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Ulf Wakenius: Confessions of A Vagabond

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A highlight for all musicians playing in Korea is the Jarasum International Jazz festival, which for its tenth edition in 2013 drew an astonishing 240,000 people over three days: "Jarasum is a fantastic experience with all those people," enthuses Wakenius. "When you play in certain parts of Europe there are really old people in the audience but in Jarasum you have thousands of young people. Last year we played as a duo to over ten thousand people at Jarasum and the average age was twenty two or twenty three. It's amazing."

Wakenius is impressed by the enthusiasm of the young Korean jazz fans: "I was on a plane from Europe to Seoul, sat beside a young Korean girl and we started to chat. I said I was going over to play with Youn Sun Nah and she said: 'Oh, wow, we go to Jarasum every year.' They took a car from the southern part of South Korea and traveled up, took a weekend pass and then traveled back during the night of the Sunday to their southern town. They arrived at 5am and started work two hours later on the Monday. It's magic. They're special people."

Despite the mind-boggling numbers that attend the JIJF every year, jazz still struggles to gain mainstream exposure in South Korea: "Of course, K-pop is the big thing," acknowledges Wakenius, "but Youn has influenced many people, so slowly but surely jazz is gaining recognition in Korea and of course [JIJF founder/director] JJ's work with Jarasum is fantastic."

Asia is a part of the world that Wakenius finds himself increasingly touring in, and on Momento Magico it's the influence of Chinese music that's felt on "The Dragon": "When I was in China with Youn I was flabbergasted by the sound of the [four-stringed lute] pipa and I tried to capture some of it on "The Dragon."

Whether it's Chinese traditional music, Indian music on "Hindustani Blues" or West African influences on "Mali On My Mind," Wakenius' music has absorbed something of the sounds of the musicians he's met and the countries he's traveled in.

"I would say that my sound has changed a lot. I'm in constant transition. If a person travels the world and you ask them, do you think your personality has changed? I think they would say 'yes, I have changed as a person because of all the impressions I've had.' I think it's the same with the guitar. I hear so many great sounds and I try to—not copy them or clone them—but I try in an organic sense to melt them into my expression. That's how it works."

The chance to record with musicians form other cultures around the world appeals to Wakenius: "If the opportunity arises, then yes, but it's more like destiny. It's nothing I'm running after. I'm trying to write my own music and I do many different projects but I wouldn't hesitate if I got the chance."

One musician that Wakenius is hopeful of recording with, should the opportunity present itself is his son, Erik Wakenius. Erik has recorded with his father before but it wasn't until the Penang Island Jazz Festival in Malaysia in 2010 that they first played together as a duo—another magic moment for Wakenius senior.

"It was very hot but it was wonderful to look across at the other side of the stage and see your son. It was a beautiful feeling. It's just lovely to be corrected by your son on certain things," Wakenius laughs. "We had a wonderful chemistry," Wakenius recognizes. "Erik's very talented and he's one of the few guitarists who can play the stuff I do on the record how I want it. If the opportunity to record arises with ACT we'll do it, or with some other company."

Another striking tune on Momento Magico is bassist Lars Danielsson
Lars Danielsson
Lars Danielsson
b.1958
bass
's "Liberetto." Wakenius and Danielsson go back many years together and have collaborated on numerous occasions: "What I like about his music is that it comes out of the Swedish lyrical tradition and the folk music," explains Wakenius. "He's very melody-oriented and he writes exceptionally beautiful melodies. He has his own tonal language, I would say, and it just appeals to me."

What links Danielsson's "Liberetto" with Wakenius' take on Erik Satie's "Gnossienne" and "Preludio," the guitarist's short tribute to pianist Keith Jarrett
Keith Jarrett
Keith Jarrett
b.1945
piano
are the hybrid, jazz, folk and classical strands in Wakenius' voice: "It's a kind of evolution. You keep involving more elements," explains Wakenius. "I've been listening to classical music and folk music all my life so it's just very natural for me to put it all in the melting pot. Sometimes I'll write a tune that focuses more on classical and sometimes I'll write a tune that has a more Swedish, lyrical, folkloric touch but I like to deal with these different elements. I think it's beautiful."


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