Interview: Frøy Aagre
The title track of the CD “Countryside” (AIM Records) by Norwegian saxophonist and composer Frøy Aagre – who will be touring the UK later this month with her quartet- is gently alluring. It opens with a succession of slow, raindrop-like high piano chords, then a saxophone melody, simply stated. Then a subtle, understated double bass walks in, then some delicate backing clarinets. Aagre herself described the “Countryside” mood in an interview: it’s “that feeling of space, of mature interaction between the players in the group.”
“Countryside” represents a significant landmark in the career of the Norwegian saxophonist and composer. Frøy Aagre is originally fron Tønsberg near Oslo in Norway. When we spoke she recounted some of her musical journey: she heard a record by Jan Garbarek at the age of 12. Which promptly led to a demand to her parents to be able to switch from clarinet to saxophone.
After school we she went for her undergraduate studies to Birmingham Conservatoire, studying classical saxophone. She had jazz saxophone teaching from Chris Gumbley and Iain Ballamy.
Tony Dudley-Evans, the leading jazz promoter in Birmingham, remembers her well from this time. “She wasn’t in fact on the full-time jazz course. But she was into everything we put on, always interested, always curious. She went out to listen to more gigs than anyone else around.” And it was in Birmingham that she finally heard her compatriot Jan Garbarek live for the first time.
When I spoke to Aagre that was what I clocked first: the focus, the curiosity, the interest in an extraordinarily broad range of music. Bach’s counterpoint (which influenced the composition of the track Fastball), Bartok, Messiaen, Reich. And then there’s Indian classical music. And close musical encounters with more recent voices: Django Bates, Nikki Yeoh, Kenny Wheeler, Dave Liebman.
But out of all these influences, step by measured step, her musical direction, her style- dare one say -her voice are emerging. Aagre’s compositional style is lyrical, melodic, almost vocal. In fact, the first track on “Countryside” started off as a vocal piece. But what interests Frøy Aagre is “blurring the boundaries between the written and the improvised”, “moving away from predictable patterns”.
The ability to develop this freedom in performance, often at low volumes and slow tempi, is clearly helped by the presence of consistent and high-quality Norwegian collaborators. She has a regular band of Andreas Ulvo on piano, Audun Ellingsen on bass, and Freddy Wike on drums who commit to her tours and gigs. To get Ulvo’s services can’t be an easy ask. He is first call both for trumpeter Mathias Eick’s band and also for singer Solveig Slettahjell.
The core quartet that appears on “Countryside” is the same band which will also be touring the UK later this month. Tour dates are below. The regular band continue playing and developing some of the tunes from Countryside.” In the meantime they have recorded another CD, “Cycle of Silence”, which will be released on the German label ACT Records at the beginning of 2010.
Frøy Aagre makes warm, lyrical, approachable, music with sustained melodic lines. She’s just returned from successful appearances at Australian festivals- 35 degrees centigrade in Wangaratta- to the minus two degrees of Oslo. So, how does that feel?
UK Tour Dates
19 November, 8pm
Dean Clough, Halifax
20 November, 7:30pm
Royal Northern College of Music
Manchester M13 9RD
0161 907 5555
21 November, 8pm
Dundee Jazz Festival @ Drouthy Neebors
01382 434940 / http://www.jazzdundee.co.uk
22 November, 7:30pm
London Jazz Festival @ Spice of Life