Le Finlandais Esa Pietilä est en train de redéfinir les standards de l’avant-garde et réinvente le free jazz à sa façon. Le saxophoniste nous réserve encore quelques surprises.
Cela fait maintenant plus de 10 ans que le saxophoniste finlandais Esa Pietilä parfait son art de l’improvisation au sein d’un trio taillé sur mesure. Ce disciple de David Liebman est maintenant arrivé au terme d’une collaboration fructueuse avec ce trio qui nous a donné les albums Direct et Travel of Fulica Atra, et l’artiste a décidé d’élargir son lexique musical. “Avec Ulf [Krokfors, à la contrebasse] et Markku [Ounaskari, à la batterie], nous avons eu l’impression d’avoir amené cette formule à son maximum, constate-t-il. Il fallait transformer ce trio; l’ajout de la pianiste Iro Haarla est venu progressivement. Pour nous trois, c’est maintenant une toute nouvelle expérience.”
Avec une esthétique bien personnelle, qui n’est peut-être pas étrangère à la géographie qui entoure ce passionné de navigation, le saxophoniste se distingue de l’avant-garde européenne typique (lire l’école italienne) et du son américain. Dans ses compositions, l’exposition des thèmes devient limpide et mélodique, mais se transforme dans un exercice d’improvisation totale. Difficile, en fait, de cerner son école de pensée musicale tellement son spectre d’expression est vaste.
“Je m’intéresse à beaucoup de choses. J’adore la musique classique, surtout des compositeurs modernes tels que György Ligeti et Stockhausen. Le compositeur polonais Lutoslawski aussi. Certaines idées de ces compositeurs sont passées dans le filtre de ma propre culture et de l’improvisation. C’est un processus qui est difficile à décrire tellement notre travail est devenu une seconde nature. Avec Ulf et Markku, nous avons eu le temps d’explorer amplement! Ce qui m’importe, ce n’est pas de sonner classique ou free jazz, mais bien d’exprimer qui je suis en musique.”
En compagnie de la pianiste Iro Haarla (qui est aussi la conjointe d’Ulf Krokfors), l’expérience musicale orchestrée par Pietilä entame un nouveau chapitre. D’autres projets vont aussi s’ajouter pour le virtuose finlandais. “Avec le pianiste Michael Jefry Stevens et le violoncelliste Juho Laitinen, je suis en train de monter un nouveau répertoire. Le violoncelle est un instrument particulier, mais Juho est un improvisateur extraordinaire. Et juste avant de venir jouer à Québec, je vais enregistrer un disque avec le batteur Jeff Siegel: saxophone et batterie.” Et l’expérience continue.
Antoine Lèveilleée / www.jazzaquebec.ca
FMQ interview/article, 2008 “Fiction from saxophone”, by Jan-Erik Holmberg
“Saxophonist Esa Pietilä’s music is heavily influenced by visual arts and poetry. When he plays, Pietilä blends his fantasy worldwith the real world….”
Jazzconvention, Italy, 2008, by Fabio Cimineira:
1. Let’s start with your Esa Pietilä Trio. Could you tell us the story of the trio and how have you chosen the musicians?
The trio has been working together over seven years now, it started in 2000 because of musical reasons – I wanted to express myself more with the language of freejazz and avantgarde. At this point in 2000 for me there was really an emotional and artistic need to really change my expression a lot towards more communication between players plus adding more textures, sounds, elements of avantgarde style to my own playing and groups. The trio reflects in it´s own way to my “first love situation” which points to my teenages, when I was listening and admiring Albert Ayler, Coltrane, Eric Dolphy, Ornette and many others of the famous free players, but did not quite excatly understand then what they were doing. That was to be figured out later on with me…so forming this trio in 2000 was the result of getting back to my boyhood´s dream to express music more like that way.
About the musicians, Markku has been playing in my groups since the very beginning, which is 1988. Actually Uffe was also playing in the first quartet of mine in 1988, but he decided to go for Edward Vesala groups etc. playing more free already back then. In 2000 when I decided to form a new trio, it was obvious and an easy decision to ask him to join again to play with me. The reason is only musical, because he has a great skills to play freejazz and shares a vision of his own. Concequently, Markku had a vision of this expression too, and had started to play more to this genre of jazz with other groups, so it was obvious too that he would play with the trio.
2. I guess that this trio represent your way to directly express your voice. There is, in the tracks of the record, a strong will to express together your musical concepts, a connection tightest than a normal interplay.
Yes, You are right, because this is my number one steadily working band, so it gives me a freedom to express my ideas directly. I have always liked communication in jazz (and communication in music in general) With this trio, the listening to each others playing, and the rhythmic communication of the players just started to happen really tightly and intensively almost from the very beginning. And later on after we had started to perform regulary with the group, I had a picture in my head that it would be nice if this trio would soon perform more collective sound – to play sometimes like no one is really a soloist, and with listening a lot of each others contrapuntual ideas, lines and directions of them. It was really nice to notice soon that this kind of expression started to happen even earlier than I expected.
3. It’s possible to hear, in the trio sound, many languages and experience, the acknowledgement of conventions and basic sound elements is combinated with avant-garde and experimentation. Let’s talk about your musical point of view.
I try not to restrict my musical thinking to only one box of expression or way to play, meaning that everything that has a good dramaturgy, flow and movement affects me because I think these things have to be in the music. If the red line is missing when somebody is soloing (no matter what style) or in composition, then there´s no movement of form happening and no direction of music…Today, my musical point of view is (I hope ) every possible thing that my imagination can possibly create, but it´s mostly and strongly to the avantagarde and free side of performing & expressing. It is interesting since I´m a composer too, to notice that I hear the same kind of structures, forms and textures in my improvisations than in my compositions, so what I´m saying here is that I have learned a lot about improvisation & music through composing. I really like to think that improvising is like composing ( on the moment ), where You command the drama, sentencies, form and textures to their highs and vallies, to new sections and endings etc, and at the same time build a big structure…What comes to the basic sound elements and acknowledgement of conventions, I want to include them in my playing, because I want to respect the history of jazz, and secondly, I have noticed that when You experiment, the basic simple things work very well as a starting point for improvisation, it´s just only up to us what we want to do with them. They can still be developed to very complex things and stuctures, or if You just want to keep the simple and effective, with adding extra spicies (or some new element to them), it´s also nice like that. From a simple thing or and idea, You can create a symphony – there´s so many examples in this world about that. Let´s take the Sibelius number five symphony for example…An thirdly, I feel that I ´m a part of the evolution of jazz, becoming from somewhere, and putting my own expression and things to it. It´s a free playground, and for an artist, it must be like that.
4. Your musical approach to freedom. there is calm and warm feeling in the atmospheres you create with your music. could you tell us something about?
Hmm…that´s a hard question, the “warm feeling”, well, I quess I just hear those atmospheres that way, and play them accordingly… anyway, it´s nice to try create many different atmospheres, with one being not similar to another at all. What I think of freedom, is that anything can be expressed with an instrument or a with a group, and there should be no musical limitations at all when we are improvising. Many times the first idea that pops out from your head is a valuable thing, and should be preserved as a thematic plateau of the soon to be shaped form & expression, BUT with good taste and nice mixing of musical elements and contrapunct, plus sensing and realizing what is the role of that particular idea in the solo or in the composition, or in the collective solo of a band. For example, it can act as a main idea / sentence of Your solo, or as a joining sentence to the next phrase, or as comment to the previous, or as an impulse to totally new scenery, or as a question which leads to something else, or as a contrapunctal glue that just supports the life of some other sentencies & sceneries before or after, or as comment to the drummer etc. etc…
The word freedom is little bit paradox thing in music, because if someone is thinking that ANY ideas and many different things can just be put together to make the music free, the result is many times just a chaos, and does not serve the form and does not neither carry a musical emotion and energy forward. And for sure it´s not goin to sound good if there´s too many ideas together, and also if there is not any main idea, or the main idea is not strong and clear enough. The main idea also has to be played strongly and clearly out, so that the listeners also realize that this is what the band is pointing to.
I would say that freedom in music (and art in general), is more like choosing. Choosing the tools, brushers, colours or the means You like to use and express with, in other words it is many times merely pruning, lopping and editing what NOT to use in Your playing. This freedom of choosing is what I think is essential in free expression. It works because the more clear You are with Your voice, expression and with the character of Your idea, the more clear it is to the listener to realize what You´re doing, this resulting to the musical message of Yours delivered more dinstinctively and with lucidity (the character of the music can still be wild, loud soft, airy or whatever …), so I would say it´s the freedom to choose, and freedom to leave other things out. You can choose other means for the next piece.
Freedom is also very much an intuitive state of mind, and a feeling of trusting Your intuition….And certainly, at some point, if somebody is going to be a artist who wants to deliver personal & meaningful things from oneself to the listeners, one has to realize that You have to create Your own vocabulary, sound, expression, the essence and the way to play. No one is going to do it for You, so You have to find out those things Yourself, and that´s also freedom in the big sense, taking the responsibility for Your own language and creativity. Again, a freedom of choice.
5. In a certain way, it’s possible to think about “the travel of fulica atra” as a painting… a series of situation paint by your instruments…
Yes, You´re right, it´s really nice to think that way too, I do it many times too…for the “Travel of Fulica atra” it was more like a story for me this time, and the different sceneries & atmospheres of the bird along the lake, and the happenings & drama which the bird confronts along the travel in different circumstances and environments. You know, a night (“Radar ), a morning (“New Morning”), a pond (“The Pond”) etc. which all have a dramaturgy of their own…
6. Let’s talk about free-jazz today… how much space is possible in this days, in our modern and western society, for free expressions? do you feel as a task, as a duty, especially in this world that tries to eliminate any personal and different voice?
Yes, I agree with You totally that there should be more personal voices in this world. When people start to think and act with more creativity in general, the world will be a better place in many ways. There will be not so much of the so called “musical mass movements” or “trends” with such music that really has no artistic value or weight whatsoever, or any kind of mass trends, where people just don´t think enough with their own brains and ask themselves what they really want to experience, or hear if it comes to music…or really ask themselves what they actually want from their life. People should be more honest to themselves, and listen their heart and intuition more. That´s the key to find the right place in the world for oneself.
I feel that my music comes solely from my own need to express myself, and music is my dearest channel to do it. I don´t see it as a duty or task, I feel myself more like a messenger of something, as our creator has given this special musical gift to me. I would feel bad, if I did not use it.
7. In your music there are many connections to different musical roots and there are many personal solutions. how do you have developed your saxophone sound?
I like very much to see music as a mirror and reflection of life and emotions, and it´s interesting to experience with music what wee see around us in life…about the sound, well, I´m a very stuburn person and I like to do things my own way. Of course I have listened a lot of my teenage heros, who must have affect my sound someway, (at least back on the early years of playing). On the other hand, from the early beginning of my carear, I have heard from players around me, and from the people listening me, that I have always had a sound of my own…Anyway, the answer to Your questuon is that I like to mix the timbres, frequencies and colours of what I hear my sound should be, according to myself. There´s no need to imitate or copy someone…You have to make Your own decisions what You really want from Your sound (or from Your music & expression in general). For me, thinking back to those times before I was not even stydying (at Sibelius Academy), I think I sounded really fresh expression wise, when not knowing so much how to make a “proper sax sound”. But anyway, that freshness thing is what I sort of want from sound.
And the thing that You have to physically AND mentally be 100 percent together with Your sound, to have it really singing and being airy though with a good wide body. Being together with Your sound means that Your physical action of playing, Your circulation of breathing and Your mind are all together, because the sound really comes from You, not from the saxophone. The horn is just an extension of your sound…I´m happy that I sound the way I do today, and I´m having fun with it too ( like when I was 13 years old…) You know, the feeling when a young kid is really having fun! With all this I mean that a sound has to have a spirit, which is an essential part of the sound, and if the spirit handshakes Your “technical” sound qualities (color etc.) and compliments them, then it´s much more than just a nicely educated and “proper sound”. For me, the sound is a really important thing, and it has to have a lot of qualities too, eg. colors and roles – it has to be able to ring, bite, sing, shout, whisper, squeak etc….these are ingridents of the color palette of Your “technical” sound, which can be studied and mastered to Your needs and put under Your command how to use them. But the spritit has to be there always, no matter what….
8. In the reviews I have read about your works, I have noticed a wide, and often contradictory, list of saxophone players compared to you. Which players have influenced you and what are the particular skills you have studied from each musicians?
Well, should I reveal my secrect reciepe??? (joking)… this answer could be very very long, because it´s many times hard to make the difference between who You really studied techically and from who You just learned a lot by listening to again and again. But I try to be short and point out the really important ones to me…when I was younger, I used to listen (and study) the sprit and the textures of Albert Ayler, and just about everything about Trane I could get from him (rhythms, harmony etc. – his duo with Rashied Ali “Interstellar Space” is one of my absolute favorites), the melodic inventiveness of Wayne Shorter ( he always sounds like he is composing at the moment, which is a quality in someones playing I respect a lot), the always ongoing communication with the rhythm section of Joe Henderson (his playing sounds like a poet, the red line of dialog is always present, plus his way of going over the time and coming back to playing time again, is really nice). I think I learned a lot a about dialog, timing & placing from his playing. Same goes for Eric Dolphy, plus his inventiveness of the ambitus with texture & melody and the rhythms…Jan Garbarek for his lyricism and the “bite” of his sound. And of course Ornette, I just love his way of playing rubato and “over the time”, actually he is one of them who I never really studied at all, just listened a lot – You can realize so many things about music from someones playing just by listening, without really studying it technically. But finally at some point, You have to throw all that technicality of other players away, and start to sound like Yourself finding & building Your own vocabulary. There´s really no need to copy somebody and try to sound like the same… For my generation of performers, I like Evan Parker, Mats Gustafsson, John Butcher… And, big thanks to Dave Liebman for his mentoring at my early stages, and carrying his spirit and artistic knoweledge to me. I have also learned a lot from listening to birds singing, but they don´t play the saxophone, (hah-hah)…
9. The coot… or, scientifically, fulica atra… why you have choose this subject as a starting point?…
It was purery and simply an intuitive choice, after I heard live (in the nature) what this bird can do with it´s singing,
10. You have recently played in Italy with your trio and Claudio Fasoli as a guest. Could you tell us something about this meeting? You have created similar meetings across Europe, with other musicians, during your fall tour?
We have performed few times with my trio in Italy, and the last one was with Claudio (who is a really nice artist, and very soulful player too) We have known each other since 2001 when we met in Boston, USA , both teaching at the same time at annual IASJ summer jazz meeting. Since then we have kept in touch, and planned to do somethong together. In 2007 I invited him to come to Finland with my trio to play as a special quest, and he invited my trio to play with him in Venice last fall 2008. It works very very nicely with two personal tenor voices, and in addition to this, it´s always great fun to play with him. If You mean the fall 2007 tour with my trio, the answer is no, it was only trio (except this one gig with Claudio in Venice). The other gigs on last fall were just other projects, with Heiri Kaenzig, COMET etc…But we have a habit my trio to invite someone sometimes to visit as quest to join the group if I feel he / she is an artist who fits in with our playing. I try to keep this habit going every now and then, because it brings freshness and a some new sound to the group and it´s always fun to do musically. A very nice one of those lately was with ECM artist Iro Haarla (piano) in january. I think we will definately do more with her in the future. A beautiful drummer, Brian Melvin (USA) has also sat in with us as guest, and Raoul Bjorkenheim, a very tasty & soulful freejazz quitar visionary too has visited us, actually more than couple times, I have played also other projects with him…
An other aspect of my carear is that sometimes I travel a lot in Europe playing and also giving jazz & improvisation masterclasses at conservatories etc., so I meet a lot of good players, and if it feels together with someone that we should play, then the rest is history…last fall we did a very tasty, totally collectively improvised concert (no written music at all beforehand) in Helsinki with the Swiss bass player Heiri Kaenzig ( also really good master of bass & improvising etc.) and Finnish drummer Mika Kallio. With Heiri I´ve played only once before that in Switzerland, but the musical click was in the air right from the beginning when we initially met in Crakow, Poland 2005, so these thing happen…no big plans and meetings are needed to make a single project happening – You can sense it immediately from the beginning if someboby is on the same frequency of expression, and if it fits to play together. I will always be open to that kind of exhange of musical ideas and projects.
11. The previous record you have released was Natural Flow, in duo with German pianist Johannes Mˆssinger. What are the atmospheres and the musical directions of this CD?
A cooperational project too, he asked me to play with him, and organized a couple tours, and we made a live CD from one concert in Cologne, mostly rubato playing, which was the original idea of the project intially…
12. Let’s talk about the other projects you have promoted during the years: Fastjoik, The Case, Finnish Onfonia, Fiestecita.
Could you tell us something about? Do you still work with this projects?
The Case was my second working group in the years1995-97, we did a CD and gigs with it for couple years, Fastjoik was my working quintet in the years 1997-1998 , but I don´t work with these projects any more, except the Onfonia sax quartet which is interesting to keep alive…I´m really much concentrating my trio now, and it has been like that for seven years because it feels a right thing to do now, musically to me. A Scandinavian cooperational quintet called “Nordik Kollektiv” was a one “side project” which revolved around the trio which we did for one year in 2005, it was basically my trio extended with really nice trumpet player Mathias Eick from Norway and astonishing piano player Kjartan Valdemarsson from Iceland.This group performed one pretty big tour in europe in spring 2005., I hope to play with Kjartan more, we have some duo plans, but let´s see how it will take over in the future…
Although today, now besides my trio, we have formed a new Swedish-Finnish cooperational freejazz quartet called “COMET” which features bassist Filip Augustson and a drummer Tuomas Ojala from Sweden, together with a really nice trumpet player Jarkko Hakala from Finland and myself. This group made it´s debut tour in Sweden Estonia & Finland on the fall 2008. I have really high hopes for this qroup too to became a steadily working group too, it feels musically fresh, and inspiring to to work with the artists of it.
Lately, I have also started to perform totally improvised saxophone solo concerts, and that feels really fun thing to do, I enjoy playing like that a lot. It is also very challenging and rewarding to do it with various / different thematics very time. But anyway in general, I try to keep my ears open to play with anybody (from any continent, or musical background ) who shares the same kind of stylistic frequency and vision about the music.
13. Could you tell us your point of view about Finnish jazz scene?
The Finnish jazz scene today is very well and alive, here is lot of good jazz musicians who are very active on the scene, and artists who can compete on the international scene also. Thanks goes to the the educational system in jazz here, which is very high level.We have two great schools teaching jazz (Sibelius Academy Jazz department & Stadia Pop & Jazz department ) plus other possibilities too to learn about jazz expression. Although, we could use couple more agents nationally, who would really convict themeselves to promoting this artform and to the management of it.