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Huw Warren: Global Music from a Local Perspective

Jakob Baekgaard By

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HW: Maybe this ties in with the answer of the previous question! I've always loved a wide set of sources for my music, but the challenge is to create a similar approach to the playing. For instance, Quercus mixes folk and jazz styles; but we are constantly looking for a common approach which allows us to find our own style. This seems a contrast to the fusion idea, where taking different elements from styles can sometimes lead to a rather bland statement. I find it an interesting challenge to try and play in a very similar way on, for example, a melody by John Dowland, an original composition, a Brazilian tune and a Jazz standard.

AAJ: Do you consider yourself a jazz musician? Why or why not? You have worked with June Tabor, who is connected to the British folk tradition. Is that a tradition that you relate to as well? In general, how do you relate to musical traditions?

HW: Always a tricky question! The simple answer is that it would be great just to be called a musician, as the J word can have positive and negative connotations. A deeper way of looking at it is maybe the idea that, rather than being a style, jazz is more of an attitude? Improvisation and creating a sense of surprise is definitely part of that attitude, but stylistically I feel this can be very open. Working with June has been a massive influence on my music—I was always interested in the directness and simplicity of folk melody, but to be part of June's incredible form of storytelling has taught me so much. Mostly about economy of material related to the emotion and drama of song, but also the commitment to lyric or musical statement.

AAJ: In a way, your music balances between what you might call art music and folk music. Is this distinction artificial to you and is it your intention to try to break it down?

HW: I'm always interested in combining different kinds of polarity in my music. Sometimes this can be as simple as intuitive (rhythm/groove) versus something more cerebral (harmony/composition techniques) or more random/free elements contrasting with more organized elements. So, in some ways I'm trying to ignore the distinction that you mention, but I feel both sides need to be present in my music. Of course, the balance might change in different projects, but I love both aspects!

AAJ: Your latest album, Nocturnes and Visions, is a solo piano album. I know you have also released another solo piano album, Infinite Riches in a Little Room (2001). Have you recorded other solo albums than that?

HW: Those two albums are my only solo piano recordings, but I've made a lot of records (e.g. with June Tabor, Quercus and Maria Pia de Vito) as duo or trio without bass and drums. I guess I've been developing different ways of playing solo whilst working on these projects.

AAJ: When recording Nocturnes and Visions, did you go back to Infinite Riches in a Little Room to revisit what you were doing then? In general, how did you prepare for Nocturnes and Visions?

HW: For Nocturnes and Visions I tried to start from a clean slate. One of the advantages of recording solo is that you can record far more material than you need, and then put together the final order from takes that you like best and that sit alongside each other best. Playing solo is usually just playing my favourite music—so in this case the Bach arrangements ("Prelude" and "The Bulgarian Stretch") had been around a while from another project, the opening tune is one of my favourite Hermeto Pascoal compositions "O Farol que nos guia" (which I have been playing a lot with fellow Hermeto 'addict' Iain Ballamy) and the closing track "Noturna" is a wonderful Guinga composition which I also performed and recorded with Maria Pia de Vito. The other pieces are all original and are a mix of new pieces, older pieces and improvisations

AAJ: A lot of time has passed since Infinite Riches in a Little Room. What has happened with your approach to solo piano since then? Do you find your aesthetic has changed?

HW: Solo piano is one of those ultimate challenges for pianists, so I'm constantly rethinking the approach! I'm not sure if my aesthetic has changed, but I'm certainly more interested in making an emotional connection with the listener than I am in developing virtuoso skills for their own sake. Of course you want to have fun whilst playing (and surprise yourself as often as possible!) but generally I'm much more confident of playing less and trying to really refine the musical statement. In terms of improvising, I'm still working on ways of creating a language that isn't clearly recognizable as jazz (or at least bebop!); which was actually my intention on Infinite Riches.

AAJ: What is your take on the lineage of solo piano albums? What does it mean to play solo to you?


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