Jacob Young: Lyricism and Elasticity
That Evening Falls represents a huge stylistic leap for Young is not to imply that things hadn't already moved that way before the recording. While Eicher's role in the recording is not to be understated, the group was already a solid working unit with a specific aesthetic and approach. "We had rehearsed," Young says, "so there wasn't much need for change when we got into the studio, because we had already worked out the arrangements. I'd written the tunes with arrangements, and then we tried them out with the group over time, and we did some concerts to try out the material live. So when we were in the studio we were well-prepared. What Manfred did have were suggestions about the order, maybe put an introduction here, maybe cut a part there. But basically he didn't change the music as it was already predestined. He was more of an influence on the feeling of how we played the music.
"The great thing about Evening Falls," continues Young, "is that I really had a chance to get some weight off my shoulders because I didn't have to produce it, I didn't have to sit there and watch the time or decide when we should jump to the next tune, because that's what Manfred did. He wouldn't say, 'This is good enough, let's go on to the next tune,' he would say, 'Yes, but are you sure this is the potential of this tune? Only you can know.' He would ask me questions like that. At first I was very nervous, I mean I'd hardly ever met him and then there I was in the studio and he was going to produce our album; but after ten minutes we just relaxed and tried to play and do our best."
Evening Falls also blends a stronger folk-like sensibility with Young's already firm sense of melody. "The first tune, 'Blue,' is actually a celebration of Joni Mitchell," Young says. I don't know why, I haven't analyzed it myself, but that tune had a name when we were recording, it, and that was 'Joni Mitchell.' When it came time to name it for the album Manfred said, 'No, we can't call it that, we have to change it.' I explained why I'd called it 'Joni Mitchell,' and so that's why we ultimately called it 'Blue,' because that's her most famous album; because I've been a longtime fan of her music, her guitar playing and her songwriting."
While Evening Falls is only now being released in North America, the group has clearly evolved in the nearly two years since it was recorded. There are more tunes in the repertoire, but even more importantly, the group is more tightly knit, more secure with each other, with an even stronger sense of trust.
One of the amazing things about the Norwegian scene is how vibrant it is for such a small country. As someone who has experienced the New York scene and the Norwegian scene, Young is in a particularly good position to assess the differences. "Well, first I must say that I was never really established in the New York scene," says Young. "I mean I played a lot, but I was just one of many struggling young musicians, and occasionally I had some good gigs and occasionally I had some less-than-good gigs. But the good thing about New York versus Norway, being a small country, is that in New York, at least when I was there, there were so many different places you could play. The last two years I was there I think I played three gigs a week - small cafes, and not every gig would be with a great audience - or with any audience - but it was great living the musician's lifestyle in New York, being able to play with young hungry musicians. If you have a gig people come in and listen and all of a sudden you are playing with some legend you didn't know.
"It's just such an inspiring environment to be in for a musician," continues Young. "And if you're not playing yourself you can go listen, and there's jam sessions; so it was basically music the whole time. I played a lot, even though I didn't make a lot of money playing. And back then you had Smalls, which was just opening when I was living there, so you could sit up and listen to music and play twenty-four hours a day; playing and listening to a lot of music the whole time, meeting musicians. And sometimes there'd be a wedding gig or some not-so-fun gig, but still you would learn something about what it is to be a musician. And the level of the musicianship in New York is amazing, the versatility. Most of them know how to play in different genres. So it's very inspiring.
"In Norway, on the other hand, it's a small country," Young continues, "with a very high level of musicianship for the size of the country. It's a huge question - why we have so many great musicians? I guess it has something to do with the fact that we're situated a little north of Europe. I mean we are in Europe but we're really not, it's so far away that you have to really plan it if you want to go out of the country. We're a little bit isolated here, and I think it was even truer before, when travel costs were much higher and we didn't have the internet. And Norway didn't have Dexter Gordon living here for fifteen years, or Kenny Drew, like in Copenhagen, where they were living. And they were teaching the Danish musicians how to play American jazz and the whole lifestyle of it, the whole attitude towards that art form. In Norway we didn't have that much direct American influence. In a way that's one element that might have twisted Norwegian music in its own direction, of standing more on its own two feet.
"And because we aren't so firmly rooted in the American tradition, labels like 'jazz' don't matter," concludes Young. In recent years we've had a great younger generation coming up because there's been a strong focus on a good level of music education here in Norway. When you get players that are good they inspire new players to come out, and that's a great thing. Because we're so small everything is more accessible and because everyone knows everyone we can basically feed off each other. In New York it's more clique oriented. Here it doesn't really matter if it's jazz or if it's rock or if it's free bag or classical music, it doesn't seem to matter so much. And that's why it's more open here; it's not so genre-oriented."
Evening Falls clearly transcends narrow genre definitions. And as Young looks forward to wider international exposure with its release, and hopefully some North American tour dates in '05, he continues to explore the convergence of strong and memorable themes with a freer time conception that makes his work stand on its own. In a recording career that now stretches back ten years and covers a variety of different approaches, these are the constants that have emerged as unifying characteristics. With a unique instrumental line-up, and a band that mixes the energy of youth with the wisdom of experience, the past ten years have only been a precursor to what will undoubtedly become a broader, more expansive career.
Visit Jacob Young on the web at www.jacobyoung.no .
This is You (Norcd) (1995)
Pieces of Time (Curling Legs) (1997)
Glow (Curling Legs) (2001)
Where Flamingos Fly (with Karin Krog) (Grappa) (2002)
Evening Falls (2004) (ECM)