic and of course Yuri has the ability, at the top of his instrument, to play melodic lines, and as a composer that's a great thing to work with.
AAJ: You mentioned the word "clarity," and that strikes me about this trio's music, both watching you perform and listening to the record, a tremendous clarity; is that something you strive for or is it something organic in your playing?
GS: I think it's a bit of both. I'm very pleased you feel that because trying to appeal to as wide an audience as possible you've got to have that clarity. If it becomes too dense and obtuse, then it's very difficult for people to get into if they're not used to jazz. Hopefully with clarity that makes it easier for people to access what we're doing.
It's a combination of different things but having the right combination of people helps create that clarity. If you feel uncomfortable and ill at ease on stage then you play too much and things get jumbled up, and there's no shape to it. But when you're listening to what's coming back at you from the other musicians, and in the case of Yuri and James it's very beautiful, then you don't want to clutter that up, so you feel that every note you play has to really mean something.
If you get to the end of a gig and you realize that you haven't really listened to the other musicians then you feel really annoyed with yourself, but if you get into that zone where everything is going really well and you're so wrapped up in it that every note is the most priceless, precious thing. I feel a great debt of gratitude for creating that sound world and that situation.