Not a review, nor an interview, but a story of an adventure
The new album of Latvian Radio Big Band «Latvian Jazz Suite vol.2.» — a challenge both for the musicians and the listeners
On October 17th I was lucky enough to attend the release party of Latvian Radio Big Band’s new album. The concert featured music pieces from the new album — «Latvian Jazz Suite vol.2». Honestly? What I heard was something completely unexpected. In my opinion, when the listener plans to attend a big band concert, he has a clear understanding of what to expect from the concert, because more or less such a line-up is jazz-related, and even more so, with a specific jazz type — the Glenn Miller or Benny Goodman kind of jazz, for example. Especially if it’s not the first time attending a concert of one and the same big band. This time around I understood already before the concert, when everyone was hurrying to congratulate the musicians, composers, conductors, producers, that the performance would be slightly different. First thing that got me thinking of a slightly different kind of music was the composer line-up: Matiss Cudars, Krists Auznieks and Rudolfs Macats, all quite familiar names in the Latvian music scene, same as their music. It got me wondering — will there be anything traditional about this program at all? Certainly not, because these people are known for their innovative thinking, their special approach to music, their vision of the world. Upon entering the concert hall I knew right away that the concert would be special.
The list of unusual things was continued by the completely odd placement of the big band musicians on the stage — rhythm section in the center, and the wind-instruments in the big half circle in the back. But that is also not all, as there is no place for the conductor in the front. Or maybe there is, but instead of the score there’s a drawing on the stand. I looked closer and it really turned out to be a drawing, no a usual one, but a drawing type used in classical music and called «graphic notation». And the concert begins. Magical, captivating, powerful, interesting, diverse. I instantly thought that this kind of music must be listened to without a pause in it’s entirety, or at least all the music pieces from each of the composers, without any announcements, because it’s very easy to fly away with the first notes, submerge into a peculiar trans-like state. And it’s not even mandatory to look at the stage, you can listen with eyes closed, letting music fill your body and detaching yourself from the world.
The concert began with music pieces by Matiss Cudars — «Youth», «Bathhouse» and «Vermanes Garden Park». All the pieces were bright, colorful, extremely interesting, but I want to pay special attention to one of them — «Bathhouse». This piece was conducted by Matiss himself and as sheet music he used the previously mentioned graphic score which was also used by the artist Dainars Albuzis as the album cover. It was very interesting and intriguing to listen to the piece, because it is a rather unusual format for the big band music, the number of the musicians is so big that I had difficulty imagining how such a material, basically, a collective improvisation, will sound. But the musicians did it rather impressively. After the concert I had a chance to talk to Matiss to find out why he chose this particular format: «I would have preferred for this big line-up the musicians to improvise themselves, for the music piece to be created on the spot, so no note would be rehearsed, for the musicians to really listen and play what they feel at that particular moment.»
Second part and the second composer — Krists Auznieks. His three-part music piece «Work», «God» and «Nature» (yes, that is a peculiar tribute to Anna Brigadere, because, as Krists tells, «the big band is a sort of man’s thing, and also all the composers were men, so I thought that we needed a presence of a woman amid all of that») sounded completely different, as if a new concert had begun. As the musicologist Boriss Avramecs says: «What has been composed, it’s customary to call it contemporary classical music. Very impressive, a serious musical language». And Krists himself, whom I managed to contact later, agreed with this statement by saying the following in regards to his experience and choice of music: «It was important for me in terms of both style and music to connect the time periods, to show that we do not have that eternal box — jazz or contemporary music, Latvian or foreign, I can’t perceive the world like that. It’s important for me that different art forms communicate, so I wrote something that is uncommon for the big band music. It was important that people attending it as a jazz concert could see that jazz musicians can also play something very different from their usual repertoire, so I saw this as a chance to show ideas that exist in another world.»
In the last and final part the music pieces of Rudolfs Macats were performed, making this another completely different part of the concert. The composer himself also joined the big band and played his original works. The pieces by Rudolfs reminded more of the music likely to be heard in a big band concert, maybe that is because Rudolfs himself is more involved specifically with the jazz world, but at the same time it was also evident that his creative thinking did not follow the customary big band music norms of composition, but rather he chose his own path while composing the music piece, hence the result helped to paint a unique picture in my mind. I also got a chance to talk to him and it was interesting to find out about his inspiration for composing the pieces «Children of the Sun», «Line of Wisdom» and «A Tribute to the Sea God». He tells of the last one: «At the time I practiced playing drums a lot, the basis for the piece was the rhythm, and only afterwards I added the harmonies to it, and then I realized what I would like to hear over all of it. It was an abstract process of creation, I thought of the sea, of the feeling when you’re in a boat braving huge waves.»
In a conversation with all of the three composers I discovered, that they not only found the project to be interesting, but also quite challenging, because none of them work with big band music on a daily basis. It turned out that this project became a challenge not only for the composers, but also for the musicians. Radio Big Band baritone saxophone player Kristaps Lubovs tells of his adventure: «I was a bit scared at first after seeing the sheet music, but it was a step away from my daily work. A pleasant step. Of course, also quite a challenge. If in the big band I usually play the baritone saxophone, in this concert I didn’t need it, the new composers like the bass clarinet very much, so that is what I played throughout the whole concert along with the flute, which I almost never use usually.»
I perceived the whole concert as a good surprise, and I’m glad to have taken home the audio CD to be able to listen to it a few more times. I am sure that when I will listen to it repeatedly I will hear something new, because all of the music included in this album can be described as being multi-layered. If I would attempt to visualize it (which I wanted to do very much during the concert, by the way), I would see it as a labyrinth, where each bar would be like a turn, and you can never know which world you will arrive in, which picture you will see around the corner, if you will be standing by a tall hill or going through a crowd in a megalopolis, or suddenly find yourself in the middle of a lake or a meadow. Young musicians very often say that nowadays music has no clear divides anymore — jazz, classical music, avant-garde — everything blends together and there is no need to define the borders anymore, because the music itself is like a journey between layers of art. I definitely agree with this, because I really don’t want to put this product in a box of some sort, there are too many colors mixed in those sounds, and that is without a doubt interesting. Producer of the project Maris Briezkalns describes the result as follows: «This is music that requires time to be invested into it, one has to delve into it or meditate, or do something else. The music is interesting.» The music producer of this album Karlis Vanags also agrees with this: «I have such positive feelings about each composer really having his own distinct signature, and which is also very important, his own recognition. Each one has his own clear direction, how he feels the music. The album as a whole is really very uncommon, and this boldness goes in a new direction and gives up on customary things associated with the daily life of a big band.»
To conclude my not a review, nor an interview, but a story of an adventure, I can say: this music is definitely not meant for each and every one, because we all have our own taste, our favorite music, but it is worth listening to at least once. You cannot put a label with a specific genre on this music, it cannot be defined within the borders of one style of music, but it is a perfect example of contemporary interdisciplinary work of art. I tip my hat to both the composers and the musicians who did a great and respectable job.