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Simon Toldam: A New Perspective in Jazz

Jakob Baekgaard By

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"There is an interest in finding inspiration outside music: in everyday life, people and nature. In that way, it is like a record that is allowed to be a unity and not just a stream of hits, just like life can't be upbeat all the time. Many aspects need to be present before you can be whole as a human and part of this is also the dark aspects or melancholy, it can add light in the way it puts the joyful feeling into perspective. I would like the records to reflect this, not in the sense that we try to play bad music, if you can use that word, but in the sense that everything comes in waves -just like life comes in waves. It is also a way to get energy. We work and then we take a break. That is also a wave. We get into another mode where other things become interesting."

The waves that Toldam finds in life, up and down, are also present in the music that develops in many different sound waves:

"It is the same with the records, at least these two trio records. There is a lot of diversity. You can find classic trio jazz and there is a minimalistic kind of stubbornness reminiscent of John Cage, expressionistic avant-garde and folk-like melodies and psalms, so it is very diverse. That is the strong thing about the trio. We play and there is no taboo. There is no clear musical profile. Instead, it is about unchaining the music, releasing it, make it live, so it can do what it wants. We try to have as little control as possible -we give the music a platform and a starting point and then it can develop in any possible direction, depending on time, space, people and moods."

Toldam's approach in the trio is a process of creation that is completely free and devoid of any musical restrictions:

"Things are popping up and I say yes to it all. It is a completely uncritical process of creation, in fact. The things I write for the trio are mostly things where it is like a cup that is filled until it is overflowing and the result is an idea, a sketch or something. All the music in the trio is not compositional work as such. I do not sit for days to immerse myself in writing. Suddenly, during a sound-check, an idea comes up; a phrase, a chord or just a sound, and that idea becomes the material I use to develop a certain piece. The process is unlike my orchestra Stork where the approach is more compositional. It is a different process of creation."

When it comes to the art of letting go, Toldam is aware that it has been a process of maturation:

"I think I have become more mature musically -and it is not necessarily a good thing to be mature. When you are young, the world tends to be black and white and you are highly aware of your choices, like 'I'll do THIS, but DEFINITELY NOT THIS AND THIS.' You are stubborn in a different way and perhaps force things through, but still there is a lot of expression and energy in it, but now I think I'm changing and have different approach where it is no longer about me. I'm not interesting. It is not exciting that I have written something. The exciting thing is what it can develop into and the process is most exciting when you are more than one. The sum of different people, whether it is the trio or Stork. You enter a room together and create something that you haven't created before. And that kind of maturity, for a lack of a better word, was something I didn't have as a young man. I was definitely more stubborn -it was supposed to sound like me. So when I look back, I realize that I was stubborn. I insisted on turning the music in my direction instead of letting it be itself and letting it go wherever it wanted to go."

As young man, Toldam's strategy was to sabotage the sound whenever it got too sweet and pretty. Today, he feels that he has moved beyond that stage, but he has also learned something from that approach. His touch on the piano has sometimes been compared to Thelonious Monk, who tellingly wrote a composition called "Ugly Beauty," but when it comes to the dichotomy between the soft touch of Bill Evans and the hard touch of Monk, Toldam is more sceptical:

"Monk has meant a lot to me, but in reality, I haven't listened so much to his records, but I have played his music, but of course I know him and his records, but I haven't obsessed about him. Still, he has left enormous footprints. I don't think that he has a hard touch, to me that connotes something irritating, but he has an angular touch, definitely. When it comes to my own sound, I hope that it is both things. In the same way that music is diverse, I hope that the touch is diverse. At the moment, I try to play as quietly as I can and try to examine the little nuances in playing quietly."

A composer who is a master in bringing out little musical nuances is Johann Sebastian Bach whose Well-Tempered Clavier belongs among Toldam's favorite works of music:

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