On Thursday the 20th of October, I had the opportunity to see the Ivo Neame Quintet play at the Capstone Theatre in Liverpool. I also had the chance to speak to Ivo himself. Here’s what he had to say about his band, the state of jazz today and how that relates to young people, as well as the new big band album he’s been working on with his other band, Phronesis:
You’re playing with your quintet this evening. What have you enjoyed about playing with this particular ensemble?
What I enjoy particularly is the relationships I have established with individual band members like Jim Hart for example on vibes, because we go back a very long way and he’s known my music for years and he brings his own personality to the music whenever he plays it, and that’s what I enjoy; writing music and then bringing it to great musicians who can turn it into something more.
You’re playing music from your recent album, Strata. I was wondering, since there’s quite a wide range of styles represented on the album, what sort of music you were listening to when writing it.
I think I was listening to some electronic music for the title track called Strata, from a band called Hello Skinny. It’s a drummer called Tom Skinner. It was very minimalist, the music he’s making. It’s more like dance music, when subtle changes are what gives the music its tension. So, I was just trying to write a piece of music like that, because I have a tendency to write quite dense, complex music. I was trying to force myself to write something that wasn’t in my standard, writing mould. The rest of the album, you know, there was quite a lot of quite complex, dense stuff, but I’m glad you noticed, it’s quite varied and that’s the whole idea. It’s not to just do one thing, or one sound, or one atmosphere. It’s trying to get different moods going.
I wanted to talk to you about the state of jazz at the moment. There’s a lot of talk that there’s some sort of jazz resurgence going on with people like Kamasi Washington leading the charge. Who are your favourite jazz musicians who are currently operating?
That’s a tricky one. Personally, I get a lot from all types of musicians – current musicians, but also records and musicians who have been around for donkey’s years. I don’t really play into the whole “new… this is a new thing”. There’s guys who have been making amazing music since the 1970s – all the way through, like Django Bates, Julián Argüelles. Those kind of musicians, I get a lot of inspiration. You know, they’re not really changing what they’re doing as artists. They’re kind of uncompromising in that respect. I don’t know if the media are picking up on that whole generation. I don’t know if you’re familiar with that kind of music – the whole Loose Tubes, post-Loose Tubes diaspora, in a way. Musicians like that – Steve Buckley, Chris Batchelor and those kinds of people who are maybe not as visible as someone like Kamasi Washington, who have been plucking away for years and years. It’s great that people are getting more into some records like Kamasi Washington because he’s got his associations with hip-hop musicians and different backgrounds and it’s all very good. I think people are slowly realising that it’s all just music, that it’s not just, oh this guy’s a jazz guy and this is a hip-hop thing. You know, we’re all just playing music. There’s not a hierarchy in that way. People look at jazz and go “oh jazz, that’s not me”, but actually, everyone’s extremely eclectic these days in their tastes. The more that happens, the healthier the music scene’s going to be and then more people with then even consider jazz as something they might like, that people didn’t consider before, which I can’t really believe.
You talk about more people accepting jazz as a thing in which they might be interested, but I get the sense that that’s not exactly happening with young people. Why do you think that is and what do you think can be done to change that?
It’s difficult because a lot of the people who promote jazz, particularly in the UK, are older people, and a lot of young people don’t want to hang around with older people. It’s just ageist and that’s the society that we live in I think. So, the more young people that actually start promoting jazz, and get into putting on live music, and start seeing at as a worthwhile thing to do with their time, then more young people will know about these gigs and there will be less of this divide between old and young. At the moment, the majority of people who program these gigs are, basically, middle-aged to old. That’s just for jazz gigs. There are young people promoting other genres, so, the more influx of young blood into the system is going to help rejuvenate things. Young people don’t really want to go somewhere where there’s old people, which is a shame because there’s young people on the stage playing music that is very much alive and vibrant. Everything that I do, and everyone in my band – they’re all band leaders – they’re all making their own music and their all trying to make their music relevant for today. It’s not music for old people, it’s hopefully music that makes you think a bit and also entertains and educates – all those things.
One of your other bands, Phronesis, is putting out a big band record next year. Your music is so well suited to that trio setting, so what’s it like trying to transplant that music into a big band setting?
We’ve just been mixing the record in Copenhagen, and it was really fun. We collaborated with a saxophonist called Julián Agüelles, who, I mentioned before, was a big influence. He did all the arrangements for the big band. He knew the band and was working with them a lot. In a way, it’s a different thing, but it’s kind of giving a different outlook to some of the compositions that we’ve all been writing – the three of us. That’s what the band’s all about, the three of our writing. It’s a real joy to hear what Julián’s done because his writing is really good for large ensemble and he’s given a totally new kind of feel to the music, so for me it works really well, and it is very exciting and different. You know, the band has done, collectively, six trio albums and it was time to do something with other instruments, because otherwise it would just be… I mean, we could keep doing the same thing – trio albums for years and years, but that was the reasoning: to take a bit of a different direction in the record.
Thanks so much for speaking to me, and I’m really excited for your show tonight.
You can find Ivo’s new album Strata at most online music outlets and streaming services. The new Phronesis album will release sometime in 2017. A full review of the Ivo Neame Quintet’s live performance at the Capstone Theatre in Liverpool will also be available to read on the Sphinx.