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Magnus Ostrom: Late Night Playing, Humble Playing

By Published: March 22, 2011
A Rock Band Playing Jazz?

The other musicians on Thread Of Life are all part of the Stockholm jazz scene, but remain relatively unknown outside Sweden. Öström was also unfamiliar with these players at first: "We had been touring for years, and I wasn't really connected to what was happening in Sweden. Then finally I began to meet some of the new guys on the scene, partly through working on Jeanette Lindström's album. In fact, two of the guys from Thread Of Life; Andreas Hourdakis, the guitarist, and Thobias Gabrielson, the bassist; are on that album. They were great people and I knew that as I got this album together I would ask them to join me. They both wanted to, which was great, so we tried things out and it worked really, really well."

L-R: Thobias Gabrielson, Gustav Karlof, Magnus Ostrom, Andreas Hourdakis

The fourth member of Öström's line-up is keyboard player Gustaf Karlöf, who Öström first heard of from members of the Stockholm scene. "Gustaf's was a name that I heard being mentioned by other people. Then I think Thobias told me about him—I think that they had played together in Thobias' band. So I checked him out and found out about the variety of things he has done, from jazz to really strange electronica stuff, to pop. I like that openness to things: I really like people to be open-minded. So I called him up and he was also really happy to try out. We had a terrific couple of jams during the summer to check out our sound, our musical language, and it fell into place really quickly. Somehow we got a band sound really soon. I'm really happy about it—they're great guys and fantastic musicians."

It's notable that Öström refers to people's personal qualities as often as he does to their musical abilities: a good personal relationship with his fellow musicians is clearly of great importance to him. "This is very important to me: I have real trouble playing with people I don't get along with. I need to feel that there is a nice, friendly, atmosphere. It's even more important to me than how people play. Of course, there has to be a certain level of ability, but personal qualities are important to the music. Conflict on the bandstand can bring an energy to the music, but it can also be very destructive in the long run. Of course, after you play together you can all go and stay in different hotels, and that can work as well, but it's better to start off by having fun together even if it doesn't work out in the long run."

Öström had most of the music for Thread Of Life written before he formed the band, working on composition alone. "I write on piano: I am absolutely not a pianist but I compose with it. Then I work on the music in my own small studio: I record the piano part then I go to the drums and play a drum part, then listen to how that sounds." Öström's working pattern reflects the approach used in e.s.t., as he explains: "Esbjörn would bring the tune, then usually he would play it through then he and Dan would play it together then I would sit down and listen to it maybe two or three times and work out what I would do with it. So this was the same process—except that I was alone."

Öström went on to make demos for the band members, giving them a structure but not a finished product: "It's very important to me that the other guys can give their own voices to the music so they are part of the thing. I don't want them simply to repeat what I tell them... Of course, I also write a few things down: the melody lines, the chords. Then we work from there." Some of the album's extended pieces also sound as if there are improvised passages. To what extent is this improvisation happening? "On the longer, atmospheric, pieces there is quite a lot of improvisation, but it's still on the chords of the song, on the basic structure."

Recordings have their physical limits, CDs can only contain so much music, so there does have to be some control over this creative process. Öström is happy to take on that side of the producer's role: "The album is quite produced, what can I say? There is also a limit time wise. The record is very, very long (it comes in at around 75 minutes): I did take away some stuff. I took out one song, the album was still very long, but I thought 'Ah, what the heck.'"

Öström is obviously happy with his new musical partners: the quartet is set to be a touring band, beginning in spring of 2011. "If I can keep the guys together, of course. With the Trio it wasn't a problem, we didn't have other bands to play in, but you know how it is for young musicians nowadays, they have to play in lots of bands just to have a life. But as much as I can I will keep this group together." The next thorny question for Öström is what to call the ensemble, something he is not yet decided upon: "I don't know what to call it really. First of all it was my name, then I tried to figure out a band name, then I thought , well, it's my record so I'll put my name on it. But Thread Of Life could be a name for the project, the band, as well as for the album. Maybe there's a connection with Tony Williams
Tony Williams
Tony Williams
1945 - 1997
, with Lifetime."

The press release for Thread Of Life describes the album as "a rock band playing jazz:" does Öström agree? "In a way you can say that, but it's always hard to put a label on what is what. When I was younger I listened to a lot of rock: my older brother would play lots of Jimi Hendrix
Jimi Hendrix
Jimi Hendrix
1942 - 1970
guitar, electric
and Deep Purple. And the guitarist, Andreas, used to be a total Metallica freak, so there's a lot of rock in the band. But these guys can play all sorts of music. I don't really care about the labels, it's more about the music."

Even if labels are important, there is so much variety on Thread Of Life that a single label is very hard to apply. "Piano Break Music" has distinct dance and techno roots, Hourdakis' guitar solos have a progressive rock style to them. Then there is what may become the most talked-about track on the album, a tune that has a strong Americana feel: "Ballad For E."

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