IT’S JUST ABOUT BEING CRAZY, DOING INTERESTING, FUNNY STUFF. IT’S TO GET RID OF TRADITIONAL WAYS.
|Dirk Balthaus||grand piano, fender rhodes|
How do you kill a mozzarella and why give that name to a CD? Dirk Balthaus, the Braskiri quartet pianist has the answer. “I’ve had a musical connection for over 20 years with Bert Lochs, who plays trumpet and flugelhorn and has written the tunes on this recording. We’ve made a lot of albums together. It was time to make a new one. Bert is always busy writing tunes. He sets the scenes in his life to music. On tour in Italy he was much impressed by the mozzarella he ate in Naples. He thought it funny to write a tune about how you open a package of mozzarella. You take your knife and you put it in the package, in the plastic, and the water spills out. He thought somehow - that’s killing the mozzarella!”
Killing the Mozzarella, sharp, edgy and humorous, is just one track on the CD of the same name. Capriccioso, comes from the same week spent in the south of Italy. Full of subtle but unexpected harmony it could be a reflection of Naples street life, “…where everything can happen”. Brave Mr Blackbird, lyrical, warm and rather beautiful, describes a bird in Bert Loch’s garden, fed by his children, that returns every year, despite its nest regularly being destroyed by other birds or the cat.
Koempel, pulsating and powerful, though also lyrical, is about mineworkers in the Ruhrgebiet . Both Bert Lochs and Dirk Balthaus come from mining areas. Bert wrote the piece for his father’s father, a real “Koempel”*, a music lover and very gently man. Bert hopes that he looks down from heaven and smiles when they play the piece. Not the Man with the Horn is a homage to Avishai Cohen the bass player, though his namesake Avishai Cohen the trumpeter is also highly respected by members of Braskiri.
KILLING THE MOZZARELLA (2016)
Uncloud and Tale-o-mat are free improvised pieces, which, according to Dirk, often get the best audience reaction when played in concert. “Something is happening that they cannot place. It happens, but they don’t know why it works. How we play together. They can’t explain it. On the last tour every time after this piece it was… wow! Wows in the audience. It was nice."
Dirk hardly thinks about the story behind the music when playing. “I think the story is already hidden in the composition. If I react to the musical things that are in it, I’ll picture the story anyway. In fact, I don’t think at all, that’s the best. I think - do everything right, build the solo, play then right chords, listen to the soloist, step out of the chords, deal with the harmony, listen to the others, make it happen.”
Braskiri’s improvisations usually begin with an unusual chord progression set by Bert Lochs and the harmonies follow. According to Dirk if someone wants to leave the stage, or unscrew his tuba or hit the microphone with it, it’s all possible. “It’s just about being crazy, doing interesting, funny stuff. It’s to get rid of traditional ways.”
This playing method is particularly important in the improvised pieces. Dirk explains, “Uncloud is about Bert’s desire to get rid of his image that he is a soft lyrical player; that his music is too soft, too beautiful. He doesn’t want to be with his head in the clouds anymore. Unclouded. That’s what we can also do. Play rough. Tale-o-Mat, that’s us. That’s a jukebox that you see in a bar. You put a penny in and it plays music. We are the jukebox. We play and we are spitting out tales. In the beginning I was kind off scared of the free improvisations because I didn’t do it often and I thought, I hope it’s over soon, but especially after listening back to what we did, I’m more and more confident. I try to let it flow - don’t interrupt the flow. I wonder how I did it when I listen to it, but I love this freedom.”
Dirk Balthaus, piano, Bert Lochs, trumpet and flugelhorn and Wim Kegel, drums, have all had a traditional Jazz education. Steffen Granly on tuba comes from Norway with an important brass tradition. The use of the tuba is particularly unusual in the Braskiri quartet. It is almost, though not quite, a replacement of the traditional bass. The tuba and drums together function almost as a rhythm section, with possibilities for duos between any combination of the instruments. This gives the quartet its highly original sound.Bert Lochs comes from the south of the Netherlands, which also has a tradition of big brass orchestras. According to Dirk, “He very much likes the sound of these brass bands. He has a little brass band in our band – the two of them. A tuba, and a trumpet.”
The Braskiri philosophy particularly in live concerts, says Dirk Balthaus, is to share with the audience. Not necessarily to please, but to share the moment, as if naked on stage. “If people are pleased I’m feeling lucky or happy .. that’s fine and if they feel excited about it, that’s also fine. People should think about what they want. I don’t want to tell them how to interpret what we do. I hope we do that right. That we leave room for them.”
Braskiri plays with both technical brilliance and emotional warmth. Audiences and listeners are ever surprised and stimulated, rarely disappointed by their unusual and lively music.