Back in the 80s, Nottingham-based group Pinski Zoo arrived like a breath of fresh air on the revitalised British jazz scene. With the energy and values of punk rock, their amalgam of funk and fusion with harmolodic-inspired free jazz was unpredictable and unprecedented. Albums such as Rare Breeds and East Rail East, defined their own unique territory; the band won the award for Best British Band in 1991. Co-founder and saxophonist Jan Kopinski not only gave (part of) his name to the band, he was also its driving force, winning plaudits for his own individual style of playing.
In the mid 90s, Pinski Zoo took a break from each other's company, to pursue other projects. During the lay off, Kopinski branched out but maintained musical links with members of Pinski Zoo. He recorded Ghost Music with Pinski Zoo keyboard player Steve Iliffe, son Stefan Kopinski on bass (now also in Pinski Zoo) and daughter Janina Kopinska on viola. The album features music written for film, and has an ethereal feel that is in marked contrast to Kopinski's work with Pinski Zoo. In a related project, Kopinski and Iliffe worked on a soundtrack to Alexander Dovzhenko's classic silent film Earth (Zemlya), a eulogy to peasant life in the Ukraine in the 1920s. They are currently finishing off the CD of this music, will appear later this year. Kopinski's most recent project is Zone K, with pianist Wojtek Konikiewicz plus Steve Harris on drums. A CD, recorded on the trio's 2002 UK tour is imminent.
After some initial gigs last spring and a mini tour last autumn, Pinski Zoo are now well into a national tour. As I was unable to interview Jan Kopinski face-to-face (Pinski Zoo don't play London until May), this is an e-mail conversation conducted while Pinski Zoo were touring.
All About Jazz: How is the tour going so far? Is the music changing as the tour progresses? What can we expect at Union Chapel in May?
Jan Kopinski: The tour has surprised me. We are playing the music as if it's new each time, so it's always surprising us and let's you play with more openness, even though we have a really solid core with the two bass rhythm section. The London gig is at the end of the tour when this incarnation should be totally alive. I really am enjoying playing with such freedom over this double bass fix. I know that any time it can turn into a solid feel, where we turn what sounds like a jazz film backwards-soundtrack into a wall-punching groove. We played at The Shed in Brawby on the 29th March and you could feel the energy come back from the audience. That's what we want in London. Just hook up onto the machine and see where it goes.
AAJ: Has Pinski Zoo's music, attitude and approach changed following the lay off? If so, in what ways?
JK: For me, I wanted to bring in a little more of the stuff I play in Ghost Music and the filmic thing. I simply want to play with as much belief and enjoyment, particularly in my sound. What's the point of doing it otherwise! The layoff has really made us all see the good stuff in Pinski Zoo that you tend to become blase about. It's great hearing Karl Bingham at his creative best. Having Stefan (my son) in the band is harmonically and rhythmically more centred - he's grown up with this music and just seems to make the whole focus richer. We can take more chances but come together even tighter.
AAJ: Can we expect a new Pinski Zoo album any time soon?
JK: We're recording all of these dates and plan to put out a CD of live tracks after a couple of months. I like studio recordings but the process is tedious. This way is always riskier but Pinski Zoo has always been a strong live band.
AAJ: How does your work with Pinski Zoo relate to your other activities such as Ghost Music and Zone K?
JK: They always feed into each other. We have spent a lot of time working together and it counts for something. I've never been interested in pick-up bands or doing the repertoire. These guys are special to the sound in particular that I want to hear. There is a track on Zone K - "Night to Dream" - which we do a different version of with Pinski Zoo. Steve Iliffe and I have worked together for 20 years on compositions. Also the guys in Pinski Zoo turn up in those bands. I like to bring some of the slower vibe stuff over harder faster rhythms in Pinski Zoo, whilst with Zone K there is an opposite space - no bassist on that one.
AAJ: Can you say something about how Zone K came about, and your musical relationship with Wojtek. What plans do you have for future collaborations together? Is his Polishness a significant factor in how you relate musically and/or personally?
JK: Wojtek is a musical colleague - I met him on tour with Pinski Zoo and he helped us set up a tour of Poland in 1991. But he's also a friend, with whom I have travelled around Poland. We both have similar interests in some of the older music and culture of Poland. So, for example, I travelled around Poland's southern country regions filming some of their old churches and Wojtek has a deep knowledge of these areas and the associated music. We both also like Tarkovsky films and have toured as a duo in Poland, and find for improvising we are on the same wavelength. At the moment he is setting up a tour for us in Poland and setting the groundwork for a tour in Japan where he's worked before.