Jazz/soul/funk quintet Tristan makes two return visits to the UK during June and October this year, hot on the heels of the release of SEVEN, the band’s appropriately titled seventh studio album. Ahead of the concerts, keyboardist and founder-member Coen Molenaar spoke about the band and its approach to music. Interview by Bruce Lindsay:
Coen Molenaar, bassist Frans Vollink and drummer Sebastiaan Cornelissen are at the heart of Tristan, which they formed around fourteen years ago. They chose the name quickly, when they needed to publicise their first gig, selecting the second name of Cornelissen’s young son. Guitarist Guy Nikkels arrived in 2015, then vocalist Jaycilee joined in time for Tristan’s sixth studio album, having been recommended by her father, Jay-Tee Teterissa, who was the bassist in Candy Dulfer’s Funky Stuff.
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That album was 2021’s What Could Possibly Go Wrong. “It’s an appropriate title for an album right at that time,” says Molenaar, laughing, “But it also reflected our ‘life-motto’: we just go for it, make new albums, keep on touring no matter what. What’s the worst thing that could happen? SEVEN is the second album with Jaycilee. The fun thing is, as you listen to the vocals you realise that Jaycilee has grown in the band, has added more musical colours and flavours to our music.”
The band members all love funk, soul and jazz, but play many different styles. Molenaar, Vollink and Cornelissen have recorded and played live with Randy Brecker and vocalist Deborah J Carter: “So that’s quite a different kinda game right?” says Molenaar. “With Guy I played and recorded for quite some time with Jamal Thomas [Maceo Parker’s drummer] and I’ve been touring with guitar-hero Jan Akkerman for over 20 years. Sebastiaan has quite an impressive number of solo albums, more in a fusion kinda style. But with this group it all comes together, and when we start playing we instantly sound like Tristan.”
Stylistically, I suggest, Tristan’s music is reminiscent of 70s/80s soul, funk and disco – bands such as Incognito, Shakatak, Lynx and so on. Molenaar agrees but adds: “There are so many more names to mention. We all love Level 42, George Duke (one of our all-time favourites), The Doobie Brothers, Herbie Hancock, Chaka Khan, Steely Dan, The Brand New Heavies, Tower of Power, and so on…and so on.” Molenaar and Cornelissen do most of the writing, but once in rehearsal the five performers develop the compositions as a group and they develop further in live performance.
Audiences can expect plenty of opportunities for dancing at a Tristan show and there’s plenty of improvisation: “Not like free jazz,” Molenaar emphasises. “It’s still gonna be the song, but an extended version. There’s certainly room for dancing, but as we have quite a background in funk, soul and jazz we love to have some nice spots for improvisation as well. Each and every concert is different, because we like to keep it fresh.”
On SEVEN ‘The Soul of a Man’ stands out among the funky, soulful grooves that dominate the album. It’s the first time the band has recorded a song with only piano and voice, and the idea to write it came from a rather unexpected source. “The idea came when a student of mine played me Sting’s live, acoustic version of Frank Zappa’s ‘The Idiot Bastard Son.’ This was the inspiration to write the song, although the title refers to Wim Wenders’ 2003 movie about a couple of blues musicians. Our song, though, is more about the dark side of one’s mind. And sometimes, the unbearable physical pain someone can experience. I think it’s a theme lots of people can relate to. The more theatrical approach in the music, harmonically and melodically, supports and fits the lyrics quite well.”
For now, though, the live set concentrates on upbeat, danceable, jazz, funk and soul. Tristan gets audiences dancing across Europe, playing regularly in the Netherlands, Germany, Poland and France as well as in Britain. Molenaar finds that those audiences differ from country to country. In the Netherlands and the UK, he says, “It’s people who grew up with Incognito, Brand New Heavies or Earth, Wind and Fire.” In Germany, it’s a younger crowd: Molenaar credits Snarky Puppy and others with bringing new fans to the music. The common element to these gigs, as the band’s website puts it, is the music’s positive energy: “Taking our audience on a ride they won’t forget.” After all, as Molenaar says, “What’s the worst thing that could happen?”
Tristan 2023 tour dates:
MON 2 OCT Southend on Sea Jazz festival
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LINK: Tristan’s website