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Klaus Kugel/Mark Tokar: Free Jazz, Ukraine Style

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Nobody can say that's my band. There are three personalities on stage and then something happens... —Klaus Kugel
Mark Tokar Two days after their own concert at the biggest ten-day-long Ukrainian jazz festival, Jazz Bezz 2008, I had a chance to talk with Ukrainian bassist Mark Tokar and German drummer Klaus Kugel at an informal setting. Their group with Lithuanian saxophonist Petras Vysniauskas already has some history behind it but only recently was christened Buchkys (which means kiss in Lithuanian). Buchkys was about to perform as a quartet with Romanian pianist Mircea Tiberian but he was not able to due to illness.

Mark Tokar is a key person in the Ukrainian free jazz scene. The same could be said about Klaus Kugel who is a frequent guest at different jazz venues in the Ukraine. Besides Buchkys both musicians play with prominent Ukrainian saxophonist Yuriy Yaremchuk in a trio called YATOKU. So the conversation was mostly on the topic of those international groups, their most recent musical projects, and the free music scene in the Ukraine.

All About Jazz: Klaus, how did your collaboration with Ukrainian musicians begin?

Klaus Kugel: I was on a European tour with the Steve Swell Quartet. It was three years ago in May. One of the concerts was in Krakow where Mark Tokar lived at the time. We met in the club and Marek Winiarski from Not Two Records introduced us. Later, Mark listened to a concert and decided to invite me to a jazz fest (two years ago) to play with him and Yuriy Yaremchuk. That's how we started our collaboration... and friendship [laughs].

AAJ: Besides Yaremchuk you are also playing with saxophonist Petras Vysniauskas? How did you meet him?

KK: Oh! I first met him in '89. We've played 20 years together since then. The first time was in Lithuania. I was a member of the Michel Pilz Quartet. At a jazz festival in Vilnius we were invited to play a tour together with Petras Vysniauskas who was already a big star here. From the first moments we became like brothers, and not only in music. Since then we've done many different projects with Petras. One of them is our trio with Mark and the quartet with Mircea Tiberian who didn't show up two days ago because he was sick.

AAJ: Mark, how do you find the playing of Klaus? I heard opinions that he's too rough, that he plays too loud...

KK: Don't believe that [laughs]... Usually playing depends on context. I play differently, say, in a great hall like this [showing the room around]. Quite often the monitor mix differs from what the audience hears. In that case we feel comfortable and play full, but what the audience hears is up to the sound engineer. And I don't know if they have good mix or not. I only can ask some people later.

AAJ: Do you actually not get feedback from concerts in the Ukraine and Russia, because all that's written comes in Ukrainian or Russian?

KK: Some people come after concerts and give some feedback, and also musicians that we know. But I have no idea what is written.

AAJ: Well, Mark, what do you say about playing with Klaus?

Mark Tokar: I'm always suited to play with Klaus. Never had a problem with his style even knowing that he plays very energetically. But it's not like some sonic storm; Klaus is always listening and always in contact with other musicians.

AAJ: Mark, and how about your concerts? Do you have more concerts in Poland and Europe?

MT: Mostly yes. Sometimes we get asked to play here but not as often as we would like.

AAJ: And that's mostly in Lviv?

MT: No, we don't play too often in Lviv either. I play two times a year here, at Jazz Bezz and at another fest called Weathervanes of Lviv that is more folk-oriented. And some concerts occasionally. For example, in September we played with Klaus and Yuriy [Yaremchuk] at a Book Forum in an opera theater; excellent scene, but that doesn't happen too often.

Mark Tokar / Dave Rempis AAJ: How about outside of Lviv? Concerts with Visniauskas in Kharkiv, Zaporizhzhya...

MT: We played in the Ukraine as a trio (with Petras) for the first time in Kiev at the Ednist Festival two years ago. And one more time two days ago here at Jazz Bezz were we supposed to play as a quartet. Our new CD, Five Spot—Poltva (SoLyd Records, 2008), recently came out from the last Jazz Bezz with Klaus and Petras. I got my copy only two days ago.

AAJ: Do you already have some plans for next year?

MT: We have no plans at this time to play in the Ukraine. But we have some plans elsewhere.

AAJ: Mark, how did you come towards free music? How did you meet Yuriy Yaremchuk?

MT: Oh! Long ago as countrymen. We first played together in '98. I played guitar at that time. We did some standards back then. Then we did not play together for some time, until we met up again later. I had my own quintet called LeoMart; Yura was also playing in it. We played my compositions and some of his also.

I can say the more I became open to contemporary music the more I became involved in working with Yura. When I was living for some time in Poland I attended many interesting concerts and my musical consciousness developed.

AAJ: And what type of music do you prefer to listen to yourself?

MT: I can not say I prefer something. I don't listen to free jazz more than to other music. It could be some choir or baroque music, church music. It could be classical music or folk.

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