ANDREAS LOVEN is a jazz pianist and composer originally from Norway who was influenced by – and found an affinity with – Tord Gustavsen, then moved to South Africa, and spent many of his formative years soaking up the eclectic musical offerings of Cape Town.
He has recently returned to his native country and has just released his second album “District Six” – an exciting blend of African rhythms, cool Scandinavian jazz and Loven’s own laid-back, spacious style. Leah Williams found out more:
Andreas Loven’s story is an unusual one – and not short of inspirational moments. He doesn’t come from a musical family, didn’t play jazz piano before he could write, hasn’t spent a lifetime learning from the masters or surrounded by the sounds of a strong musical culture. He very carefully and consciously chose this path – knowing it wouldn’t be an easy one – because it was what he needed to do.
Originally set to become a structural engineer, in his first month of studies Andreas’ elder brother tragically passed away in a car accident. Somewhere along the years of his grieving process he came across an album by Tord Gustavsen – The Ground – which quite literally changed his life. It was a few years on when he happened to inadvertently attend a concert where Tord Gustavsen’s trio was performing (they were actually meant to be the supporting act but were being given some serious play time) that the revelatory moment hit. Due to start his first proper job in just a few weeks, Andreas had such a profound experience at this gig that he decided then and there that playing jazz piano was actually what he was destined to do. It was bigger than him: “an expressive need…a fire that I had to deal with. It was about developing a relationship with what’s going on inside myself”. He didn’t speak to anyone about it; instead, he picked up the Yellow Pages (!), found Tord’s number and simply rang him up.
It was only during their first meeting that he discovered that the pivotal, influential album that had kick-started this whole journey had actually been written by Tord whilst he himself was dealing with his own grief at losing his brother, also in a traffic accident. The power of music to convey emotions and to speak without words across cultures, lands, race or gender is the reason we all love it so much but rarely do you come across such an explicit example as this.
After “five years of practising piano alone in a basement”, Andreas moved to South Africa to take up a place studying jazz piano and suddenly found his musical horizons vastly broadened. His most recent album release, District Six, which was composed and recorded in Cape Town, is a representation of these many strands of musical influence that have filtered in and helped shape his current sound.
District Six, it perhaps needs explaining, was a community on the outskirts of Cape Town whose residents – made up of a vast mixture of different races and cultures – lived in a quite incredible harmony up until 1966 when the apartheid regime forced the different groups to be segregated. The spirit of this community was one that embodied a warm, peaceful and accepting outlook that was not only open to differences but fully embraced them – and this showed in the music they created there which has been a source of inspiration for many.
Andreas tells me how he used to pass the old site of District Six on a regular basis and for a long time his principle emotion was anger, towards the “abuse of power and the amount of injustice” – of which this story is but one sad example. Eventually though, he realised that anger wouldn’t get him anywhere and so, through this album “instead of seeing the destruction, (he) wanted to see the community that had been there…to give life back to it”. He also recognised that the spirit of District Six was one that really connected with his own story. The people there were inspired by their diversity and used it to create something good – exactly what he was trying to do with his own music.
Don’t misunderstand though – this isn’t simply a fusion (a word that Andreas strongly feels doesn’t apply to his own music) of African beats and Scandinavian melodies. It’s rather an acknowledgement of how all our experiences and journeys leave imprints and will show themselves in our actions, lives and – in this case – music. I ask whether he ever found that these widely different styles ever felt contradictory instead of enriching and he tells me honestly that “there is a thin line between gaining inspiration and being pulled apart in different directions…You have to be quite realistic in trying to get a balance between being open to everything but also quite focused on which parts you can really nourish and relate to in order to benefit your own music and sound.”
That being said, Andreas has been quite explicit about how the goema rhythm found in the music of Cape Town has gotten in to his bloodstream and filtered in to a lot of what he is doing musically. It’s a musical hybrid that has been developed and moulded over the years through elements taken from a variety of cultures and musical influences and is particularly connected to the January 2nd carnival, a tradition which was particularly strong in District Six. He describes it as “warm, vibrant, positive” and his use of it on the track Inside District Six really portrays these qualities.
Other influences he cites as being particularly strong are other fellow pianists Stefano Bollani and his Danish Trio (remarking that when he saw them play together it was the greatest example of “telepathic connection” between musicians on stage he’s ever witnessed) and Espen Berg (whose playing he finds so incredible that he jokes how sometimes he wonders if he shouldn’t just quit and become his manager instead). He’s also inspired by some of his South African contemporaries, such as Bokani Dyer, Shane Cooper and Kyle Shepherd, and had another quite pivotal moment when he heard bassist Herbie Tsoaeli play for the first time, strongly recommending the award-winning album ‘African Time’ as a great musical representation of “the struggle of the oppression of black people in South Africa” (See links to our coverage of this album). Perhaps one of his most important musical influences though has been that of his close friend Buddy Wells, the South African sax player who shares a love of the “pure and open” compositional style that Andreas has been gravitating towards, and who has played on both his albums. Andreas speaks of Buddy warmly, saying quite honestly that Buddy’s support, commitment to and excitement for his music has helped give him the confidence to get to where he is today.
So, what’s next for Andreas? Just weeks after recording District Six he returned permanently to Norway. Having been described by a fellow musician in South Africa as “the most non-Norwegian Norwegian” he’d ever met, how does he feel about being back in his indigenous home? He seems happy that he can bring his range of influences back with him now and continue to develop in new ways. Playing his music with a Norwegian quartet has been interesting, he notes, saying that he was pleasantly surprised by the way they understood and embraced the essence of his music whilst at at the same time adding new layers of interpretation and style. We look forward to hopefully hearing it in London soon.
LINKS: Andreas Loven’s website
District Six at Losen Records
VIDEO: Andrea Loven’s Norwegian Quartet playing at the album launch in Oslo