INTERVIEW: Danish pianist Jeppe Zeeberg

Jeppe Zeeberg
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Danish pianist and composer JEPPE ZEEBERG has performed with his ensemble Horse Orchestra at Match&Fuse and Manchester Jazz Festivals respectively in the last couple of years. His new CD release The Four Seasons shows both the skilful touch of a serious composer with the energy and rumpus of great improvisations and playing. Interview by Dave Morecroft:

Dave Morecroft: If you had to pick one musical hero/heroine for composition, one for performance, and one for improvisation, who would they be and why?

Jeppe Zeeberg: Composition: My favourite composers are the eclectic ones, people who can do all sorts of different stuff at the same time. I love Charles Ives’ music because he has a unique ability to make several seemingly unmixable ideas fit together. Ives is also interesting because he insists on making instrumental music that is actually about something – music that describes real situations, people etc. This is something jazz music is really lacking in general.

Performance: If you refer to performance as in live performing, I love (humorously) understated performances – especially if the music is very expressive. John Cage’s notorious performance of Water Walk is amazing to me. I love stuff like that. Dada, Fluxus, that kind of performance.  Improvisation: It is hard for me to pick favourites. I like improvisers who can combine the aggresive, the abstract and the fragile. I have been listening to the Swedish pianist Per Henrik Wallin lately. He has some really interesting solo recordings on which he does just that.     

DM: Tell me a bit about the musical journey that resulted in this album

JZ: Generally I was trying to make an album that would work both as a concept album describing the passing of time and as a traditional jazz album focusing on the individual performers’ improvisational skills. I hope I succeeded in doing this.

I also wanted to make a real musical work, something that would only work as a recorded album. Not like a recording of an orchestra piece, but an album that took advantage of the possibilities a recorded album provides. So I brought in different constellations of musicians, some old, some made for the occasion. The line-up constantly changes throughout the album, according to what the respective tracks are trying to describe. Some of the compositions contain field recordings recorded in the season in question (e.g. the piece Summer: For Those Now Gone contains a recording of a German cemetery recorded in the summer time).  

This album is not so much about describing each season than about depicting how they constantly change, develop and start over. It is about the passing of time described by presenting each season in a completely new way. This is also why the seasons have two tracks each. 

The result is very satisfying and personal to me. I feel like this is the first time I brought all my compositional skills into one work, and the sound you hear on the record is actually how the seasons sound to me. 

DM: What inspired you to choose the Four Seasons theme?

JZ: I love broad themes that can be interpreted in various ways. The Four Seasons is such a broad theme. So many artists have interpreted the four seasons in so many different ways, and I was interested to see how it would sound if I did it. I am obsessed with these kinds of broad themes or subjects. For instance, I also have a trio that produces an avant-garde christmas album every single christmas, and has done so for the past 8 years. Christmas music is another broad theme. 

Another good thing about these kinds of themes is that people respond to them very easily. Everybody can relate to the seasons, and I might get some listeners interested who would not be listening to this kind of music otherwise. 

DM: I see many long-standing collaborators of yours (from Horse Orchestra, for example) on this album – do you find you are now writing with specific voices in mind? How do you approach working with these people to create something fresh?

JZ: I definitely write for specific musicians. Every single performer on this album was on my mind as a wrote the compositions. You have to make a balance between 1) giving the individual musicians space to improvise and 2) trying to guide the music in the direction you want it to go. You can’t lose one or the other. In my experience it helps substantially if you write for somebody you know. For instance the drummer Rune Lohse (also playing in Horse Orchestra) is on all my albums – exactly because of this. I had a definite idea of how this album was going to sound beforehand, and it pretty much sounds like that now – but the individual musicians contributed a lot (improvisationally) to the overall output. So I am happy with the result. 

DM: I know you’ll be touring this project as a quartet, how will you realise the big sound into that format? What challenges does this present you as a piano player?

JZ: The album was never meant to be performed live, so I had to decide on a format to adapt the compositions to. I settled on quartet because some of the most performance-friendly compositions on the album was already written for quartet. We are not going to perform the whole album live. I compose quite fast, so I have already made a lot of new compositions for the new quartet. 

I have chosen a group of musicians who are very versatile and open-minded, so I can tell them to do a lot of different stuff. For instance Henrik Olsson is an amazing guitarist who can play almost anything you present to him. In the quartet format the music is focusing more on me as a piano player. Improvisation-wise I was holding back a bit on the album, but here I am more expressive and all over the place.  

DM: After this disc is launched and toured, what’s next? What else do you have in the pipeline?

JZ: This next year is packed. I will be releasing a piano/church organ album very soon, and this will result in a bunch of solo shows as well. My septet Horse Orchestra is putting out a video EP this spring. I am working on a project about translating runestones (inscriptions left by the vikings) into music, and this will also result in a tour and an album release. And finally I am working on an album with an extended big band consisting of almost 100 amateur musicians – all playing at the same time. The music for this album is composed by me and the Danish saxophonist Lars Greve – very abstract stuff. 

Dave Morecroft is acting as a consultant for Jazz Danmark  – they are currently supporting Jeppe Zeeberg. He will be bringing his new project ‘Seasons’ to the UK in 2018/19.

The Four Seasons is released on the Copenhagen-based label Barefoot Records

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