The three members of the trio Malija, saxophonist MARK LOCKHEART, pianist LIAM NOBLE and bassist JASPER HØIBY, are all bandleaders in their own right. All three bring compositions to be played by Malija. They first got to know each other through recording an album in June 2008 with Lockheart as leader, entitled In Deep (Edition Records).
They subsequently formed the trio which went to the Made in UK showcase in Rochester NY in 2014 and then recorded a first album in 2015, entitled The Day I Had Everything. A second album, Instinct, is released today, and tour dates are planned for October/November and for early 2018 – details below. Interview by Sebastian and Gail Tasker.
LondonJazz News: Saxophone, piano and bass playing mostly acoustically is quite rare, what would you see as the precedents in the jazz canon?
Mark Lockheart: The first review we had for this new album came out the other day in About Jazz. The reviewer said it reminded him at times of Jimmy Giuffre, Paul Bley, and Steve Swallow. And I’ve known about that trio for quite a long time. Another one that’s been very influential to me is a trio that Jan Garbarek had with Charlie Haden and Egberto Gismonti, who played mostly guitar on it, but plays piano as well. When I got into jazz, I loved that band. But other than that, I can’t really think of too many trios.
LJN: Do you always play fully acoustically?
ML: We try to as much as possible. It’s not always possible. Depends, if it’s a big stage, if it’s a festival… you know we did Scarborough last year, we obviously needed a PA.
LJN: …and that naturalness of sound must have its own appeal…
ML: It is lovely actually. You can do without drums, because often, with drums, it fills up so much of the sonic space that you need monitors and you need amplification. But without drums, you can hear everything. You can hear a pin drop.
LJN: …and even the keys on the saxophone….
ML: Yeah, we do a little bit of percussive things on the album. Jasper does a lot of percussive things, banging on his bass sometimes and things like that.
LJN: You often work in bigger and also louder(!) groups. Where does Malija fit into the other things you do? This feels like a different, quieter side…
ML: Yeah, absolutely. I wanted a project where my sound was one of the main things. Because in the past I’ve done a lot of things that are quite collaborative. Even though this is collaborative, it definitely features the sound of the saxophone much more than anything else I’ve done.
LJN: This is Malija’s second album – how have things progressed since the first?
ML: For me, the concept and the sound world has moved on, it’s much more established – to my ears anyway. In the first album we were still getting used to not working with percussion and finding the band’s sound. I think with this album, we’ve written, in a way, with that in mind. Our sound – the three of us – it was easier to write this time for a band sound if you like. It’s important to me that there is a sound, and it doesn’t just sound like sax, piano, bass. I think a lot of that comes from the writing, as well as from the playing.
LJN: All three of you write for the band. The four compositions you have written for this album feel like (deliberately) quite tight forms.
ML: Yeah, I think they are tighter. There’s a bit more writing in them. I’m hoping that the more we play them, the more we’ll be freer with it.
LJN: And you recorded this music first, and will tour it later….
ML: Yes, a lot of this music we recorded without having playing it live much. So, we were kind of still getting the music together a couple of weeks before we recorded. We were still thinking about what bit works, what bit doesn’t work. Ideally, you normally try and gig the music a bit before you play, before you go and record. But it wasn’t possible. But sometimes it can be really nice to be really fresh with the material in the studio, because you never know what you’re going to get. Often when you approach new music for the first time in the studio you get the best versions of the pieces. There’s many examples of this, particularly with Miles Davis recordings, albums like ESP and Kind Of Blue were all rehearsed for the first time in the studio.
LJN: You’ve written both the shortest track and the longest track on this new album.
ML: It’s an interesting observation… I don’t really know why. Sometimes when you write the tune you don’t know how long it’s going to be, because you don’t know how long it feels right to improvise on, things like that. So some of the tunes kind of develop over the rehearsing and recording period, into that kind of length I suppose. Sometimes certain pieces don’t need much improvising on them, you don’t want to lose the essence of the composition. That’s really important to me, that the essence of the composition is preserved and embellished and developed, but not overdone.
LJN: Disjointed rhythms, rhythmic games and instability – there’s a lot of that going on…
ML: Yeah, it’s a challenge. When you play with drums, you kind of rely on drums a lot, for the time, you play in a slightly looser way. With this, we all have to be critically aware of where the time feel is. It’s quite intricate rhythmically. There’s a tune on here, one of Liam’s, called TV Shoes, where we’re all playing on a different quaver – it took quite a bit of work! I seem to remember he brought it to us in three sections on three different occasions. And every bit that he had, he said, “ah this is going to be terrible, this isn’t going to work”, which is [typical of] Liam. So we went through a whole process of saying, “no Liam, this is great, this is going to be really great”. And eventually he says, “okay, perhaps it’s…not too bad”. I think we are all a bit unconfident with our compositions when we bring them to rehearsal for the first time.
LJN: Why did you record in Copenhagen?
ML: Because the studio is fantastic and it’s a lot cheaper. It’s about half the price of recording here. So it was worth the flights. And we stayed at Jasper’s. And they’ve got a fantastic piano there, and engineer. And it’s a really lovely room, with wood. You need a good room, and you need wood, for the instruments to resonate around the room. And so for this album I thought, right, we’ll just do it in a really good room. That’s why we did it there.
LJN: And it’s a fair guess that the music will develop as you tour this programme…
ML: Yes, I think the music will change massively. It may be that we just play bits of the tunes and then go into something else. This band is about improvising more than anything else. But I’m a big believer in tunes, you know? Having tunes that people can get into. But, what normally happens, especially with the tour, is that once you have done two or three gigs you kind of get to know the music. It then goes up to another level, in terms of what you can do with the music. I love that feeling. It doesn’t happen that often in this country, because there isn’t enough touring. But that’s a wonderful thing about improvising: once you really know the music and you know the material, you can do anything with it really.
LJN: Moving on, what things other than Malija have you got coming up in the next few months?
ML: If all goes well, I’m recording a kind of semi-orchestral piece with a small orchestra and a jazz quintet – 36 musicians in all. Me, Seb Rochford, Tom Herbert from Polar Bear – with John Paricelli, and Liam. It’s called Brave World and it’s about 50 minutes long. I’ve written it over the course of a couple of years, it’s taken a long time. We did it at Trinity, with the students. And at the London Jazz Festival in the foyer. I’ve now decided I’m going to record it, so we’ll be doing that in December with professional orchestral players. It’s something that I’ve got to do artistically, you know, and I’m really happy with it; I think it sounds really interesting. Having Seb and Tom in this project was really important to me as it continues our relationship a bit after Polar Bear. The way they play together too is unique, the groove and feel they have make the music sound free and not in a specific genre, which I love. I’m very excited about it, as you can tell!
Album release date: 8 September 2017
14 October – Little Missenden Festival: >
18 October – Broomhill Arts Hotel, Barnstaple. http://www.broomhillart.co.uk/jazz/coming-up.html
19 October – Calstock Arts, Devon
22 October – The Hen and Chicken, Bristol http://www.jazzata.com/Contact.html
23 October – The Everyman Theatre, Cheltenham http://cheltenhamjazz.co.uk/index.php?id=177
24 / 25 October – Vortex Jazz Club, London
26 October – The Hidden Rooms, Cambridge
27 October – Riverhouse Arts, Walton On Thames http://riverhousebarn.co.uk
2 November – Attenborough Arts Centre, Leicester
3 November – Royal Welsh College Of Music And Drama, Cardiff
10 November – The Verdict, Brighton
13 November – Cadogan Hall, London. Part of the ‘Out To Lunch’ series at the London Jazz Festival Please note start time of 2.30pm
24 Jan – Stratford Art House, Stratford-Upon-Avon
25 Jan – The Spin, Oxford
26 Jan – The Voice Box, Derby
1 Feb – Kings Place, London
2 Feb – St Mary’s Church, Penzance, Cornwall https://www.carntocove.co.uk
3 Feb – St Endellion Church, St Endellion, Cornwall
8 Feb – Seven Arts, Leeds
9 Feb – Crookes Social Club, Sheffield http://www.sheffieldjazz.org.uk
Instinct is released today on Edition Records