Robert Mehmet Sinan Ikiz: All Aboard
RI: I met Shai after the Stockholm Jazz Festival 2010, when he was playing with bassist Avishai Cohen, and we jammed together. We met up again in New York when I was there, and then he came back to Stockholm to play again with Avishai Cohen. He managed to find a time in his schedule between a TV appearance and that evening's concert, so I booked a studio and chose two songs for him to play on. I picked songs that I thought fitted his style of playing, but to be honest, I could have chosen anything because he is such a great player and he can play anything well. He's got a very special touch. It sounds like he's played a lot of classic music in his time. He's a very elegant player in many respects.
AAJ: The other pianist on the album is up-and- coming Swedish musician Erik Lindeborg, with whom you collaborate frequently. He also has a distinctly classical sound to his jazz playing.
RI: I agree. Erik is a very talented musician with a very intellectual touch. He appears on most of the songs on Checking In. We wrote one song and arranged another one together. I love working with him. I have been playing with his trio for the past couple of years [along with bassist Kristian Lind], and we know each other on stage really well, so he was a natural choice to play on my album.
AAJ: You wrote the majority of the songs on Checking In along with saxophonist Magnus Lindgren.
RI: Magnus and I have played together a lot, and I really like the way Magnus composes. I also respect the way he gives the musicians a lot of freedom on stage. Magnus and I went on a writing tour to Spain. Things went so well that Magnus ended up co-writing seven or eight of the songs that made it onto the final version of the album. We went to Spain, as I wanted to get away from Sweden, and I have a friend with a place in a quiet, rural area of Spain. I had some melodies and grooves in my head and a basic idea of what I wanted to achieve before we went there. We got a lot done in terms of the music and the scores, so I was prepared to start recording when I got back to Sweden.
AAJ: Did Spainfamous for its good food, wine and relaxed lifestylehave an impact on the writing process?
RI: Spain did influence us, to a certain degree. The first track on the album, "Estepona," was the name of the area where we were staying. I remember one night when it was raining heavily, and I was driving along some back roads near the sea, and there was very little traffic. Suddenly a melody popped into my head, and so I kept on driving while I worked out this melody. I could see North Africa to my left and the Spanish countryside to my right, and no one was around as it was raining. When I got back to the house, I told Magnus we had to do something with the melody right there and then. I sang it into my phone, and when we woke up the next day, we started forming the different parts for the musicians around it. That's how "Estepona" came about. In fact, that's how most of the songs on the album came about.
AAJ: When you sing a melody into your phone and wake up the next day, how do you set about turning it into an actual piece of music?
RI: It differs from song to song, but sometimes Magnus would pick up his saxophone or flute and play the melody I'd recorded on my phone. Sometimes we played it on piano and recorded on the computer, but personally I really like to hear the melody on a sax or a flute to get an idea of how it'll sound live. After that, we started building the chords, and I started writing the different parts for the other musicians. The song "Vino Tinto Por Favor," for example, has a bass hook, so I concentrated on perfecting the bass part. That said, every song is different and comes about in a completely unique way.
AAJ: Would it be difficult to guess what you were doing when you wrote "Vino Tinto Por Favor"?
RI: It was New Year's Eve and we decided to stay in, try some good red wine, and write songs. This was one of the ones we came up with that night. I'm really happy with the way it turned out.
AAJ: Did you have a good idea of how the album would sound by the time you got back from Spain?
RI: I had most of the melodies worked out but, more than anything, I was very clear when I got back to Sweden about the mix of genres I wanted to include on the album.
AAJ: Checking In was recorded primarily in Stockholm but also in different parts of the world. Was it difficult to coordinate so many locations and musicians?
RI: Because of the scheduling and availability of the musicians, some of the recordings took place in different cities. We recorded China Moses in Paris, Joel Holmes in New York and Nils Landgren in Luxembourg while we were out on tour with the Funk Unit. It wasn't easy with so many different musicians, but I think it was definitely worth it, as the album is much richer than it would have been without them. I recorded the songs over a year, as I had to concentrate on the gigs I was already booked for. I knew I couldn't do both. When I had time, I worked more on the album. When I got back from Spain, I headed straight back out on tour, this time to the States, and I also had shows in Thailand and Germany. It was fine, though; I knew I didn't want to rush anything. This was going to be my first album, and I wanted to get it right the first time.