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Thursday, January 30, 2014

Nascent jazz: Talking To Alberto Pinton

Posted by on Thu, Jan 30, 2014 at 5:36 PM

The opening gambit of Alberto Pinton’s Nascent causes me to melt into a puddle of dopamine every time I hear it. The drums "off we go" skitter like a smooth rock skipped across a glassy lake. Pinton bobs and frolics on baritone saxophone like bugs and birds and smaller creatures in nature do, then, after a while, Peter Nylander waltzes in obscenely on electric guitar, melting the whole of the universe—and the cold outer skin on that smooth igneous rock sometimes called contemporary jazz back to the magma whence it came.

While his music goes down smooth, knowing—or rather learning—about Pinton has been vexing. He’s been making his mellifluous, free jazz, that perfectly mixes improv and bebop reflective of Ornette Coleman or better, Eric Dolphy, for almost 30 years. Every time I hear a song of his I ask myself “How? How could I have lived this long, and only be hearing this now”? The first songs of his I ever heard were a month ago, an old friend passed along some songs from his catalogue. I was amazed by selections from his 2003 album Dog Out. My buddy said, “I’ve long contended that best contemporary jazz comes out of Scandinavia”.

I know. I choked on my americano when I read that too, but if Nascent, and Pinton's work is any indicator, it's no exaggeration. The album opens brightly, horns, guitar and drums take you for a walk in the park via “si va al mare” and “why you shouldn't ask for more,” even the upright bass slaps and strolls. Without warning the album takes a sharp turn into serenity, as they put down the tempo and Pinton picks up the flute and blows meditatively on “kojan,” and makes usually sprightly melodica sound mournful among cymbal crashes, chimes, and minor chords of “nu.”

Since hearing Pinton I've been stricken, I have that nagging, insistent need back in the primal meat of my brain that real addicts know about; Pinton’s horn game is strong: saxophones alto, baritone and tenor, contrabass and regular-old clarinet, flute, bass flute, and melodica round out his artillery (for this album). His abilities know no bounds. On the aforementioned Dog Out, Pinton led a quartet made up of himself, another horn player, bass and drums into a cinematic soundscape as slick and striking as silver gelatin black and white photos (they get up to the same business on the track "haltdansen" on the new album). I bring it up because it’s one of the better albums I’ve ever heard –jazz or otherwise. Listening to it I felt like it may have been inspired by cinema. I asked him:

"...No, I never think in images, at least not on a conscious level, but I do try to convey feelings and emotions about a particular state of mind I want the composition to 'represent,' if that makes any sense."

In truth, Pinton is very well schooled (and thus very well traveled); once I looked into it, I realized I'd never had access to a better educated player. I took the chance to ask him how he felt his education had factored into his career.

“For me personally it's been incredibly valuable to study music at the high levels I did. I've had the fortune to study both theory, instrumental practice and ensemble playing with fantastic musicians/teachers, both at Berklee 1988-1990 and Manhattan School of Music 1993-1995. The way I see it you do not get a Bachelor's Degree Summa Cum Laude and a Master's Degree with almost full points by just hanging around the cafeteria. In the States (at least that has been my experience) you have to deliver, if you want something back. I got a lot out of the years in school, and I gave a lot back. So much so that now that my two kids are almost adults I've been considering to maybe apply for a DMA or something of the sort. But that's just on a very personal and 'what if / why not / maybe I should' level.”

In 2005 Pinton fronted a jazz quintet and recorded the album motionemotion. It begins much the same as Nascent, with a vertigo-inducing horn romp hiding underneath the vibraphone player in the mix. The opening track “glassbaren” is ten whole minutes of instruments dreaming of all the things they could be. Without any superfluous intro, the song takes on a life of its own, and the vibraphone becomes a cristal baschet, then at times a Buchla synthesizer. Instruments make sounds you didn't know they could on all of his albums. I had naïvely assumed that his band remained the same throughout his catalogue, when I discovered his ensemble often changed, I asked how achieved such a consistent sound throughout…

“In general, I give extremely little information to the players in my bands, if at all. I try to let the tunes take form in rehearsal/performance, and always leave the players in a particular band decide the approach. I've the fortune of having great and humble musicians in my bands and I don't see any reason for me to tell them how to play the notes. I want their individuality to come out on its own. For instance, the vibes player in my former quintet, Mattias Ståhl, explicitly wanted to know what to do with my tunes. Instead, I wanted him to have sort of a 'joker' role in the band, with me and the trombone playing most of the main lines, and the bass keeping the foundation. So I gave him the lead sheets, sometime with some chord changes. Rest was up to him”

That’s it, apparently. “He’ll act like he’s not amazing” my friend who turned me on to him told me. And he was right, but Pinton makes that jazz sound the archaeologists and the apologists have been looking for in their “Is Jazz Dead” thinkpieces. He had this to say about the life of jazz:

"Jazz is ever-changing and evolving. Even though I do relate to the idiom in my composing and improvising, I'm not even sure if a lot of the stuff I put out on CD can be considered 'Jazz' with a capital J. But who cares, after all? What are labels? I strongly disagree with that statement, basically. Frank Zappa with his 'jazz is not dead, it just smells funny' was onto something, I guess, but I like the smell of it more often than not."

In my head I pictured a tightly wound militia of players, focused on raising a sound, but what I understand after talking to Pinton is something entirely different. Pinton is not focused on jazz as a whole; he uses it as an outlet and with his players, a loose bunch of associates, they run the course in search of a sound until as he says “we basically acknowledge when a group has done its share of gigs and recordings, and move on”. And I’m beginning to see the “free” in Pinton’s free jazz. On the song "solo theme" Pinton plays a technique called “slap-tongue” I'd never heard of before, it takes the potential of a horn to sound “warm” and shatters it, as you feel you're listening to jazz as a living, breathing thing. “I use the technique randomly, if I feel like it,” he told me. I asked him to elaborate for me on some of the ideas that fill jazz composition and writing, for instance, what is the key to improvisation? When songs are written to the other players get annotated notes? Are there themes you talk about ahead of time and try to express?

"There're a lot of different ways to notate the material. Actually Nascent is one of my most notated recordings as far as the improvised sections. Which means chord progressions or scales (modes) or riffs to use as a springboard for the soloists to improvise on. But for example in Strength and Passion, almost everything that happens in between the melodies/riffs is totally free. In regard to the DIRECTION a particular solo/solos go, I NEVER want to decide that ahead of time. That's one aspect of this music which I find incredibly exciting and I do not want to decide ahead of time how a particular improvised section should develop. No matter where you want everybody to land on, the WAY you get there is the more 'mysterious' part (sounds a little too fancy and new-agey, but I couldn't come up with anything better right now :). For example: if there's a solo section in between a loud written part and and a softer written part, the tendency might be to start loud and collectively work towards the softer material. But how about taking everything down dynamically right away, then build, then taking everything down again? How about a very dissonant, freaky collective solo section between two more tonally restrained parts? That stuff I want everybody to be on their toes with. React to each other's input and go from there. For that, you need great players. I'm extremely lucky to have people who always say YES to my project suggestions, with no money or glory involved."

Pinton's Nascent benefits from his experiences and outlook. It's challenging at times, meditative in the middle, and free and fleeting at the end, moving on to something new. It doesn't even have distribution outside of Scandinavia, though. To get it, Pinton says, he'd be happy to mail it old school in exchange for pay via PayPal. I received my copy pretty quickly directly from his corner of Stockholm, Sweden. .


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