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Hubro: Making Room for Marginalized Music

Jakob Baekgaard By

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AAJ: But it is funny, when I think of your own journey, to me, looking from outside it also reflects the kind of narrative that has been sketched about Norwegian jazz. You have Garbarek as a very important figure, associated with ECM, and you have Rune Grammofon and all these artists where you have electronic things and the experimental things and now, in a way, you are taking it to another place, perhaps. The way I hear it, there's a very strong folk element in the music with many people playing violins. Have you thought about this connection with folk and avant-garde? It's also in Frode Haltli's music. It is almost as if there is a sound there that connects some of these artists.

AM: I agree, a lot of journalists have also pointed out recently that folk music is being mixed into the music and used in a new way. I really like to talk about music and discuss music, but I don't see myself as a big thinker. I'm basically just following my instincts. I just try to follow what interests me. But I agree, right now something is happening. It feels new to me at least, the audience and musicians are more interested in folk music again and using it in a less national romantic way than maybe Jan Garbarek did when he did the same.

They are employing other elements of the folk music and they are using the approach of folk music more too. An interesting thing about the Frode Haltli Band, I think, is that they have rehearsed all the music without using any sheet music. It is all just extracts learned by ear and then they develop it together. That makes the music much more flexible and organic instead of first having the sheet music and then struggle to do what the notes are saying, it effects how the music ends up sounding. That's a phenomenon I see quite a lot now. I have another big band also doing the same called Skadedyr. It's sort of a big band in the jazz tradition, but they don't use sheet music and they are very eclectic, so it doesn't sound like a big band at all. It's just a big band in size.

That interests me. The mix of composition and improvisation. Interesting things are still happening in that field. And a lot of musicians are also more pragmatic about recording and improvising now. Improvisation as a tool, not as a goal in itself. The thing about free jazz is that sometimes it seems like the fanatics have this romantic idea that the music needs to be pure and unspoiled.

Maybe it's arrogant, but for me when it comes to this music that is called free improv I really enjoy it live, but for me it's not very easy to listen to on album at home in my living room. I can't do that much. Of course, there are exceptions, but for me that music is more in the moment and the album is something you try to extract and polish to make something that's more lasting. My impression is that the new generation is more pragmatic. They see improvisation as a tool, not a goal in itself. They can record an improvisation, but they are very open to edit it afterwards and to overdub and just use the recording as a tool. Improvisation as a tool, not as a goal in itself.

AAJ: If you think about your aesthetic, how would you sum it up? You already mentioned some things, curiosity and the willingness to change things. There's a clear identity when I look at the releases on Hubro, they have your stamp on it. What is your stamp?

AM: It's hard to answer. I see the label as a channel for things that are already great so it's not the label that makes it great, but then again, I don't release anything I don't love or find interesting so there's a little bit of me in there also. I guess my taste is shaping the label because of this. My feeling is that if I think it's interesting someone else will too.

AAJ: Do you think of yourself as a producer? Manfred Eicher is a clear example of someone who really shapes the process. You also have a background as a musician, do you shape the process as well or do you just let the musicians decide?

AM: I have a big respect for the artists and their independence so even though I really like to participate and express my feelings about things, they have the last word. I'm not like this big shot paternalistic producer who decides everything and if you don't do this then we can't release it. It's more like, for me, if I hear that the album would be better if we do this and this, I tell the artists and we discuss.

AAJ: What kind of changes or suggestions could you make?

AM: There are many different things. Sometimes I just get the finished album and say "yes, perfect, send the title to the designer and let´s get started" and sometimes I have been in the studio and have been acting more like a producer, which I really like, but since I run a label alone I can't do it and keep the pace with all the releases. It's very time consuming, and, also, not every artist is willing to let a producer into the studio. Sometimes I just have suggestions when it comes to the track sequence. There is also a rumor about me and it's true. Usually the Hubro albums are quite short. Most albums are thirty to forty minutes. ECM has seventy minutes albums sometimes, but for me as a listener my attention span is often like forty-five minutes and then I can't concentrate anymore. Because I'm like that, maybe some else has the same feeling? So often I tell the artists if they deliver an album with a long duration: okay we leave out three tracks and we keep the interest through the whole sequence in a better way.

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