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Erland Dahlen: Rolling Bombers and Blossom Bells

Adriana Carcu By

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If you listen well enough, you know when the time comes to take the others with you, the audience included. That’s the exciting thing about playing open music.
The drummer, percussionist and composer Erland Dahlen is one of the most proficient musicians of the Nordic jazz community. His collaborations with top ranking musicians, such as Nils Petter Molvaer, Stian Westerhus, Eivind Aarset and Jan Bang, as well as his solo projects, have an unmistakable rhythmic signature owing to his singular instrumental voice. The natural roundness and the musicality of his drums as well as the spatiality of the cymbals and bells create an inspiring rhythmical halo. Dahlen's solo album Rolling Bomber (Hubro Records, 2012) combines the drum work with the electronic sequencing in a multi-layered rhythmical structure with a distinct melodic line.

All About Jazz: Did you grow up in a musical environment?

Erland Dahlen: I would say so. My mother used to sing in the opera choir and my grandfather played jazz for fun. He played ragtime and that kind of stuff. My brother had an impressive collection of records, a lot of pop and rock stuff that I was also listening to. That was my basic education, learning by listening.

AAJ: Do you remember your first drum solo?

ED: Yes, I do. I was maybe 14 years old and playing with a garage band for two years. We were playing Pink Floyd and Beatles covers and I remember that once during a concert somebody shouted: Drum solo! I started playing something I didn't quite understood. It worked all right, though.

AAJ: When did you start playing jazz?

ED: I was in the sixth grade, I think, when I started playing with a big band in Denmark. That was the first band with real rehearsals and gigs. I learned a lot about swing there. When I was twenty I went to Norway, to Kristianstad University and started studying drums with Bruce Rasmussen, who helped me with the techniques. I made many music friends there, and that was very helpful too because later when I moved to Oslo, I got assimilated a lot easier into the musical community.

AAJ: Can you identify the moment when you knew that you were a musician?

ED: I must have been 12 or 13 when I realized that I really liked to play the drums, and later on when I was about 25 I had that moment of realization that I am a musician and I was going to do that for a living. It was a good feeling, I must say, because I had quite a few odd jobs before and all of a sudden it became clear to me that I would not need to do those anymore. It was scary as well because especially at the beginning I was living from day to day with no regular income.

AAJ: What was the most significant moment for your evolution as a musician?

ED: At some point after I left school, I didn't want to sound like all my drumming heroes anymore. There comes a time when stop emulating your masters. That was, I think, the turning point, which brought me a new awareness as a musician and set me on the quest of my own instrumental voice. At that point it is also important to play with bands, which offer you the freedom to develop and define your style. I had that chance, I must say.

AAJ:Who were your musical heroes?

ED: One of them is Jim Keltner, he as a really nice touch always playing full sound, also Tony Williams and Terry Bozzio, are very melodic drummers. And, of course, Jon Christensen, who is a very complex musician.

AAJ: Do you consider yourself a jazz musician?

ED: I wouldn't describe myself strictly as a jazz musician. I have always played many styles, pop, rock and jazz, but I have never seen it narrowly. I am always seeking new ideas and possibilities that help me to express what and how I feel. If the area is larger, the opportunities to develop new ideas are better. This is an ongoing process. It happens quite often that I look at the objects around me and wonder what they may sound like and sometimes I try their sound to see if I can integrate it in my playing. Quite a few things, which are not meant for playing, sound actually very well if they are used in the right way. Many drummers do that. You never know what you can discover in a household or an iron shop. There's a lot of music around us. This comes in handy especially when I play film music, because that's when a lot of sound effects are required in order to suggest a certain atmosphere. The stuff becomes quite bulky with the years, so now I have rented a place where I store it and experiment new sounds and rhythms.

AAJ: Do you think rhythm is a basic endowment of each of us or rather a special talent we need to cultivate and develop?

ED: Good question. From my teaching experience I noticed that some people pick up a rhythmical pattern right away while others find it quite difficult to detect that natural pre-disposition. I had a student once, who made me realize that some people don't have the basic rhythm. I tried to work with him a whole month and I couldn't get any decent rhythmical sequence out of him. That's when I realized that we are not equally endowed. I think that we all have the internal pacing, starting from the inner rhythm of our bodies, but not all of us are capable of expressing it.

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