Wang/Luft/Fält, the international trio of composer/bassist/singer Ellen Andrea Wang, guitarist Rob Luft and drummer Jon Fält, are in the middle of an extensive European tour, titled Closeness after their 2020 album. On a short break back home in Norway, Wang spoke about the album, her fellow musicians and the influence of one of jazz’s legendary bassists.
The English/Welsh dates in June will be Wang’s first UK tour in some years and she’s clearly looking forward to those gigs with enthusiasm… and to recording a new album after the tour… Interview with Ellen Andrea Wang by Bruce Lindsay
Closeness started life in 2018, when Oslo’s Nasjonal Jazzscene commissioned Wang to write new music. Wang asked Luft and Fält to join the project: ‘That’s where it started. I’d never played with a guitar trio before. I wanted to compose music in a slightly different style from what I was playing at the time.’ The trio has carried on, performing around Norway and developing the music as they play it live. ‘It’s wonderful to play with Rob and Jon because we’re evolving as a band and trying to make some small changes to the music all the time,’ Wang says, ‘So I would say that the trio has, from the beginning, created this kind of “musical universe.” It’s very important for me that each musician feels free to put their own personality into this project. I think that’s something unique about this band, we have this communication and dialogue. It’s a nice relationship to be in.’
Wang knew Luft and Fält before contacting them for the Closeness commission. In 2015 Wang, playing with Pixel, shared a bill with a band featuring Luft at the Spice of Life in London, heard him playing ‘and thought he was amazing.’ She had seen Fält playing at different venues across Norway and was equally struck by his talent: ‘He reminds me of another Jon, Jon Christensen, the Norwegian drummer who passed away not too long ago.’
Not yet a subscriber of our Wednesday Breakfast Headlines?
Join the mailing list for a weekly roundup of Jazz News.
Closeness was released by Ropeadope Records in 2020 and is often credited as Wang’s solo album, but she views the recording as a collaboration, with the three musicians now referring to themselves as the Closeness Project: ‘I think we will probably brand ourselves in that way in the future,’ she says. As for the album title, Wang ‘stole it from an album by Charlie Haden.’
‘I’d been playing that song since before Closeness,’ says Wang about the traditional ‘Wayfaring Stranger,’ one of the cover songs on the album. She cites Haden as a major influence on her work and as well as ‘stealing’ the title of his 1976 album his influence goes much deeper into the album. There are three cover versions on Closeness; ‘This is not America,’ ‘Lonely Woman’ and ‘Wayfaring Stranger,’ all of which Haden played. ‘I’m a friend of Rachel Haden, one of Charlie’s daughters,’ Wang explains, ‘I asked her what songs Charlie enjoyed playing, or that meant the most to him. She told me it was these three songs, songs he played over the years and which meant the most to him on a personal level. So for me it’s a homage to play these songs.’
Wang also re-imagined the spiritual ‘Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen,’ titling her own version as simply ‘Nobody Knows.’ ‘Charlie was very into spirituals and I grew up singing spirituals, so I wanted to do something different with “Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen.” I took the lyrics and wrote a new melody. I love to make new arrangements of established songs, and of course the lyrics to “This is not America” are super-important to sing now. I think these are songs people can connect with on every level.’ ‘Lonely Woman’ has its own relevance for Wang after the trio recorded it during the pandemic, ‘when we weren’t allowed to be close at all, and I did many solo concerts, playing “Lonely Woman.” There are so many layers in which this music works, in different situations.’
‘We have some new songs as well as the Closeness tracks, so we’ll be bringing those songs over,’ says Wang about the music the trio will be playing on the UK dates. ‘We plan on recording an album in October, so we’ll also use time on this tour to rehearse and make some new music together.’ Wang still doesn’t know exactly how this music will develop once the three musicians explore her original ideas: ‘I can’t tell about the direction yet. I don’t know how it will end up, but I think it’s a beautiful start, having this way of digging into the music. You’re a band, you’re playing together, you want to go forward with the music — and who knows what’s going to happen.’
PP features are part of marketing packages
TOUR DATES IN ENGLAND
19 June – Manchester – BOOKINGS
21 June – Sheffield – BOOKINGS
22 June – Birmingham – BOOKINGS
23 June – London – BOOKINGS
24 June – Bristol – BOOKINGS
25 June – Calstock – BOOKINGs
27 June Cardiff – BOOKINGS
29 June – Poole – BOOKINGS