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Interviews

Django Bates: Spring Is Here (A Long Time Coming But Worth The Wait)

By Published: July 14, 2008
AAJ: Another remarkable track is "Fire Brigade." It's extraordinarily catchy, a hit-in-waiting to set alongside "New York New York." How did that one come about?

DB: "Fire Brigade" was written right at the beginning of this music, directly inspired by that Cameroon experience. My idea was to write some pieces that were each very much in one key—which can give an impression of that very relaxed, happy feeling that we associate with African music. I like these little rules you can have to play around with. The other thing was these strange lengths of phrase running throughout the piece. There's an eleven beat phrase, and the track explores eleven in lots of ways, using different backing figures that are weaving in and out of the eleven beats. It's difficult to explain these things sometimes, but basically it's about having fun with music and numbers—which are closely linked.

"Sheep" was part of that early writing process too, that's why it goes into that long, looping thing with a bass line that's seventeen beats long. That's why the song is about sheep. They seem so similar but when you look at them closely you realize there are subtle differences.

There are lots of repeats, because when you repeat a musical phrase people feel comfortable with it. But if you have lots of things repeating, and they don't quite match up in length, you get this big kaleidoscope—it's like you're turning the wheel, seeing the same colored beads, but they're constantly reforming into different patterns.

It's a development of that Cameroon thing. I was asking myself what I was going to do with the songs to make them fascinating, to play around with the rhythm and the time aspect. In "Spring," for instance, during the first solo, everything is going along steadily and then the ground thing speeds up while everything else stays the same. That's exactly the excitement the Cameroon band had, that I wanted to get.

AAJ: The use of vocals on Spring Is Here is very striking. It seems you're increasingly interested in writing for voices. (Singer Josefine Lindstrand is featured throughout the album).

DB: Back in the early 1990s I did a couple of records with a Norwegian singer, Sidsel Endresen. Doing them opened my ears to the possibilities of using a singer and words. It was almost like having an actor on stage, telling a story, rather than a singer in the traditional sense. Previously, I'd been put off the idea of jazz and singing together because there was certain style of doing that—very over the top, lots of vibrato—while I prefer something quite different, more natural.

Then a few years later, when I did the Jazzpar, and they asked me to put together a contrasting project, the first thing I saw when I went to gigs in Copenhagen was a student jam session. There was this girl who just sang a standard beautifully and then sat down—and all these males improvised for about an hour, all taking turns to solo kind of competitively, while she sat there quietly, like in a trance. Then when they finished she just got up and sang the song again. Something about that amused me and I was impressed by it.

After that, I got more interested in having the power of the human voice in my music. Because people had always said, "Yeah, I like your stuff, but it's kind of complicated, anybody who isn't a musician isn't going to be able to bear to listen to it." Maybe I'm exaggerating, but I got the impression that what I did was perceived as being quite muso orientated, and I found that a singer opened it out to more people.

AAJ: Does having a vocalist change the music?

DB: It doesn't have to. I haven't changed the music, I still have the same aims, the same things I like to play around with, but if you include a singer in that—without bringing everything else down to a more simplistic level—it opens it out.

Josefine Cronholm on Quiet Nights has such a beautiful, rich sounding voice. We toured that project for a while, we even came to England with it, and then she took a break to start a family. I was just starting a European youth jazz orchestra tour and I received some demo tapes and one of them was from Josefine Lindstrand—just her voice, no piano even. It was special enough, idiosyncratic and also Swedish—and her name was also Josefine—and so I rang her and said, "Can you do a gig in Holland?" She said, "But we haven't even rehearsed." And I said, "It's an emergency."

So she said OK and came along and she was just so relaxed and professional and in tune with everything. She's a quite different singer to Josefine Cronholm, more lively and right on the beat compared to the very relaxed thing we'd done on Quiet Nights with standards and ballads.

AAJ: Two of the tracks on Spring Is Here are performed by the RMC's choir, Som En Sten.

DB: Well, when I came to put the tracks together for the album I could see all this big, loud music and I just thought it would be great to break it up with some quiet, beautiful music. That sort of thing is possible to do quite quickly at RMC.

Som En Sten means "like a stone." It someone asks you if you've slept well, in Denmark you don't say, "like a log," you say, "som en sten." It's quite a good name for a choir, because a choir can be so still, and so beautiful, and that's harder to do using instruments other than the human voice and still have that power in the music.


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