L-R Remco Menting, Timon Koomen, Morris Kliphuis
The unusually configured French horn/guitar/drums trio Kapok become the second group to tour for Going Dutch, the project initiated by the Jazz Promotion Network and Dutch Performing Arts to introduce the Netherlands’ vibrant jazz scene to audiences in the UK, this weekend coming. The band made waves across Europe when it won the European Jazz Competition Award in 2013. Rob Adams interviewed the group’s French horn player, Morris Kliphuis:
LondonJazzNews: What attracted you to the French horn?
Morris Kliphuis: My mother, who comes from Leicester and studied recorder before moving to Holland and becoming a choir conductor and having a million things going on musically, took me to a concert in Utrecht when I was seven. I’m not sure if this is the way it happened or the way I later wished it had happened but I have this memory of seeing four or five of these shiny instruments in a row and being struck by the sound they made. I thought, this is what I want to do, play one of these, and about a year later I started taking lessons.
LJN: Did you study classical music at college?
MK: Actually, no, I didn’t. I began taking classical lessons like my older brother, Tim, did on the violin and I played the classical repertoire in youth orchestras as a teenager but I’d always improvised and was always making up my own tunes. So when I left school I thought, I’m going to study improvisation. I wasn’t sure if this was possible for a classical horn player and I thought, if I can’t study improvisation, I’ll do biology. And that was my plan B all along. I went to college in Amsterdam and I thought, if this doesn’t work out, I can take the biology option but I never had to do that because along came Kapok.
LJN: Did you check out other French horn players – Tom Varner, for instance?
MK: Yes, and in fact Tom has been really helpful. He teaches in Seattle now but he gave me lots of advice and tips and I was able to check out what the French horn did in Gil Evans’ music, that sort of thing. I’ve also learned a lot from John Clark, who played with Jaco Pastorius as well as playing with a whole list of other people, but I really wanted to find my own direction as well and I think I’ve succeeded in some way.
LJN: How did Kapok come about?
MK: Completely by accident: I was playing in a trio with Remco [Menting, the drummer in Kapok] and a guitarist and we had a studio booked for two weeks, just to try things out. Then the guitarist backed out and rather than cancel the studio time, we asked Timon [Kooman] to come along. We pretty much jammed for two weeks with no preconceived ideas and out of that came the first Kapok album, Flatlands.
LJN: Were you surprised by the popular response your music attracted?
MK: Absolutely. I mean, horn, guitar and drums doesn’t seem a likely recipe for success but in those two weeks in the studio we hit upon a way of writing songs that people seemed to like but also allowed us to stretch out on gigs. So we had a kind of indie pop-rock thing going on as well as playing at all the jazz places people might know, like the Bimhuis and Jazz International Rotterdam. Then after three albums we felt we’d exhausted the possibilities that the instrumentation offered.
LJN: You stuck with the trio, though; was there a particular reason for that?
MK: Yes, we felt that the chemistry between the three of us was strong and maybe the instrumentation could be added to rather than the personnel. We were frustrated by the guitar being the only chordal instrument and the horns not being able to produce longer notes – I have to breathe, after all – so Remco added vibraphone to his custom-assembled drum kit. I got a synthesiser and Timon brought in a baritone guitar – an electric one – and putting all these things together with what we had already gave us this kind of orchestral palette.
LJN: Then you underwent a further change; tell us about that.
MK: We’d developed this songwriting style and when we put that together with the orchestral approach to sound it didn’t really satisfy us. We always make decisions together, being a musical democracy, and if one person isn’t happy about something we talk things through and we decided that it would be more exciting for everyone – the audience as well as ourselves – if we put all these new sounds we had at our disposal into creating something completely spontaneous. So that’s the approach we take now – freewheeling, totally improvised sounds that still communicate with listeners.
LJN: You’ve played London Jazz Festival in the past but have you been to other parts of the UK before?
MK: No, just London (review link below), although I’ve been to Glencoe as a tourist several times and would love to tour Scotland with Kapok. We’re really looking forward to playing in the north of England, and Bath, and seeing how audiences in Wigan, Altrincham, Newcastle and Sheffield respond to our music. I have relatives in Lincolnshire, so I’m hoping they’ll be able to get to one of the gigs. (pp)
Rob Adams is a freelance journalist based in Edinburgh. He is working with Podiumkunste NL on PR for the Going Dutch project
Sunday 26 November – lunchtime – WIGAN – WHELLEY EX-SERVICEMENS’ CLUB
Sunday 26 November – evening – ALTRINCHAM – THE CINNAMON CLUB
Monday 27 November – BATH – WIDCOMBE SOCIAL CLUB
Tuesday 28 November – NEWCASTLE – JAZZ CAFE
Wednesday 29 November – SHEFFIELD – THE LESCAR HOTEL