Saturday, February 16, 2013

interview with Michael Arbenz (VEIN trio)

I've put already on the blog some impressions of the VEIN trio's music. The evening before the trio's two concerts in Krakow I had a little chat with trio's piano player Michael Arbenz. Here are some fragmets of the conversation:

1. About how ”Porgy & Bess” trio recording fits into two great traditions – that of Gershwin music and that of a piano trio.

I'd like to add another tradition which Gershwin's music brings together. That's jazz music and the classical. We all three studied classical music. We asked ourselves how can we bring together our backrounds - jazz, european, classical, how could we make the all meet in the american tradition and Gershwin was kind of a perfect match. He's one of the most popular composers but what was important for us is just that he wrote great tunes. So many interpretions of Gershwin. „Summertime” is the most recorded jazz tune of all time.
There's also the tradition of playing „Porgy & Bess”, take Louis and Ella recording, Miles Davis with Gil Evans and many more, it was another one that we wanted to refer to.
As for the piano trio it's always a great challenge, there were so many of them. Great trios, so many great interpretions of Gershwin also. „Summertime” is the most recorded jazz tune of all time.
This all being said, we wanted to modify the tunes, make them a bit different. Gerswhin's tunes are so strong that you can't change them too much so you don't recognize them. We were searching the line, the way it would remain the same tune but translated today world, language of today jazz.

2. About the beginnings of jazz and music fascination.

Me and my twin brother,Florian, we actually started listening to jazz very early. Our parents had a record collection, they're both classical musicians but loved jazz very much. We started to listen to this music very early, quite by chance. Armstrong, Django Reinhardt, Benny Goodman we loved it all a lot, also old piano players like Fats Waller, Art Tatum. We jost gut sucked into it.
Later on, it would seem strange nowadays, we loved Miles Davis, John Coltrane, we didn't care much about pop music. Of course we liked in htese years guys like Mike Stern, Brecker Brothers, fusion stuff. Maybe more than today.
We had listened to the jazz history, starting with the old stuff and it developed from here. I think it can be heard in our music that we are referring to the old styles, Art Tatum, Oscar Peterson, all those influences are natural to us and I can't really explain it.

How is it to play with your twin brother in the band?

It's great. I can't say for any metaphysical connection, I don't know, we don't have any other brothers or sisters. But we have the same history, we know the same music, we liked the same music, we have lot of things together and we started playing together as kids, it was a game for us – it came all very natural.
Bass player were always complaining for being kind of inbetween. This trio now, with Thomas on bass, we played for last six years together, we played a lot, and he got adjusted to it. I think now it's a real trio and not two brothers plus one. why not to play as a piano-drums duo?

We did this and I think it's a very very difficult combination. When you're playing alone, solo, you can play more out of time, more subtle, leave more space. The drums are just the opposite of it so this two instruments are very hard to put together. If the bass is not here you have play a bit like a solo, but also you have to play very loud (laugh). We did it a few times, but trio is better.

How were you introduced to the piano?

My father was a piano player.
With my brother, when we were kids we both played piano and we both played drums, then, in our teens we just chose. I don't really know how this happened.It just wen like that. why not to play as a double piano or doble drums duo?

No. It's too much concurrernce, we had to go our seperate ways. (laughter)

3. About the collaboration with David Liebman

We started to work with quite known people very early. Me and my brother, we neved did any kind of education in jazz, jazz school or something. This was our way to connect to the jazz history and lear things. I still think, that, if you're on stage with a great musician, you learn much more and it's much more challenging than taking lessons with somebody.
We started playing in like '98 with Greg Osby, we play a lot with Glenn Ferris, Wolfgang Puschning from Austria, very different and very great people. And few years ago we were looking for a new „input”, another connection to the whole history. And Dave Liebman is that. He has
great knowledge, great musicality, great spirit, he played with everybody. He's very generous. If you want him to know something, there are no secrets. It's great to play with him.
Each time it's a challenge, after he plays a great solo and stops, it's your turn. It's like a kick in the ass to push you forward. And that's great.

...that sort of always was the way to learn jazz...

Yeah it's true That's the way to learn. The difference is, in the older times older people were hiring the young ones, today the young guys are hiring the old cats (laugter)

4. More about learning and teaching.

I had no academic jazz education, though I teach now at the University. Yet, i feel it's important to say:
Jazz, in its beginnings was never academic. Of course it's understandable that for the old generation it is important to bring it to this standard. You can have occupation, it's more official. In the States it's also the matter of their own history as well as Black Culture. So it's all perfectly understandable, but what I see today in all jazz schools – it's too academic.
All the students are trying to do what their teachers say. For me it's very important to refer to the old jazz. But, if you listen to Louis Armstrong, every trumpet playare now can play this, but nobody can play it like him. The essence of the music is elsewhere. Of course you have to be a good player, but the spirit of the music is the most important. That's why I think jazz shouldn't bee too academic, because it dies afterwards.

5. About not being able to play on his own, personal instrument during the tours.

It's normal for me yet sometimes I wonder how it would be, you know like a sax player who treats his instrument like a baby at all times.
It's always a challenge. I have to deal every night with a different thing. It's different if you play a classical music, you have a program, you know what you have to play and if the piano is shit you just can't adjust, change anything. With jazz and improvised music you can change it all. You can adjust to the instrument, as well as the acoustics. That's also inspiring, you can see it this way.
There' a certain frame within which you're comfortable and things are possible. Of couse sometimes you have to deal with bad situations. But I don't take it as a bad thing – to change instrument every night.

6. About some pros and cons of being a musician.

The fun thing about being a jazz musician is that you're in a very different situation almost every day. One night you're in the club and you don't get any money and it's shit. Or you're in a great place. I know some clubs with great history, like in Paris, the Sunside Jazzclub, everybody played there amd you can breath the atmosphere. Next day you play in a concert hall, very comfortable, great conditions. The funny thing about jazz music is that it's played in so many different situations and that keeps it exciting. If it was just one thing, then it would be boring.

My very first concert and the first solo, it was a bar filled with drunk people. After two minutes somebody tried to hit me with a bottle. That was my first professional experience (laughter). I'm lucky it got better afterwards.

7. About favourite recordings.

First of all I'd say, we talked before about the Miles Davis & Gil Evans „Porgy & Bess”, great arrangaments, incredible playing. Too bad there's no piano on it, but that's one for sure.
I like very much Errol Garner's „Concert by the sea”. For me he's a great master, incredibly positive energy, and I think this really is the greatest recording he did. And it's unique, nobody has plays like him.
Then of course Coltrane. I couldn't decide which one. I like very much the live recordings of the 60s, I like this kind of energy, long tunes, flow, no limits. I'm not sure which but it would be on of his 60s live recordings.
Also live recordings of the 60s – Miles Davis quintet with Shorter, Hancock, Ron Carter and Tony Williams, for the interplay, for the fantasy they had, for the new things they did, incredible group.
For the last one, yeah, let's say Art Tatum , doesn't matter what, it's everything.He's genius.

..and Charlie Parker
Bill Evans
McCoy Tyner
so many great players. That's the great thing about jazz. And I still discover new ones. I know a lot of jazz records and it's harder to find something good, but it's still possible.

I remember as teenager, there's was in Basel, where I grew up, a record store, with vinyl and there was a great owner, she knew everything, and I didn't know anyhing. We went there with my brother and she would recommend us listen to Sonny Rollins, listen to this, listen to that.
Each week, I remember, every saturday we went there to spend our money, and it was always like a new enlighthment, new world opening. That was a great period, discovering all this music. Sometimes I'm sad it's kind over, a little bit. But still you find great, inspiring things


We chatted some more.
About how hard it is to make a reputation in today jazz scene, about some of favourite new personas (Jason Moran). Michael would try to remember also the name of a sax player he heard while playing in Vilnius.
Little bit about the new trio's cd (release date on september, studio recording with just the trio, orginal compositionas).
About how he likes polish soups, especially żurek.
How Ornette Coleman's Prime Time concert was one of the best he's ever seen, if very weird.
How Cecil Taylor's music is possibly the most complex thing modern music , composed or improvised , has heard.
How he prefers the structure to the free improvisation.
And many other topics that hopefully we'll be able to continue on another occasion.  

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