Brandishing an Ibañez AF-200 guitar, which he describes as “a similar model as the AS-200, which John Scofield uses, but with a thicker body,” Samo Šalamon stirs up freeing jazz from Slovenia.
As one of the most notable emerging careers from that centrally located European country, youthful daring unmasks someone who can play as beautifully and exotic as the flowers of the Kamnik leek, darkened as Hrastovlje’s Danse Macabre fresco, or as picturesque and open as Maribor’s Main Square. Engaging explorations into “ethno jazz” with the Ansasa Trio , or his take on Ornette Coleman in Ornethology, aren’t going to drive audiences in throngs to the Cankarjev dom because, as he puts it, “the jazz situation in Slovenia is not great. The music I make, as well as that of my drummer and mentor Zlatko Kaucic, is too advanced for Slovenians. I don't think the majority is ready. Although I got fantastic national and international reviews, the labels sign mainstream jazz players and easy listening music that is not exciting and moving. In addition, there aren't many musicians that play such style of music in Slovenia. As luck would have it, I have played with guys from Italy who are more advanced.” Šalamon adds that aside from the jazz scene, in Slovenia “music life is not really shiny.” Thus, he has to teach guitar to survive. “You can live off music if you sell out,” the Scofield admirer adds, “if you work with pop bands and stuff like that, but I don't want to do that. I want to play music that I like and not to sell out. I think by being honest and sincere one can still make it. That, at least is what I hope.”
Ornethology is the result of his Coleman inspired studies and the Slovenian’s tale of discovery reveals the usual pattern of viral dissemination among musicians so thoroughly enhanced –as well as threatened– by today’s technological advances. Šalamon discovered Coleman at 21 “when Zlatko Kaucic, the drummer in the quartet, who played with Steve Lacy for years, introduced me to Ornette, but I wasn't ready then. It was too heavy. Then, last year I got the Complete Atlantic Recordings, which really knocked me out. I transcribed all the themes and some Ornette solos as I'm still transcribing them. This music changed jazz. How true the title The Shape of Jazz to Come is. I really like Ornette's themes, especially his phrasing, which I try to transfer to guitar. The title of the recording, Ornethology, or the scientific study of Ornette Coleman if you may, is a dedication to Ornette's music. Some of his concepts from 40 years ago were used, but integrated with my own ideas and other influences. I think something new was created nonetheless.”
Furthermore, for the Slovenian, Coleman “is the most melodic player in the history of jazz. I really like his classic quartet. I also like the later trios with Izenson and Moffett and the quartet with Dewey Redman. As for harmolodics, is seen also in this quartet. In it, however, I am the composer of all tunes and its leader, yet I do not have the primary function. We all are on the same level where equality of all instruments is important. That gives us the possibilities of the interplay and higher communication.”
In talking about the production itself, as well as the musicians, Šalamon is stereotypically self-critical, albeit effusive in his praises too. “The production of the album could be a lot better, but the personnel here in Slovenia is not used to this kind of music, so it is how it is. I think the most important thing is that the music is great, because then you forget about other factors. The musicians on this project, however, were fantastic. I called up drummer Kaucic, a musical role model, fantastic person, favorite musician of mine, excellent composer and performer, who played with figures ranging from Kenny Wheeler, or Steve Lacy, to Paolo Fresu. Then on the bass is one of the best Italian players Salvatore Maiore, featuring great sound and abilities. It was the right choice. What proved most surprising was the chemistry with the alto sax and bass clarinetist Achille Succi, whose playing I really love. He is one of the most melodic players I have heard and had the ability to play with. We developed a great –almost telepathical– understanding. That’s nice! I think we got the chemistry going in the spirit of Ornette and I hope more people will be able to witness this.”