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Christy Doran: New Bag, New Tricks

Ian Patterson By

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Eventually, Dominik Burkhalter filled the vacant drum chair, and extensive European tours followed the release of The Competence of the Irregular (Between the Lines, 2008). Doran's New Bag was popular in Switzerland, Germany, Italy and Austria, but there was a price to pay for the band's success. "The band members had gained quite wide recognition," explains Doran, "and they were increasingly invited to play in other bands and on other projects. I often had to turn down festival invitations because someone in the band had another gig somewhere."



There was a bit of soul searching when bassist Zwaiuer asked for a two-year sabbatical. Doran believes the band's music was perhaps too heavy for Zwaiuer, though he adds, "Maybe he was missing Fabian [Kuratli]." At the end of the two-year period, Zwaiuer was still unsure of where he was heading musically, relates Doran, and the guitarist and bandleader began thinking of a replacement. "Funny enough, Wolfgang [Zwaiuer] himself came up with the idea of including a Minimoog player. Most of us had played with Vincent Membrez in other projects, and we all liked his musical approach. Having Vincent in the band gave us a new sound."

With Membrez, New Bag recorded "Take the Floor and Lift the Roof" (Double Moon Records, 2011), but it wasn't long before the lineup underwent another reshuffle, right at the time Doran was booking a tour of Canada. "Singer Bruno Amstad quit," says Doran. "He'd been offered a four-month gig in a musical, so because of that and also because he didn't believe in the band anymore, he quit after 12 years. The exit of Amstad came as an unexpected shock to Doran, and there was also the added headache of fulfilling gigs already lined up. "I had to cancel the Canadian tour, which was not funny," recalls Doran.

Then another old problem reared its head again. "Keyboard player Hans-Peter Pfammatter was so busy with his own and other projects that we had to play the last few concerts of the tour without him, as a quartet." Doran's frustration at the time at the band's comings and goings is palpable. "It was like looking after fleas," he laughs. It crossed his mind that maybe the band had run its natural course. "Of course, the idea of ending New Bag was in the air," admits Doran, "but as I had put so much effort into this band project, and also because I think that my compositions are just as important as the musicians involved in creating the band sound, I decided to continue."

There was another change in the drum chair, with Lionel Friedli replacing Burkhalter. Friedli had occasionally subbed for Kuratli in the past, had played with Doran in Acoustic Strings alongside bassist Heiri Kaenzig and violinist Dominique Pifarély and had also played in a duo with Membrez. The missing piece in the jigsaw puzzle turned up in the shape of Dublin-based Swiss singer Sara Buechi, a former student at Doran's university in Lucerne. "Sara had impressed me greatly when she was the jazz school," says Doran. "She had attended New Bag workshops, where I'd given her recordings of Pakistani singers to listen to. She spent two years in India studying Indian classical music, so we have similar tastes."

Buechi has slotted in very naturally to the singer's position occupied for so long by Amstad. "I think there are similarities between them, notably that they're not just jazz or pop singers but are also inspired by ethnic music," says Doran. "Both have extreme singing abilities and tremendous range. Sara has also studied with [saxophonists] Steve Coleman and Dave Liebman, but most of all she brings a lyrical aspect to New Bag's music, which I think is very important."

The latest incarnation of New Bag hasn't been together for long. "Sara came from Dublin to Lucerne for a three-day rehearsal before we went into the studio. After four days of recording, we played directly the next day at the Chiasso Jazz, Culture & Music Festival in the south of Switzerland. We played another three concerts in Switzerland and then the one in Bray." The band is tight but has a free-wheeling, raw edge that is tremendously exciting. Doran, too, is excited by the possibilities. "I think it's a great band," he enthuses. "There's still a lot to be explored and discovered. There's a lot of evolving still. We've just started."

And started with a bang; Mesmerized is a thrilling ride from start to finish, and Buechi contributes much to the recording's success. "I wrote the music and named the pieces; then Sara, inspired by the titles, wrote lyrics to the music," Doran explains. "Mostly, my compositions begin with small motifs, tiny mosaic stones, which finally fit together like a puzzle. While rehearsing with the band, we finally find the musical form. This is not something I work out alone—it's a band process.

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