Felix Stussi: Delivers
FS: Well, that was really specific actually. Last November in 2007, I was working on the new tunes, and I dreamt about Ray working with my band. So I got up and wrote an e-mail to Ray, and he responded that he would be very interested in working on the project. I met him 15 years ago when I was a concert organizer in Switzerland in the '90s. We hung out after the gig drinking wine and talking. I loved what he did before, and I knew that he would fit into my concept of the music [for the new CD]. Ray has a very playful and soulful approach to music. He does not respect musical barriers. Although he admits being inspired by traditional New Orleans music and also Blues, he is one of the most spontaneous improvisers on the scene. Be it with Charlie Haden's Jazz Liberation Music Orchestra or with John Scofield's funk projects, Ray fits right in. I just got the good news that Ray would like to go on Canadian tour with me in 2009.
AAJ: What are you working on at the moment?
FS: I am working on new compositions with the help of a Canada Council [For The Arts] grant. In my work I want to give room to the group encouraging creativity and spontaneity. I am trying to thin out and open musical forms in my compositions, and that coincides with a growing interest in long formsmore suite-like, several different movements or moods in the same piece. I have always liked juxtaposing the traditional and the modern. I have often taken these traditional formsyou know AABA, blues, rhythm changesand have updated them rhythmically, harmonically or by adding a cadence or a free improvisation.
AAJ: Tell me, did the jazz festival prize change your life?
FS: No not my life, but it did precipitate the quicker release of Baiji.
AAJ: How do you compose?
FS: I play steady gigs. I play music all the time. Often I will come home with an idea from a gig.
AAJ: Tell me about the piece "Baiji" [title track on the new CD].
FS: Baiji is the name of a freshwater dolphin from the Yangtze in China, that has existed for about 20 million years and in 2006 was declared extinct. "Baiji" begins with a theme of watery imagesit's easier to play it than to talk about it. The piece starts with rhythmic piano formulas alternating from the left to the right hand. The first theme consists of long notes held on the tenor and soprano sax while the beginning rhythm is maintained by the whole rhythm section. A second theme leads to a first climax which is followed by a free improv on the bass and piano, joined after a while by the drums. Then the rhythm section starts to play a hypnotic ostinato recalling the intro. The horns tell their story which culminates into a third theme marking a musical peak in intensity. After that, there is an anti-climax: the last section returns to the beginning formula before it all loses itself into nothingness. Then a collective improv of the horns leads to the culmination in the last section to an outgoing theme, then intervals sparser and sparser into the void. Not unlike the narrative of the Baiji dolphin, yet it is not a concrete painting but abstract.
AAJ: What are your future musical plans?
FS: Oh, I don't know... Well, I would love to tour with Ray next year and record it all for the next CD. I guess my dream in the future is to create more of a bridge over the Atlantic and bring my project to Europe. For the present here in Montreal, I want to continue working, touring, recording and playing. I want to be spontaneous, open-minded to future musical projects.
AAJ: As a last question regarding your hopes for the future, if you could choose any musician to work with in duo, who would it be?
FS: I already feel quite spoiled to be able to work with such a huge talent that is Ray Anderson. He is so generous and easy to work with! The night before we went into the studio, I cooked for everybody at my house. The evening made us all relax and get connected before recording.
Félix Stüssi, Baiji (Justin Time, 2008)
Félix Stüssi, Give Me Five (LOCAL/Outside Music, 2007)
Photo courtesy of Félix Stüssi