Tell us about your group Malija with Liam Noble and Jasper Høiby. How did it get started?
I worked with Liam and Jasper in 2008 when I did a quintet record called In Deep. I hadn’t really worked with either of them much before and I wanted a new band so I just phoned up Jasper and Liam and drummer Dave Smith and said ‘Do you want to do this band?’. That’s how that started and we did a record that came out in 2009. It kind of clicked from that beginning thing and then we all did odd things together. Then I did an Ellington album with Liam on it so I was gradually working more with Liam. About 3 years ago I got a call from Jazz Services saying that they wanted to take my Ellington band to New York for a showcase in Rochester but they said ‘the only thing is, we can’t fly seven musicians out, so can you get something together that’s smaller?’. And that’s how I formed this band. I thought ‘I’ll just play with two other musicians’. I phoned up Jasper and Liam and said ‘do you want to do this trio for this gig in New York?’. You can have a little bit of a holiday as well.
We quickly got some music together. I wrote the first few tunes but then Jasper and Liam wrote stuff and we had a set of music together pretty quickly. We did a gig and then we went off to Rochester to play at the festival.
About six months after that we did our first album on Edition with these tunes and some other tunes, then we did a tour. We’ve just done our second album. We recorded it in Copenhagen in a really nice studio. Now we’re doing this tour to promote this record.
With your latest album, Instinct, Is there a theme to it or a certain approach that you took?
Yes, I wanted the music to be fresh when we recorded it. So we wrote the music and rehearsed it but we didn’t really gig the new tunes. So we just wrote this music and played together round my house and just got into the tracks. Then we went to record it. So we recorded the music without any gigs. I wanted that freshness that you get when you go into a studio and you approach something for the first time. That’s one of the nice things that I like about this record, we captured that. Obviously it changes now that we’re touring it. There’s a lovely thing about the way we’ve first started approaching it. The three of us, we’ve pretty much written equally on this record. There are tunes by all three of us. I like that about it.
Tell us about the compositions that you’ve written for the album. How do you go about composing?
Good question. It normally comes about through improvisation with me. I either improvise on the sax but more often on the piano or on my keyboard. I’ve got a MIDI keyboard and a sequencer. Sometimes I just fiddle around and get some ideas. And then if I get something that I’m excited with, that doesn’t sound like it’s from anywhere else, then I’ll get excited and that will become the germ of it. So these were kind of put together like that. Elegantly Posh is quite a tricky tune with lots of things in it. I don’t know how that came about. I think I got the intro idea first, a very pompous little phrase at the beginning and then that spurred me on to write the other bits of it and bind it all together.
To be honest, I don’t know sometimes how the process happens. I’ve started to try and make notes about it for teaching, because I teach composition a bit. I started to save early versions on Sibelius so that I can look back and see how I did it, which sounds a bit bizarre but there’s so much subconscious stuff going on that you don’t really know how you do it, you just end up there somehow. It’s probably like writing a book. Often with a lot of if you just go with the flow.
I wrote a tune called Sanctuary, which is a kind of quiet thing. With that I started with the mood I wanted and the title that I wanted: something that was really peaceful and really in a place that was really calm. That’s how I wrote that piece, with an atmosphere in mind.
Then there’s a silly tune on there called A Wing and a Prayer, which is a little rhythmic riff that starts, then the rhythm is manipulated and it becomes different, going into a more romantic section and then we blow on it. I always wanted that to sound quite ‘on the edge’ hence the title. Almost like becoming unstuck and being on the edge.
It’s a funny thing. Sometimes titles come later and sometimes they come first. More often, with me, they’re later; I have to find a title for it.
Liam’s tune, TV Shoes, that was quite an important tune for this record. It’s quite a pivotal tune that’s a bit like a Hermeto Pascoal tune. It’s a lot of fun.
The music is many different things. It’s obviously jazz but we’re all interested in lots of other music as well. That comes into it all, really. It’s all in there somehow; there’s bluegrass, there’s a bit of tango, there’s a waltz and all kinds of things like folk and all these genres that we like.
What are the other things that you’re involved in at the moment?
The thing that I’m working really hard on is an orchestral jazz piece that I’ve written, which I’m recording in December. It’s a piece that I’ve spent the last couple of years working on. It’s a real learning curve, for me, in terms of writing for strings and all kinds of things such as brass and harp. I’ve written for big bands but I’ve never written for such a big ensemble as this. It’s basically a jazz group of myself, Seb Rochford, Tom Herbert from Polar Bear, Liam is also doing it, with John Parricelli on guitar and then an orchestra. It’s quite groovy some of it. It’s not really swing jazz, it’s as orchestral as it is jazz, if that makes sense. So that’s my big thing that I’ve been working on. After the recording in December, I don’t know when it will come out but I’m really excited about it. I did an initial run-through at the college where I teach, Trinity Laban, with the students and Seb and Tom etc. I’ve heard it but I’ve also changed it a lot now. I’m looking forward to it being played with professional musicians who can really commit to it. That’s the biggest thing with the students, they don’t have the experience to really be confident with unusual music. So I’m really looking forward to recording it.
I’ve got lots of things that I want to do but I’m doing less bands now. I want to spend more time with my own stuff. I’ve done a lot of different bands in my career and I feel that I’m at a point where I want to do more of my own music.
I do the band The Printmakers with Norma Winstone and Mike Walker and that’s really lovely.
So that’s kind of what I’m up to really. I teach a bit and stuff. I’m looking forward to our Brighton gig. I like that place, The Verdict.
Malija perform at The Verdict, Brighton on Friday 10th November, 2017.
For more information on Mark Lockheart:
The album Instinct is out now on Edition Records.