Dzijan Emin: Flood Of Ideas, Part 1-2

Nenad Georgievski By

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Few people can match the experiences that keyboardist Dzijan Emin has had as a musician. Times are hard for musicians, who are expected to be proficient and versatile in a variety of genres. Those who are proficient—and available—can be seen playing with different people in various musical contexts. Examples are drummer Antonio Sanchez and bassist Christian McBride, whose services are elicited by people from genres other than jazz.

A working professional from the age of 9, when he began playing folk music in his father's band, Emin is probably best known for his collaboration with Bodan Arsovski, as a member of his Ezgija Orchestra. As part of the Skopje, Macedonia club scene, Emin and his band mates started playing in various garage jazz bands and cover rock bands. Later they started playing and recording with older artists including Vlatko Stefanovski, Bodan Arsovski, Kiril Dzajkovski, Dragan Soldatovic Labish, Arhangel, Last Expedition and Nikola Kodzobashia. As classically trained musicians they are also part of the Macedonian Philharmonic Orchestra and Opera.

All of this has contributed to their colorful musical expression in the form of Project Zlust and DNO. Its six members come from different cultural and ethnic backgrounds, reflecting the great diversity to be found in the Balkans. Zlust was founded in 1998, releasing their self-titled EP in 2000. Since then, they've released two albums under the name of Project Zlust —Live, and the soundtrack for How I Killed a Saint), DNO-Tishina. They have also recorded music for TV documentaries including The Children of 1948, and The Painter. In 2004, they played on their former professor Nikola Kodjabashia's The Reveries Of The Solitary Walker, which was voted album of the week on Radio BBC 1. This year, they have worked on scores for two films, composed by Kiril, Bal-Can-Can and The Great Water. The band DNO is another project they have been pursuing alongside Zlust, which took them in the direction of art-rock music. The presence of renowned producer Malcolm Burn (Iggy Pop, Peter Gabriel, Bob Dylan, Emmy Lou Harris, Daniel Lanois) helped significantly in the success of their debut album.

The conversation I had with Emin happened at a local cafeteria in downtown Skopje, where members of the Phillharmonic Orchestra usually take their breaks during rehersals. It was joyful as ever to talk with this good friend of mine.

All About Jazz: Last year you guys released 3 albums in a period of 2 months both as Project Zlust and DNO. Was this something you planned to do or was it a simple twist of fate?

Dzijan Emin: It certainly wasn't planned that way. Project Zlust Live was recorded a long time ago and the truth about it is that we had some offers by domestic and foreign labels that needed some consideration. But this didn't result in the way we wanted to be. Because of that the complete material remained shelved in our vaults until the right moment came for its release. We were under enormous pressure, both by us and the people that knew us. These are people that regularly attend our concerts and they kept asking us when we were going to release something. Therefore, we decided that now is the right moment. When you have done something and that piece of work is set aside, by that you aren't allowing the people to listen to it, there is no exchange of energy and no output. Actually, you have an output, but when it does not reach people that is not enough, there is no feedback.

Thank God, that period of incubation was finally over and the material was released. However during that period we worked a lot, and as Project Zlust we recorded loads of new material. It was recorded mainly during our live performances. In between we recorded the music for the film How I Killed a Saint. The time spent recording was wonderful, since we worked during the summer period. When everyone went on vacation, we worked diligently in the studio, from dawn till dawn. Working on this project was a wonderful experience as the atmosphere in the studio was very positive. To sum up, the release of these albums, which happened in a very short time, was accidental. The film had its premiere in November 2004 and the soundtrack was released afterwards.

The material with DNO was also recorded during the same period and was then handed over to Malcolm Burn so he could mix it in his own studio in New York. We waited for him to mix it and he worked meticulously on the material. In a way, the things happened by themselves. It only looks like it was a deliberate act. All of these releases were published under our own label, Chicken Madness, which doesn't have to mean that we won't be working with other labels in the future. I think it was a good decision as with these releases we brought to conclusion certain issues.

AAJ: What is it that makes a certain group of musicians to form two groups that are performing stylistically different types of music?

DE: It's difficult to answer that as it demands a more extensive explanation. This band or this group exists, or we have been friends and have been playing together for the last 8-10 years, especially me, Miyo (Vladimir Pop Hristov) and Bejkov. In the beginning, DNO played in clubs only and some of our first intentions were to play music that was different and more interesting, compared to all those bands that were just cover bands. During that period, musicians such as Tony Michevic (guitar), Mihail Mishko Parusev (drums), Marko Petkovski (bass), Dino Milosavljevic (drums) played in the band. As you can see there were many of them that played in the band, but the only ones left from the first line up are Miyo, Kroki (Sasho Spasovski) and me. After awhile, Bejkov appeared on the scene.

I had another project with Bejkov and Parushev and we played something quite different. Bejkov understood quickly what we were all about and this was just the beginning. We began to hang out more often, to communicate and it was then that we sensed we could do something. When that starts to happen sparks begin to fly and interesting things happen. There is a flood of ideas about what can be done and what may happen. In 1998, we had a gig at the House of Jazz (a former jazz club) in Skopje where we were performing under the name of Foss, but actually that was the very beginning of Project Zlust. Foss performed as a quartet; there was me, Ivan Bejkov, Mihail Parusev and Gazmend Berisha on violin. We had a concert that was broadcasted directly on Radio Channel 103. That was great, as we had an opportunity for our music to be heard by a wider auditorium. The people loved it, both the music and the performance, as there wasn't anything like it at the time.

There were many styles and genres that were, in a way, filtered through our tastes. That was 1998 and during that time we met Bojan (Ugrinovski). This was the time when I was part of Bodan Arsovski's Ezgija Orchestra. We became friends and quickly found ourselves thinking along the same wavelengths. We were on the same frequency about many issues related to music —production, sound, etc. Bojan became our greatest initiating and motivating factor. He helped us a lot by organizing and focusing us and it was with him that we recorded our first release The Margina EP. In 1999, we recorded 4 tracks at Tralala studio and to this very day I'm very fond of this material.

In the year 2000, the Kumanovo Jazz Festival was first held and the organizers' initial idea was for it to be some sort of an ethno-jazz festival. We received an invitation to perform there and we were delighted and positively surprised. The material was prepared over a short period of time. The concert was great. We were lucky since Gazmend Berisha was available to perform with us, as well as Medo Chun, the great master on the clarinet. The older generations remember him as a member of Esma Redzepova's band (Ensemble Teodosievski). Not many people know this but as composer and musician he enormously influenced the music of Esma and the Ensemble.

The performance was recorded, it was mixed and we were delighted by the final results (our egos were satisfied). In the meantime, after the Festival, we had a gig with DNO, and I remember, just for a second I looked at Miyo and we both realized that we won't be doing club dates as DNO anymore and that was the end of it. Prior to this, while we were working on the creation of Project Zlust and its music, we already had certain songs that we thought were never going to fit in with the Project Zlust concept, at least not in that concept we had at the time. Then we had an idea, since Miyo had certain songs, to start a new form that is based heavily on the guitar sound, and those are the beginnings of DNO as we know it today.

We started writing songs, rehearsing, making recordings and the appearance of Malcolm Burn was an additional motivating factor that helped us see that we were on the right track. He said "You guys are great. Keep up the good work. I don't want to sound like I am bragging, but he said that he worked with countless other musicians but we were among the top 10 he ever worked with. At the time, we were nervous as he was a top producer who has worked with top musicians. Suddenly, many things began to happen to us and we found ourselves in a whirlwind of events, recordings, performances, as well as participating in the projects of countless other musicians.

For us, there is a great need for these 2 bands to exist, and in between there are countless other projects that are waiting to happen. Only time can tell what will happen.

AAJ: There is a huge stylistic difference between How I Killed a Saint and Project Zlust Live. It seems that Saintis more strings-oriented.

DE: It was our intention to include more strings—Bejkov is playing on upright bass, Miyo on cello, Vladimir Krstev and Gazmend Berisha are playing violins and we practically had a quartet. Besides playing keyboards, I also play French horn, which gave us an opportunity for a different kind of sound, to experiment both with the colors and the way it is performed. Almost all of us have a music degree, except for Gazmend Berisha, who doesn't need one, since he has found his own voice on the violin. The guy is practically talking through the violin. When someone is looking at him while playing he will notice his soul pouring out of the violin. Since I perform with the Macedonian Philharmonic Orchestra, and Bejkov played both with the Philharmonic Orchestra and the National Opera, we really had an opportunity to perform and listen to music by the great classical masters.

AAJ: How has that helped? How has classical music influenced the work of Project Zlust?

DE: That's a great inspiration, as during those moments while you are playing or listening to it, you have an opportunity to learn about the ideas that these people, who have left their mark in history, have had about music. You have an opportunity to experience astounding colors, forms, and an opportunity to see incredible orchestrations, that have delighted me many times while listening to it.

Beside this, in the previous century many other forms of music surfaced, like jazz, electronic music, and it's those things that push us to think in many different ways. One of those ways is epitomized by DNO, i.e. the art-rock form. But this band is at the very beginning and its idea and the concept will only really start to develop and evolve now.

AAJ: What's the idea behind Zlust? Is there a strict concept behind it?

DE: Project Zlust doesn't have a strictly-determined concept nor a specific style or a genre and an instrumentalism where everyone should strictly play a piece the way it is written and period. This is material that constantly evolves and is subject to changes. Things have changed since the period we first started working and during the coming period I think things will change even more. Lately, we cannot neglect jazz culture, since jazz music has played an enormous part in the process of our maturation. All of these aspects and influences are forcing us to work on different projects. It's some sort of inner desire for all of us, since everyone is a world of its own. Each of us has his own film in his head and an ego, and when you put these strands together, you leave something or throw away other, but the end result is something incredible. There is a strange chemistry that bonds us together. There is a strange mixture of energies, where complications are occurring...

AAJ: And the result of that is...?

DE: Thank God, it results in music, something that people can listen to. It's not always easy, but sometimes it's too easy. Sometimes it demands more effort, more work, and more consideration of what should be done. Sometimes it happens that you have and idea, where the concept shows up immediately and you do the arrangement right away. There is something intangible that keeps us together as a band.

AAJ: To me it's interesting that this collective has an imagination that really doesn't know of any stylistic limitations.

DE: I don't think anyone should allow having limitations at all, especially when it comes to their imagination. What is interesting for us as people, although we live in Macedonia, is that we are all of different nationalities and we all carry our cultures within ourselves, things like where you grew up, the families, and we carry these things that were given to us by our ancestors in our genes. When you put together all these things something wonderful and significant happens. We feel enormous joy when we play or work together since I don't know how we can function together if we did something else. As musicians we have played with all of the greatest musicians in Macedonia and abroad.

The most memorable was when we played with trumpeter Greg Hopkins. Me and Bejkov had an opportunity to play with him and Toni Kitanovski, at the Universal Hall, which was a memorable and wonderful experience for us. It is pure joy when you work with a genius like Hopkins, who is also a professor of composition at Berkley. We had one rehearsal prior to the gig but the feeling was as we had played together all of our lives. This is one of the virtues that these old masters have. They are excellent psychologists. He will talk to you first and after the first tune played together, he will know what you are capable of, how talented you are, how much you know and what your technical capabilities are like. Then, in a very indirect way, through his energy, he inspires you to give more in order to play up to your abilities, so the end result could sound as it should.

AAJ: Tell me about the work you did with prof. Nikola Kodzabashia. Last year The Reveries of the Solitary Walker, which was performed by Zlust, was voted as album of the week by BBC Radio 1.

DE: We have been great friends with Nikola Kodzabashia much longer before he moved to London. We had a project in the past called Alshar. In the meantime, we communicated a lot with him and he hinted that he wanted to work with us. We were happy to accept, and the conditions were suitable since we have our own studio, which means thing would go smoothly. He came from London; we had 2-3 sessions in the studio including other musicians like Aleksandar Pop Hristov (Achek), and a saz player, Sheazair. To this very day I never found out his last name. Not even Gazmend, who brought him, knows it. It all happened very spontaneously. Nikola had some ideas, he presented them, we listened, played them and some interesting things occurred. I even sing on one composition, "Ave Tatho."

In general, Kodzabashia is both a great musician and an organizer. He has a genuine sense and concept for organizing the sound and the musicians as well, and he did those things very smoothly this time. In the end, he took the best performances and packed them into this release. The reaction was great since the album won many prizes, received rave reviews around the globe, and we were happy that we were part of that. Most of it was recorded in our studio that at the time was located at Makoteks. The place was so small that it was already too tight when 10 people were inside. I remember a sad moment when Miyo broke his bow. We really didn't have much space there. The concept of Reveries was based upon a Byzantine theme (The Hymn of the Virgin Mary). The approach we took is something typical for the chalgia music where you are given a theme and it's up to you where you will take it.

Continue: Part 2

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