“ Ornethology, or the scientific study of Ornette Coleman... Some of his concepts from 40 years ago were used, but integrated with my own ideas and other influences. I think something new was created nonetheless. ”
Brandishing an Ibañez AF-200 guitar, which he describes as “a similar model as the AS-200, which John Scofield uses, but with a thicker body,” Samo Šalamon stirs up freeing jazz from Slovenia.
As one of the most notable emerging careers from that centrally located European country, youthful daring unmasks someone who can play as beautifully and exotic as the flowers of the Kamnik leek, darkened as Hrastovlje’s Danse Macabre fresco, or as picturesque and open as Maribor’s Main Square. Engaging explorations into “ethno jazz” with the Ansasa Trio , or his take on Ornette Coleman in Ornethology, aren’t going to drive audiences in throngs to the Cankarjev dom because, as he puts it, “the jazz situation in Slovenia is not great. The music I make, as well as that of my drummer and mentor Zlatko Kaucic, is too advanced for Slovenians. I don't think the majority is ready. Although I got fantastic national and international reviews, the labels sign mainstream jazz players and easy listening music that is not exciting and moving. In addition, there aren't many musicians that play such style of music in Slovenia. As luck would have it, I have played with guys from Italy who are more advanced.” Šalamon adds that aside from the jazz scene, in Slovenia “music life is not really shiny.” Thus, he has to teach guitar to survive. “You can live off music if you sell out,” the Scofield admirer adds, “if you work with pop bands and stuff like that, but I don't want to do that. I want to play music that I like and not to sell out. I think by being honest and sincere one can still make it. That, at least is what I hope.”
Ornethology is the result of his Coleman inspired studies and the Slovenian’s tale of discovery reveals the usual pattern of viral dissemination among musicians so thoroughly enhanced –as well as threatened– by today’s technological advances. Šalamon discovered Coleman at 21 “when Zlatko Kaucic, the drummer in the quartet, who played with Steve Lacy for years, introduced me to Ornette, but I wasn't ready then. It was too heavy. Then, last year I got the Complete Atlantic Recordings, which really knocked me out. I transcribed all the themes and some Ornette solos as I'm still transcribing them. This music changed jazz. How true the title The Shape of Jazz to Come is. I really like Ornette's themes, especially his phrasing, which I try to transfer to guitar. The title of the recording, Ornethology, or the scientific study of Ornette Coleman if you may, is a dedication to Ornette's music. Some of his concepts from 40 years ago were used, but integrated with my own ideas and other influences. I think something new was created nonetheless.”
Furthermore, for the Slovenian, Coleman “is the most melodic player in the history of jazz. I really like his classic quartet. I also like the later trios with Izenson and Moffett and the quartet with Dewey Redman. As for harmolodics, is seen also in this quartet. In it, however, I am the composer of all tunes and its leader, yet I do not have the primary function. We all are on the same level where equality of all instruments is important. That gives us the possibilities of the interplay and higher communication.”
In talking about the production itself, as well as the musicians, Šalamon is stereotypically self-critical, albeit effusive in his praises too. “The production of the album could be a lot better, but the personnel here in Slovenia is not used to this kind of music, so it is how it is. I think the most important thing is that the music is great, because then you forget about other factors. The musicians on this project, however, were fantastic. I called up drummer Kaucic, a musical role model, fantastic person, favorite musician of mine, excellent composer and performer, who played with figures ranging from Kenny Wheeler, or Steve Lacy, to Paolo Fresu. Then on the bass is one of the best Italian players Salvatore Maiore, featuring great sound and abilities. It was the right choice. What proved most surprising was the chemistry with the alto sax and bass clarinetist Achille Succi, whose playing I really love. He is one of the most melodic players I have heard and had the ability to play with. We developed a great –almost telepathical– understanding. That’s nice! I think we got the chemistry going in the spirit of Ornette and I hope more people will be able to witness this.”
On occasion, however, the quartet performs with trombonist Gianluca Petrella. “I think the music gets a different character, since trombone is a different instrument with different abilities. Although I have to say that I prefer the bass clarinet and alto sax combination since it is more versatile, at least with these tunes, which were written for these two instruments. Although it will be interesting to see and to hear this material performed by other players. In the future, we will play with the trumpet player Kyle Gregory and later in 2004 with Ralph Alessi and Chris Speed. It will be exciting to hear some stuff with some new tunes also.”
Under such social, cultural and musical conditions, I wondered how the audiences react to the quartet’s performances. “The audience,” according to the guitarist, “like the energy of the band. Kaucic is one of the more interesting drummers I've heard. He has his own way of playing. One can really see his experiences with Lacy, Archie Shepp or Wheeler; so the audience really senses that and he attracts many people. It depends where we play, on the festivals that are used to this more avant-garde music, the reactions are great, while in some places this music sounds too heavy. I hope, nonetheless, that we will be able to wake people to see that one can be really creative. All I want to do is to play my own music and maybe present it to a larger audience because it is really interesting. Of course, at this moment it is very hard, since I do everything by myself. It is tough, but I'm working hard.”
His guitar is equipped with D'addario strings, Chrome 0.11. He aspires to be sponsored, at least by D'addario as “it's really hard to get them here in Slovenia. Some times I play for a couple of months with the same strings, which worsens the sound. I should change them every two weeks or so, but as I said it is hard to get them and they are quite expensive here.” He also features a set up including “a Fender Concert amp, which is similar to a Twin Reverb, but I think that it has a nicer, fuller and thicker sound. I love it! As far as the effects are concerned, I'm not really such a freak. I use mainly some chorus, really changed with the frequencies, some distortion, but not much. I use that from my multi effect Boss GT-5!”
Visit Samo Šalamon on the web.