Monday, August 21, 2006

bojan z

Bojan Z's Xenophonia is easily among the best and, especially, most pleasurable recent albums (jazz or otherwise) I've heard in a good long while. It's bursting with imagination and sure to be on a number of 2006 lists. I don't have his previous album, Transpacifik, but I've heard it a few times and it's another lovely record, more of an acoustic trio, despite the presence of a Fender Rhodes. Here's an interview in English I'm happy to see:

In general that's where I find my inspiration, in life. One thing I know for sure my inspiration is life and not death. It's interesting, that I know for sure from those few years of war [in Yugoslavia], you know, there was death all over the place—nothing artistic was coming out of this. But life! Ahhh! You know, colors, people, food and nature, smells, the sounds of course. I'm very, how do you say, sensitive to it?
[For Xenophonia] I just took more time to work on the sound—the vertical dimension—the colors, the profundity, which sound goes where. For example, on some of the instruments I play, I had this set-up which was acoustic piano, Fender Rhodes and customized Fender Rhodes which gives me quite a lot of possibilities sound-wise— mixing the piano with Fender Rhodes... In general, about the performance, we were all working on textures and sounds more than who's going to be the fastest, that's where the difference for me is.
I bought my first Fender Rhodes in ' 81 in a bar in a village next to Belgrade and the funny thing is that a few years ago, knowing that in Belgrade I can eventually find a Fender Rhodes cheap I called my brother to try to find something there and he found actually the same village. But he found just the shell of a Fender Rhodes and just a few keys.
[W]hat I did was I started buying all the parts on e-bay and basically I had different vintages and different years and while I was putting this thing together I kept all the imperfections. I actually wanted every note to sound different because it was not the point to have to have just another Fender Rhodes—I was dreaming about having an instrument that I could tamper with for Arabic scales or scales coming from cultures other than European for quite some time.

With a piano you cannot do it because you have to have your own tuner. It's impossible. But I thought finally, that's what I'm going to do with this guy; it's easier to learn how to tune it, instead of having to find some effects, distortion, treating it like a guitar and thing like this you know. That's why I call it “xenophone.” Why? Besides the connection to the name of the record—it's the reaction I get every time I plug it in and play something on it and I observe the reaction from most of the people—it’s like some stranger, some naked stranger has walked in. Ahh!! What is this?!

The xenophone is key to the record's success. It does sound something like a guitar (albeit a strange one), actually, but in a natural way. No cheesy modulator wheel note-bending, for instance. Rather, the instrument isn't tempered like a piano and notes come out a bit unpredictably, mirroring the slight imprecision of the motion of a guitarist's hands. There's the sound and, of course, the way Bojan integrates it with the other two keyboards. At times he manages to make the piano sound just as weird: sometimes by preparing, but the miraculous moments are when, suddenly you think "what's that strange sound?" and it ends up just being the regular old piano.

Generally speaking, I'm more attracted to the Keith Jarrett school of Fender playing: the guys who hate the instrument and do everything in their power to destroy it. Jarrett on the Cellar Door? That "broken key" solo is one of my favourite Fender Rhodes moments ever. The "oooh, those vintage Fender Rhodes sounds are so pretty" school can be nice, but is often quite toothless. Bojan Z loves the instrument, but manages to turn Jarrett's destructive urge into a reconstructive one (quite literally, as described above) and the result is great.

Scott Colley told me a few years ago that before each set in the Village Vanguard Jim Hall would take a mike and say something, you know, good old man, decent, jazz guitar legend and saying things like: “I’m listening to so many different styles of music and find myself still discovering things. Recently I bought a record of the Dixie Chicks. It’s amazing what they do.” And the people die laughing. And then: “Seriously, I am not used to living in a fascist regime.” This at the Village Vanguard. But you’ll never hear a word about it in any of those “jazz” newspapers, but what you will see is “My Favourite Things’ questionnaires to Kenny Barron. It’s like an interview:

Q: Which is your favourite watch?

Kenny Barron: Well, I have a Rolex…

Q: “What’s your favourite color?”

Can you imagine this? Toshiko Akiyoshi and Lew Tabackin!

Q: What is your favourite wine?”

A: Oh, Chateau Ikan, 1929—they never let you down.

They are serious! You guys are serious, one bottle is $6,000!...

Besides that then you have the thing that middle class gigs are non-existent. You know most of us, we live from the gigs which are financially speaking from $1,000 to $10,000 range, you know it depends where you are, smaller or bigger hall, bigger venue. You know I’m speaking about bands, band price. And this doesn’t exist; they have from zero to $1,000, which is….pay a band with this! And then you have these tremendous numbers of thousands of dollars from $10,000 on for Sonny Rollins and Keith Jarrett and people like this.

So this has completely killed the economy that the music can generate... The reverse side of the coin is if you find yourself in front of saxophonist Joe Lovano, he is going to blow your mind! You’re going to get scared. So that’s the other side of the coin, music artistry, the giants that are still alive and kicking. That’s not just a legend, it is true. It’s happening.
I just love hearing all these different things piano-wise, just on the one hand to remember the lost colors of this instrument because there is a tendency nowadays growing into a certain pattern of piano playing that most of the pianist are using and they just forget about these things for example, Errol Garner or Earl Hines and guys like this, the way they were using this instrument—so all these colors are a bit left aside. So, Duke Ellington is one of my favorite piano players because he's the one I like listening to at almost any moment of the day, so fresh and so mysterious and his attitude so...hip!