Jeremy Rose: on new music, collaborations and running a label

Friedrich Kunzmann By

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My musical pursuits are driven by a deep curiosity to explore various forms of music that I love.
—Jeremy Rose
On top of the highly praised 2017 release The Vampires meet Lionel Loueke (Earshift Music 2017) with his bandmates from The Vampires, Australian saxophonist Jeremy Rose unleashed his, somewhat overlooked, solo effort Within and Without (Earshift Music 2017) in June that same year. Featuring the unique language of American guitar innovator Kurt Rosenwinkel, the album demonstrates a very mature composer in Rose, who seems to constantly be in search of more depth in melody in correlation with unorthodox compositional structures.

Early November 2018 finally saw the saxophonist touring material off of that solo effort in Europe with Josh Ginsburg on bass, Tobias Backhaus on drums and Berlin-based Rosenwinkel joining on guitar as well. Allaboutjazz caught the hard-bopping set at the Reigen in Vienna, Austria, on November ninth, before which Jeremy Rose was kind enough to answer a couple of questions.

All About Jazz: You have so many different formations and musical outlets covering a large field of different genres. The Vampires, The Strides, your solo work, to name a few. How do you organize and manage all of this different musical in-and output? What's your compositional approach concerning the wide array of styles?

Jeremy Rose: My musical pursuits are driven by a deep curiosity to explore various forms of music that I love. To me, jazz is a vehicle for improvisation, a broad-church that allows me to draw from a wide variety of musical styles and traditions. I develop my projects over long periods of time, allowing them to evolve concepts and take on an identity of their own, with their own forms of improvised dialogue, compositional style and aesthetic boundaries. Within that, I can manage my approach to each group by focusing on the particular dynamics and personalities of each group and composing around their style.

AAJ: I'd like to think one can hear what you're explaining on your recent venture with Lionel Loueke The Vampires meet Lionel Loueke. This collaboration sounds extremely natural. How did the recording of that album go?

JR: Well first of all he's [Lionel Loueke] an extremely versatile musician and he's able to adapt his own sound and personality to whatever context. I spent a considerable amount of time checking out his back catalogue and examining his compositional voice in order to develop my compositional ideas and the exciting collaborative possibilities with The Vampires. I think one of the reasons that the collaboration worked so successfully was because we share similar influences and musical roots. But most importantly, we had a great time hanging out with Lionel and getting to know him—he's a really cool guy and we got on very well. That's incredibly important too.

AAJ: The official biography on your website mentions your musical influences being artists such as Tracy Chapman, Herbie Hancock etc... Does there exist one main influence who you'd say has stood the test of time and just sticks out for you? And where does the strong ethno-musical or world-musical influence which is so prominent in The Vampires' music come into the picture?

JR: The sounds that I grew up listening to—mostly hailing from my parent's records—have left their mark on my musical ear and my vision and that also includes music from Ravi Shankar, Charlie Haden, Jan Garbarek and many others. These kind of world-music and collaborations between Jazz musicians and non-western musicians have been big influences on my musical vision. These influences are also symbolic of the musical community in Sydney. I have collaborated with musicians from Iran, India, Korea, Japan and Australian indigenous musicians—it's a an exciting place to be a part of. My other band, The Strides, is a reggae-dancehall group with singers/rappers from Sierra Leone, Barbados and Fiji. I also have a sax quartet, Compass Quartet, that works with a Hindustani tabla player, sitarist and vocalist, which can be heard on Ode to an Auto Rickshaw (Earshift Music 2011). There have been extensive periods of my life where I spent a lot of time listening to music from various parts of the world and this informs my approach to jazz. I hope that all these various sounds come out in an authentic way, not through cultural misappropriation, but through an integration of various aesthetics and approaches to music.

AAJ: Your compositional approach as well as your language on saxophone seem very subtle and in a way, almost universal. Do you compose solely with your saxophone in mind? Is this specific instrument an absolute necessity to your music or is your approach to composition and playing more holistic?

JR: I studied the piano from an early age and this has had a big influence on how I approach music in a compositional sense. I guess I tend to visualize and hear harmony as a pianist rather than as merely a 'single-line' saxophonist. Many of my favourite players are also accomplished pianists, which doesn't surprise me, such as Joe Henderson, Michael Brecker, even Miles Davis. So yes, when I go to play the saxophone, it is often based on a 'holistic' or a more complete picture of how I want the whole band to sound, rather than on an ambition just to be a saxophonist.

AAJ: Would you describe your playing as being more analytical or rather emotional? What goes on in your mind when playing?

JR: When I play, I try not to think much. I try to let the music flow naturally, organically. However, the music has to come from somewhere—a life force, a well that drives us as artists to shape music in a particular way. To me, it is the never-ending challenge of making my music sound as good as it can be, and getting my musical vision across to people. My points of reference are both Miles Davis and Wayne Shorter and the way they can dramatically shift the band's direction with just one note. I try to have that effect when I play.

AAJ: What sparked your collaboration with Kurt Rosenwinkel?

JR: I've been a long-time admirer of Kurt. My connection to him was possible through a mentor of mine, Barney McAll, who'd played with Kurt over the years when he lived in New York. The opportunity to collaborate with him in Berlin was made possible through the APRA Song Hub in 2016 in which I curated. Kurt was a great addition to add to the project and it was an amazing experience to work with a musician that I admired so much. He is such a towering figure in contemporary jazz and it therefore proved a daunting challenge to come up with music that would suit his musical potential. We were also joined by Australian pianist Jackson Harrison, Danish bassist Andreas Lang and German drummer Tobias Backhaus.

JR: Kurt was easy to work with and his musical ear was amazing so we were able to produce a lot of the material in the studio. We workshopped the music and mapped out arrangements. My music often departs in unusual ways, and so we spent quite a bit of time thinking about how to explore the music by using different structures. I like to work outside of the traditional ABA, ABCA etc. forms, and see what we could come up with.

AAJ: What are some of the artists you've been listening to this past year?

JR: I've been listening to Tigran Hamasyan's solo album An Ancient Observer (Nonesuch 2017) quite a bit this year. I saw his solo concert last year and was really blown away. I love his playing and sense of melody and would love to work with him one day!

Prior to the tour with Kurt, I went through his back catalogue to refresh my memory, since I had listened to it a lot when I was younger. I felt this really helped for the tour, and he even commented on how we naturally ended phrases together playing the same shit.

I've been listening a lot to one of my mentors, Sydney drummer Simon Barker and his recent solo albums Urgency! Vol. 1 and 2 (Kimnara, 2018)." Why listen to a solo drumming album? This is some deep music, which has been informed by years of studying and engaging with Korean traditional drumming music, as well as his own beautiful approach to the instrument. The music is actually great to listen to when I'm running, which is also a passion that Simon and I share, although he's more of a long-distance runner than me.

I've also been listening to and have been inspired by some of the artists on Earshift Music. I Hold the Lion's Paw, a psychedelic jazz collective from Melbourne, had a great release this year in Abstract Playgrounds(Earshift Music 2018), as did Sam Anning with Across a Field as Vast As One(Earshift Music 2018). I have been receiving a lot of new music for possible release recently too, so this can take up my listening time.

AAJ: Could you tell us a bit more about your Label, Earshift Music? Was the creation of your own label always part of the plan?

JR: The music industry has changed a lot in the last decade or two. Gone are the days of major label support, especially in jazz and even more so in countries outside of North America such as Australia, and with a variety of new ways to connect with audiences online via platforms such as bandcamp and all the streaming options, there has never been a better time to take control of your releases by creating a label. This has been important in terms of retaining creative control over the projects' releases and being able to coordinate release dates and artwork. I have been lucky to be able to work with some talented friends that have been able to help with coordinating artwork, promotion and online material, because that can suck away your time very quickly. I have also been mindful of retaining control and documenting my work and those of my music scene to help build a legacy by holding onto the master recordings and having an online presence for future years. The album cycle duration has decreased and releases can be forgotten in such a short time if they don't have an online home where people can access them.

AAJ: What's your label philosophy? Which aspects of what a label does and represents are most important to you?

JR: Beyond artistic excellence—obviously—the label's philosophy is to support a community of like-minded artists who are interested in artists who are pushing the boundaries of musical styles, cultures, and their own practice. The label hopes to showcase the next generation of talent from Australia (and other artists in the region) by pushing the boundaries of the very definition of what jazz is and can be. The label embraces artists from jazz, New Music, non-Western, Afrobeat and experimental grooves. We have a number of featured releases with collaborations with artists from Japan, Fiji, India, Sri Lanka, and of course Lionel Loueke, from Benin. I'm also excited to be able to assist artists at building their career in an environment of diminishing label support, providing advice and contacts for booking tours, promotions and strategies. It goes beyond just being a label. I'd like to see it as providing mentorship.

AAJ: What can we expect to hear from you next?

JR: I'm excited to be releasing a new album from The Vampires in March next year [2019], with an Australian tour in March and a European tour in May. The label will also be releasing new albums from my Earshift Orchestra, a new sextet, a new release from The Strides, saxophonist Scott McConnachie, trumpeter Niran Dasika, Foran/Berardi/Karlen and saxophonist Sam Gill. We're also planning the second Earshift Music Festival. It's going to be a big year!

Photo courtesy Jeremy Rose

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