The pianist, composer and educator has not one but three new albums out – a triple LP set called “Retrospection” that includes performances by the German NDR Big Band, U.S. bassist Steve Swallow, U.S. saxophonist John O’Gallagher, Danish guitarist Jakob Bro and a host of familiar names from the UK jazz scene. He spoke to Peter Bacon:
London Jazz News: You already have a healthy discography though you had not released an album for a few years. Why three albums at once, why on vinyl and why call it Retrospection?
Hans Koller: Yes, you are right I have managed to put out quite a few recordings over the years, starting with my nine-piece debut album Magic Mountain in 1997 to my last CD Cry, Want (with Bill Frisell) in 2009.
Eight of my records were made for 33 records, one for Babel, and the last one for PSI, Evan Parker’s label.
I recorded the big band record with Steve Swallow, Retrospection One, in 2011, and Evan was going to put that one out as well. But then his main man moved to Spain, and wound down the company. I was actually thinking, I want to take time with this one anyway, it was a tough old project, big mixing job, also in need of some serious cutting down, since there was so much material. So I took a break, and decided to let it simmer a bit.
One day the engineer from the studio Ben Lamdin casually mentioned that he puts out recordings himself, and that maybe at some point I’d like to explore that.
Only a few years later I realised that he and Riaan Vosloo were running a brilliant vinyl enterprise, and by this point I was getting back into vinyl as a listener, picking up great records second hand at Flashback, a shop near me in Crouch End.
Then in 2013 I made a 10-piece recording with John O’Gallagher and Jakob Bro, and that’s the one I offered to Ben, with the note that I alternatively had a 2011 recording with Swallow, or an NDR session that I could get hold off from the Hamburg radio band. To my great surprise he answered with why don’t we do something bolder, and release all three as a triple vinyl. I was amazed!
Soon after that Sam Slater from Stoney Lane Records got on board, and he took the whole thing to the next level. I’m really grateful to these guys for their energy and willingness to take such a risk.
LJN: The major influences in your music seem to be from quite a way back – the bebop era, the 1950s, Lennie Tristano, George Lewis, etc. Do you think it is important to keep those connections between jazz in the 21st century and what might be considered its “golden age” in the middle of the 20th century?
HK: For me it’s always been the early bebop masters, for their feeling, phrasing and line playing, and then the post-Wayne/Herbie harmony that you hear in Keith Jarrett, Kenny Wheeler, Ralph Towner, people like that. Since studying with Bob Brookmeyer ten years ago I’ve gotten into thinking more about counterpoint, and since meeting John O’Gallagher five years ago, I’m really inspired to learn more about post-tonal harmony.
I’ve always been going through phases of checking out all sorts of stuff: contemporary music and classical music, mostly the Romantic writers, and of course the 20th Century masters like Schoenberg, Berg, Webern, Messiaen, Hindemith, and Stravinsky.
But my heart is in jazz: I’m hooked on what you can prepare but I’m equally hooked on what you can’t prepare, on “the leap into the unknown” as Steve Lacy would say.
LJN: The music on Retrospection involves large-ish groups. Do you prefer to write for more instruments?
HK: I look at playing and writing as being part of the same activity so I tend to write for people first, rather than abstract instruments. But once a new piece has come alive I often take it to other groups, large or small, and tinker with it.
LJN: Having looked back with these three discs, where next?
HK: I’ve got my work cut out still learning deeply all the Monk tunes, working with all the things I learned from Brookmeyer, and finally, possibly most intriguingly, trying to get to hold of the stuff that John O’Gallagher has taken! Now John is onto the late Coltrane recordings, that’s a real gap in my experience, I’d like to check that out seriously. He’s found some wonderful structural organisation in there.
Photos courtesy of Stoney Lane Records