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Django Bates: Spring Is Here (A Long Time Coming But Worth The Wait)

Chris May By

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With all my delicate detail, I wanted someone to come in and go 'yeah!' and crank it up, smash it out of the speakers.
Django BatesJuly, 2008: It's been 13 years since British composer and keyboards/peck horn player Django Bates released the third album in his "four seasons" series, Winter Truce (And Homes Blaze) (Winter & Winter, 1995). That album followed close behind Autumn Fire (And Green Shoots) (Winter & Winter, 1994) and Summer Fruits (And Unrest) (Winter & Winter, 1993).

It has long been Bates's intention to complete the series with a spring-themed album, and in June, 2008 he finally did so with Spring Is Here (Shall We Dance?) (Lost Marble, 2008). It's made with the 19-piece StoRMChaser, the post-graduate big band at Denmark's Rhythmic Music Conservatory (RMC), where Bates was appointed Professor of Rhythmic Music in 2005. A rich and riotous recalibration of orchestral jazz, in the tradition of Bates's work with Loose Tubes in the 1980s and Delightful Precipice in the 1990s, it's a defining masterpiece in his already distinguished big band discography.

Following the demise of original releasing label JMT, the first three albums in the four seasons series became hard to obtain, but are now available again on Winter & Winter. Not so, sadly, the three discs Bates made with Loose Tubes, of which in particular the first two—Loose Tubes (Loose Tubes, 1985) and Delightful Precipice (Loose Tubes, 1986)—are worth scouring used vinyl bins and internet auction sites for from here to Saturn and back on the off-chance you might get lucky.

Bates currently spends half his time in Copenhagen at the RMC, and the other half in London. This interview took place in London in late May, 2008, on a spring day during which the rain came down hard without a break for about eight hours. The precipitation reminded Bates of a journey he made to the Balkans as a child in the late 1960s, which he feels had a lasting influence on his music, of which more later.

Despite the weather, it was a sunny meeting, with Bates speaking eloquently about the new album, StoRMChaser, his interest in writing for the human voice, and what he's trying to do with his music.

There was also a lot of laughter—which hasn't been indicated in the interview because the frequent repetition of (laughter) would have become tedious.

All About Jazz: It's been a long time since Winter Truce in 1995. Has Spring Is Here been in gestation all that time, or was the impetus more recent?

Django Bates: I actually had the basic idea for Spring Is Here back in 1995, at the Music Meetings festival in Holland, where I was performing with Delightful Precipice.

The band that were on after us were from Cameroon. They were playing these incredible grooves where the detail at the top would stay the same while things at the ground of the music would switch and shift underneath, at the very foundation. It was remarkable and very exciting. When the switches occurred it was like the earth had moved below you and you were trying to work out which way was up and which way was down. We were all standing at the side of the stage with our jaws dropping, thinking, "What's going on?" And I thought, "Great. I've got the concept for the next season, spring." The plan was always to do Spring Is Here next.

I started writing the music in the months after that and gradually performed it with all sorts of people. Mainly with young bands. I did a youth project in Amiens, France; I did the European Jazz Youth Orchestra, which comes out of Scandinavia and is a great opportunity for young people to get on the road and learn about performance; there were several of these things where different young people got their hands on the music and made their mark on it. All of that fed into the writing. In the meantime though, I made some other albums and it never quite felt like the right time to document it.

AAJ: You had record label issues in the mid-1990s too, didn't you?

DB: Yes. All sorts of other things happened in the year or two after Winter Truce. One of these was that I lost the record deal with JMT, which became part of Verve and Polydor. Round about Winter Truce I performed at a music business conference in New York with Human Chain. I was so excited that I arranged "New York New York"—the infamous "derangement"—and it had the direct effect of losing us our deal with Polygram, because it was so totally not what they were into.

With the benefit of time, I'm quite pleased that happened, because although it was pretty hard, I had to take control of my own recordings. There were little things that happened along the way which helped me. In 1997, shortly after all that, I won the Jazzpar Prize, and this involved enough money to record Quiet Nights (Screwgun, 1998). It was a kind of accidental project which grew out of the Jazzpar—a small band project to contrast with the big, dense music I wrote for the Danish Radio Jazz Orchestra—Like Life (Storyville, 1998)—as part of the prize.

Finally, after I'd started at the Rhythmic Music Conservatory in 2005, it seemed like I was in the right place at the right time to turn it all into an album. Maybe another reason why I held back for so long was because I knew this would be the end of the four seasons cycle and I was quite enjoying being in the middle of it.

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