Jan Alexander – STORM BEFORE THE CALM
Jan Alexander – STORM BEFORE THE CALM
Jan Alexander’s new album STORM BEFORE THE CALM is released by BERTHOLD records on October 13th. The line-up: Jan Alexander (piano, rhodes, synthesizer, composer), Anna Serierse (vocals), Sebastian Mattebo (saxophone), Teis Semey (guitar), Duy Luong (bass), Karl-F. Degenhardt (drums).
Proverbially the calm comes before the storm. In his latest project STORM BEFORE THE CALM Alexander reverses the chronology to explore his decades long musical journey which he says, “traverses peaks, valleys, structure and chaos.” The band members met the pianist, composer en route and ably contribute to his adventurous and entertaining compositions.
Alexander studied at the Conservatorium van Amsterdam and Folkwang University of the Arts in Essen. He concluded his studies at the Royal College of Music (Department of Jazz) where in 2021 where he presented his masters thesis on non-isochronous metres, otherwise known as irregular or odd time signatures. His music is though neither academic nor inaccessible. It is complex, but makes for great listening – not least due to its melodic qualities.
The composer is an accomplished educator and enjoys clarifying non-isochronous metres to the uninitiated. “All metres are divided into groups of two or three,” he explains. “Non-isochronous metres can only be divided into a mix of groups of two and three, so if you have seven-eight, you could have two, two, three. Nine could be divided into three groups of three, or three groups of two and one of three.” If you’ve already lost the thread don’t worry. Alexander’s non-musician friends and family have listened to the tracks and were asked if they noticed anything about the metre. The answer was no – should we! “That was a good sign for me,” he says “because I didn’t want the theory to stand in the way of the listeners’ experience. There’s a barrier that you create if you go too nerdy. If it’s not good music, then… who cares!”
Just as important for Alexander is the story behind the album. Its title refers to his feelings during the corona pandemic. It was a time of “cherished turbulence, whilst anticipating a future state of calm,” he says. “Now I realise I may have deceived myself. The life-style of a musician will never be predictable, which is why I chose it.”
Turmoil, using varying metres, reflects this unpredictability. Unlike most of the tracks which were recorded live, this was produced in single parts. During the pandemic Alexander developed his production skills. “I was at home, at my parents. At first it was fine, then I felt trapped, so I set up my equipment in the basement and created electronic music. That fundamentally influenced the way I think about music now.”
The composer often uses vocals as an instrument, not just as singable lines. In Within Your Light though Anna Serierse, from the Netherlands, sings this more traditional song with passion and control. The lyrics describe people who aren’t with you every step of the way but somehow present. “In Stockholm during those long winter days it was good to know that there are always people I can rely on, no matter the physical distance,” says Alexander. Lost describes being down, then one person appears and makes all the difference, opening new perspectives.
Sorrows and Change are more intricately composed pieces with some room for improvisation, whilst New Horizon “is just chords with one rhythm which can morph into anything. I didn’t write a melody or say who should solo. I’m depending on the band’s ability to improvise. They’re great musicians, very skilled and versatile.”
Tribe is about a collective network of trusted musical collaborators. “The song is fairly simple so it takes a collective effort to make it special,” explains the composer. “When we play the music live, the audience sings along after a few verses, that’s astonishing to me. Who sings songs in nine!”
Sebastian Mattebo, from Sweden, creates a beautifully melodic sound on the saxophone. Duy Luong, from Vietnam, plays bass with rhythmic clarity. Teis Semey, from Denmark, approaches his guitar playing with raw, high-risk energy and Karl-F. Degenhardt, from Germany, drums with a versatility influenced not least by free jazz and West African music. “Each of them is a band leader with music visions in their own right. That