Photo credit: Geoff Corris
LondonJazz News: You’re about to get the Bristol European Jazz Ensemble (BEJE) out and about again. What’s the history of the group, tell us how it started and a bit about the music.
Dave Mowat: BEJE started when I felt ready to make my own jazz statement again. Bristol jam sessions were a mecca for musicians from all over the world like tenor player Frenchman Julien Alenda and Italian bassist Pasquale Votino. We’d all worked with Swedish-Syrian pianist Anders Olinder. Jams are where I met guitarist and now oud player Knud Stuwe and altoist Len Aruliah. Then I thought of the concept of a band of European musos based in Bristol. I count myself in with them as I’m Swiss on my mother’s side. Julien put me on to young Tony Williams-like Italian drummer Paolo Adamo, also new to Bristol six years or so ago.
I’d been writing music all along so needed an outlet. It reflected my life’s ups and downs: a walking pilgrimage’s adventures, the birth of a daughter, feelings about Palestine and the Middle East I’d visited several times, and musically it had all my influences: Miles, Masekela, Gil Scott Heron, the freeform ecstasy of Coltrane, Sun Ra and Keith Tippett for instance, but also hymns.
Our first proper gig was in the summer of 2014 at The Fringe Bristol. BEJE was busy for a couple of years, making 2 CDs. A high point was working with Dutch singer Anne Chris whom I’d met at Jazzahead in Bremen in 2015.
LJN: You’re not someone who stands still. BEJE have been quieter the last couple of years, what else have you been up to?
DM: BEJE was quiet because I’ve been focussing on my other band Chai For All. A project to combine klezmer, Arabic music (about) the Balfour Declaration of 1917 received Arts Council funding, toured, made a CD, and was immediately followed by another project looking into the relationship of Palestinians to their land (claimed by Israel). You can imagine the huge amount of effort complexity and sensitivity involved in tours, collaborations with Palestinian and Israeli musicians, visas and so on. So fun jazz was on a back burner.
LJN: And now BEJE are back in action. I think there’s a refreshed line-up? Who’s in the band now and what difference has that made?
DM: Yes, there’s a fresh line-up. The original team of Anders, Pasquale and Julien are still on some gigs. Ana Gomez, who is on piano for most forthcoming gigs is a phenomenal classical interpreter of Debussy. She listens a lot and gives space. Guillaume Ottaviani, from Paris, on bass, is joining us for some gigs. He’s (worked) with Paolo on drums (in) Afro-roots band Mankala. Len Aruliah is staying on from previous gigs and knows best where I’m coming from. I love his searing committed playing. All in all, I find the new band refreshingly open to exploring jazz that isn’t swung necessarily and that supports the spoken word. In the set is a spoken word funk-ballad about European identity ‘EURip’, based on band members’ reflections on the place that formed them most. It’s a new wine-skins for new wine kind of a band.
LJN: And what are the plans, what’s coming up?
We’re due to play at a new Nottingham jazz diner, Peggy’s Skylight on 10 November, Bristol’s BeBop Club on 23 November and Salt Café 9 December. More dates in the pipeline for next year.
LJN: I heard a whisper that you’re extending the collaboration beyond Europe next year?
Ah yes. I met guitarist Sangyeon Park and singer-pianist Yunmi Kang in June in Bristol and we hit it off immediately. From South Korea but trained in Germany and the Netherlands, their jazz is gentle introspective and polished. We’ll create a band playing theirs and my pieces with a BEJE rhythm section of Federico Leonori on bass and Paolo Adamo.
The first tour is coming up in January 2019. And longer-term we have ambitions to create a new Korean-European hybrid jazz music telling something of the Korean story perhaps like I’ve done for Israel-Palestine, but it’s early days. In January it’ll be a straight-ahead jazz tour building our relationship first. We’ll make an album at the time.
You can hear us at The Fringe Bristol on Wednesday 23 Jan, or Peggy’s Skylight Nottingham on 25 Jan and at Taunton CIC on Saturday 26 Jan.
Mike Collins is a pianist and writer based in Bath, who runs the jazzyblogman site. Twitter @jazzyblogman
LINK: BEJE website