Ieva Kerēvica: «As an artist, I crave the universe!»
Ieva Kerēvica & Madars Kalniņš about the long years of working together, stalemates and the feeling of incompleteness
In recent years Latvian jazz musicians had acquired a taste for something well known that just needs some freshening up — while searching for the inspiration, they somehow strayed to something familiar from the very childhood — folk songs. This fashion trend was probably established by a famous «Etno+jazz» project of the academy of music during the «deciBels» festival; for several years in a row, it entertained the listeners with some exciting experiments. It is also worth mentioning that «Etno+jazz» is always sold out and is considered one of the most popular events among ethnomusicology music experts. During these events, jazz musicians collaborate with experts in ethnomusicology and try to make this old and familiar music their own, as it is usually done in jazz. But in all truth be told, the reasons for this trend’s popularity are not that important, the result is what matters. And as a result itself, we find music that we can sing along with but served under a different sauce. So it’s not a surprise that this pandemic has graced us with not one but two albums based on this exact musical fashion trend. Two famous Latvian jazz singers have presented their new albums — Jolanta Gulbe-Pashkevich and Ieva Kerēvica. I had the chance to meet with Ieva and her long time jazz partner Madars Kalniņš for a little chat about the thing they worked so hard on.
Evilena: Congratulations on your new album! As I understand, it has been brewing for quite a while now?
Ieva: It’s ancient! It’s from the last century! [laughs]
Madars: No way!
I: Ok, ok, I’m exaggerating!
The pictures included in the CD are from a concert from way back, it was hosted by the Latvian Radio in 2014, right?
I: Yes, I’ll never forget it…
And when was it recorded?
M: We recorded it in stages, but we finished the work last year. I think we did the final touch-ups at the end of last year.
So it’s not an album that has been recorded in a day or two?
I: The recording lasted for years because we had a lot of work then, many different projects and such.
M: Also, we didn’t have the funding to do it all at once.
I: At first, we didn’t have the funding, then we experienced some lack of motivation, then it resurfaced again.
M: Then it somehow was put to the backs of our minds…
But whose idea was it in the first place?
I: Madars’! And then I just joined it, and said: «Wow! Cool! Something new, how amazing!»
M: Back then, we thought it was something new, nowadays everyone does this kind of music…
I: Now it all seems as if… Also, all the last touch-ups… You know?… Somewhat strained, and then as time went by, I wanted to keep changing this and that, I was always unsatisfied with the result. Although I can only speak on my behalf, I’m changing all the time, my voice changes, and the things that were growing for years seem… Now I would sing it differently.
M: But it doesn’t mean you have to re-record it.
I: No, of course. It’s just my issue… I’m not saying it’s something terrible, just…
M: That’s what I’m saying — it’s different, but not bad.
I: It’s just a different interpretation. When this idea was born, I thought that those same folk songs were the ones we have to use, and then it all was based on emotions, and somehow the ideas came, and it all worked. But we did have seven different books to choose the songs from!
I: You gave me more than that. I had a pile of books!
M: The books were just huge, but I gave you three of Melngailis’s songbooks.
And you chose nine songs out of a thousand?
M: Well, a lot of the songs are repeated in all three books…
I: Because the same tune could be sung differently in various villages, this songbook is a very detailed collection. But I chose the songs based on my intuition, I was going through all of them, and the criteria was unknown to me. I just felt that some individual tunes spoke to me.
So this can also be considered as ethnomusicology research?
I: Not likely, because it’s not genuine folk… Just the topic, and maybe I even tried to emulate some ethnic singing! Now I can do more, thanks to our Zane Šmite. But this is an endless pit of knowledge, and everyone does something with those folk songs, and it’s incredible what people manage to come up with!
M: I chose the tunes because of their melodies. I wanted the theme not to be too simple, not to have just a four-bar motive, and that’s it. Still, I wanted it to be a longer one, to be an interesting one, and that’s why there are only three well-known songs in the album — «Zaļā krūze» (A green cup), «Strauja upe tecēj’» (A rapid river flowed), and «Upe nesa ozoliņu» (The river bore an oak tree).
But it’s not an uncommon occurrence for you, Madars, to work with folk tunes, isn’t it? You do have vast experience from working with Gunārs Rozenbergs and his program?
M: Of course, I have! You see, I am quite fond of reharmonization. And that’s why you can hear all my experiments in the album, especially in the popular tunes. There is an entirely different harmonic structure, other tonal centers, not something we are used to. That’s why I had the idea of choosing folk tunes, to change the meter, harmony, add particular parts at the end of the song. That was the most interesting thing about working with this music. Just imagine — you hear a tune you know well, and then suddenly there is something new! And that was all a result of the rehearsal process; we felt that the songs needed something more.
I: But it was also based on intuition like I’d sing something, and I just knew that something good would come out of it!
M: And then I reharmonized what she sang! So it’s not just folk songs; it is also composition.
I: But there were also moments that I remember when we were at a stalemate of sorts. I’m talking about those parts Madars had mentioned; while rehearsing, it was like walking through swamp waters — you keep pushing, and there’s this resistance… And then suddenly someone played some «Tik-tik-tik» and bam! Here we go again!
M: We can’t call it a stalemate, no way. If we were at an impasse, we wouldn’t have finished this album, and then that would be a stalemate.
I: Ok, so we can’t find common ground in terminology… [laughs]
M: I am a teacher, and everything must be clear as day.
I: I am an artist, and as an artist, I crave the universe! I can’t explain it; I just feel it!
M: There is no stalemate, just some slight complications, that’s normal!
And you two have been working together for quite a while now, isn’t it right?
I: For years…
M: Yes, it’s fascinating… But when did it start?
I: When you were a part of the «Riga Groove Electro» project.
M: Oh, yes! Was it in 2007-2008?
I: I came to Riga in 2000, sang in the «Sony Jazz Stage» competition, that was in 2004… The next year I went to this club, «Casablanca» or the jazz club on Ģertrūdes street?
M: You were frequently seen in «Casablanca»; I remember how we used to play there with the «Green Petroleum Funk» projects, and you would jam with us sometimes.
I: But I remember that at some point, I needed to find a pianist, and Inga Bērziņa said: «Ask Madars, maybe he’s free.»
M: And then I remember when Norčiks [Norberts Skraucis] and I played at the casino! Do you remember that one?
I: Yes, our trio was a long-term team!
M: We didn’t even have a drum set, so she sang some lyrics, then she imitated the trumpet, and I thought once: «Very interesting… But maybe too long!» Ok, one chorus is fine, two, but three! That’s too much! [laughs] But it was like the practice of sorts.
I: But, if we’re talking about gigs in the casino, we did have to stretch the time there!
M: Also, no one is listening to music there… Interesting times.
I: Yes. So that’s how it all began, and you know, it’s natural when people meet and play together, they learn something from each other, because there’s contact, collaboration and the most fantastic thing is that we’ve come such a long way! Me, as a singer, I am ecstatic that there is such a pianist as Madars, who knows what you’re going to sing by the way you take your breath, and it is so vital to a singer! He knows all my sides — a singer who sings all kinds of tunes in Latvian, something else, and there are those «free-flights»… We had this project called «Interpretations,» and it had all my favorite moments — I know that one, ok? So how are we going to start the tune? I don’t remember… Ok, then let’s go! And that was the most real moment of creation…
M: A concert suddenly came to mind, the one we played in «Epicure’s garden,» do you remember what I’m talking about?
I: And that, by the way, was a concert of folk tunes! I think it was the first concert of the «Mantojums» (Legacy) project, there were you, me, Artis Orubs on the drums, Gints Pabērzs on the saxophone…
M: One of the tunes was such an «Afro Blue»…
I: Yeah… And then after that concert, there was another one, on the radio… That is a concert I’ll remember forever, I was eight months pregnant, and we have invited some additional wind instruments, then three back vocals….
M: And then there was Mediņš on the percussions and another pianist, Juris Kristons, an extended lineup.
I: That was the stuff that pleased our ears… And the concert was terrific. Then a year later, we played the same program at the Saulkrasti Jazz festival.
M: I think that was the best concert of all we’ve played, by then everything was just ready… That’s it! After that, we decided that we have to record it, and we did most of the recordings in 2016… Well, the basics at least. And then the gluing began… Correcting things and all that
I: If we speak about this project specifically, it came with this feeling of dragging. From time to time, my motivation used just to vanish and then reappear again…
M: Because we had no funding whatsoever. And then at the end, I decided that we have to release the album no matter what and made a call to Solvita Sējāne, who had already published several jazz albums, also by Inga Bērziņa, and we had a talk.
I: It is so uplifting that there are people who are ready to meet you halfway, who are interested in the same things you are.
M: Yes, because she could deny me, she had no obligations to me, her publishing house has mainly sheet music and books, things like that, but it’s good that she is willing to support music releases as well. So she wrote a funding request to VKKF, and it all just happened!
I: And the motivation magically appeared!
M: And then we had to finalize everything quickly. We didn’t have any deadlines at the beginning and then suddenly we had! But we also had some adventures on the way, for example, with the file exchange. I remember one time Ivars Ozols had sent me the master mix that was supposed to be ready; I thought maybe I could skip listening because I trust Ivars. Everything has already been listened through thousands of times, but something told me to listen to the mix after all. So I’m listening, and I know that the next tune will be «No krūmiņa rasa krita» (the dew fell from the bush), ok… So I’m listening to the song, but for some reason, there is no text… And you know how usually the names of these folk tunes are the same as the first line of the verse, but here the text suddenly starts with the third verse, with the rhythm… Wait a minute! What happened to the first two verses we’ve recorded? The beginning was supposed to be a duo of Ieva and Gints (Pabērzs) on the saxophone, ad libitum, free rhythms… So I’m calling Ivars — dude! And then he has to dig through all of his hard drives; he used to have nightmares about his hard drives…
I: But I’m immensely happy that we did it, we finished the project! Because it’s horrible to live with this feeling of unfulfillment, and it doesn’t matter whether we’re talking about music or anything else.
M: And it would be completely wrong not to finish the project. We’ve invested so much in it, you know? It’s horrible that it spent so much time untouched on those hard drives…
Will we be able to hear it live sometime in the future?
M: We sure hope so!
I: The world is waking up slowly.
M: But we are having a concert in Kuldīga city in July!