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Dave Ledbetter: Diversity and Unity

Seton Hawkins By

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AAJ: It's a four-year process for creating it, certainly! There are some really wonderful guests who appear on it, too. We spoke earlier about this younger generation, and here again we see artists like Darren English and Mark Fransman playing on it.

DL: Yes, absolutely. We also have the great Hein van de Geyn on it as well. He's a personal friend of mine that I collaborate with quite regularly. He's also been a huge influence on me in the last six years, since I've been hanging out at his place in Scarborough, which is a 20-kilometer drive down the coast. He's an amazing double bassist, and one of the most recorded double bassists. Hein owns his own record label in Holland, which many people have recorded on, and he's now based here in Scarborough. He's retired pretty much, but I go around there every couple of weeks and then we play. Now we're working on a duo album that we want to do before the end of the year.

Darren is just such an amazing talent and, he recorded on this just before he left for the States. Mark Fransman is still here and very active. Shane Cooper's on the album, as is Shaun Johannes, who's a great electric bassist. Kevin Gibson is on the drums, who I absolutely love. I mean, it's got a lot of great voices! I heard those instruments on those tunes, but as slightly different pairings of instruments. I wanted e-flat clarinet with trumpet, for example. Unusual pairings, but nice in that context so that it didn't sound as straight ahead as sometimes albums with brass can sound. I wanted to retain the kind of central wooden quality of the harmonic template, and then have those other voices added unto them.

AAJ: To that end in terms of the sonic qualities of the two Deep South albums, if we compare A Waiting Land to Heartland, there's a massive shift in the sound between those two albums. Obviously the collaborators changed, but can you talk about that shift?

DL: The shift was just because it was produced in Bern, Switzerland and by Bjorn Meyer who's one of the most authentic, original electric bassists on the planet. I mean he's just released the first electric bass solo album on ECM.

So he produced Heartland, and he played on the album. We did it in his studio in a couple of days, as it didn't take us long at all to track. He's done lots of recordings and he's an incredible engineer with incredible ears, and an absolutely amazing human being as well. So the sound changed basically because we just moved up a notch from Ronan's loft space to Björn's studio. I love the albums equally, but the production value on the second album is a notch up. But then you'd expect it to be, we moved from Cape Town to Europe.

AAJ: The compositions themselves sound a little bit different from the ones on the first album, and I'm curious if that's due to a collaborative aspect with the European artists on it.

DL: The songs were already written before I went along. The interesting thing about the second album is that I'd already written the tunes, and everybody got the parts before we arrived there. We had no idea what that was actually going to sound like. Suddenly here we are, the tapes of rolling, and oh, this is what it sounds like! I think there's an immediacy about that album because of that, because we didn't know what it was going to sound like. We didn't know what the bass clarinet or trumpet or flugelhorn, or extra additional percussion was going to sound like until we were in the studio recording. It's great in a way, that's the exciting thing about the recording process: anything can and sometimes does happen. There are certain tracks on that album which, for me, sound unique.

AAJ: Let's talk about some of the tracks. One that pops out is "Forest Road," which has a sort of a Protestant hymn quality to it. Can you talk about that piece?

DL: Some people tell me that it's the one I'll probably be remembered for! My grandparents were salvationists, they were missionaries in China, Kenya, and in India. So I grew up in a kind of Fire-and-Brimstone Calvinist family, a very Christian upbringing. My late grandfather was a missionary in Nairobi, Kenya, during the Second World War. Six weeks after the Japanese invaded Pearl Harbor, he was stung on the forehead by a bee. He was allergic to bees and he died. That was 17 years before I was born, so I never got to meet him. He's buried in Forest Road Cemetery in Nairobi. So I wanted a piece that sounded like a Salvation Army brass band, a funeral march piece, which that piece certainly does. Anyway, a few years ago, Ronan happened to be touring Kenya with Babu, and I said, "Look, can you do me a favor and just go and put a rose quartz crystal on my grandfather's grave," which he did. So I was very thankful for that. We hadn't yet recorded the track, that was a couple of years before we recorded it. So that's the story of "Forest Road."

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