Let’s talk about the new album, Head First. Tell us about the development of it and how it came about.
Basically it started a few years ago, the idea of it. Of course you know John Taylor, the great jazz pianist, after he died that was the moment when I thought I really need to do something. It had been a few years since I’d made my own album, but at that moment I thought it would be good to do something not just in dedication to him, but with his vibe. That was a big part of it.
I did a concert at the Purcell Room, a duet with Tom Hewson, who is a great pianist. One of the pieces I wrote for that ended up being on the album. That was one of the reasons why I asked Julian Argüelles to be involved with it because he’d worked with John so much, and he really has that sound. I wanted to work with him for years and years and he was up for it, which was great. So that was the start of it. The album was really a combination of a few different things, some tunes I wrote a few years ago, which have been building up for a while as it’s been a few years since I’ve done an album of my own.
Another tune is by Diego Schissi. I’ve been playing a lot of tango and he’s an Argentine pianist. I’ve played a lot of his music and wanted to record that as well. It’s sort of a mix of things I’ve been into for the past few years. John’s death was definitely the stimulus to get something down and do the album.
We recorded it in Italy, in a studio that I’ve worked in many times before. I recorded my last trio album there as well. Julian lives in Austria now so it wasn’t too bad for him to get out there.
Did you find any differences in terms of recording with the quintet, rather than with a trio?
Definitely. There’s a lot more potential to arrange for something like that and I try to experiment a lot more with the colours you can get from trumpet and sax. I used a lot of soprano on it as well, and changed things around sometimes. I experimented with that, and counterpoint lines. I really got into the arranging thing, more like extended composition I guess for the album. Obviously as individuals they’re incredible soloists, I explored the idea of doing duos as well, which if you haven’t got a horn frontline then you can’t do duos as easily. With the horn in the frontline the duo is a natural texture, so we had a couple of numbers on the album that were duos. They’re great musicians to work with. Touring a band like that is a bit more of an undertaking, especially financially. We’re looking for slightly bigger venues and some more high profile venues for this tour.
How have you developed as a composer. Is it something that you’ve studied academically or something that you’ve picked up?
I did a classical degree at Cambridge and I did composition there. It’s something that I’ve done a lot, classical composition, so I’ve always been into that and the jazz thing has just developed over the years, having done it a lot. I’ve run the E17 Large Ensemble for a while which is a thirteen piece group. I’ve been composing and arranging for that. One of the tunes, Fall Out, has been reduced from a big band composition.
I’ve been composing since I was little. I’ve always composed and performed so it’s always been a combination of both. I love composing, it’s a really important part of what I do. A lot of stuff on the album is original music. I wouldn’t do an album of standards, though I love standards, but I wanted to do original music, especially with something with John’s sound in it. I don’t want to copy him directly but some of his harmonies, some of his ideas, they definitely had that influence.
I was interested in what you were saying about tango. How did you first get into playing that?
It’s a long story. I’ve been to Argentina quite a few times now. Originally I played in a group called Rioplatenses quite a few years ago with Guillermo Rozenthuler, who is an Argentine singer. Since then I’ve done lots of tango in different kinds of groups. One is El Ultimo Tango which is more of a Piazzolla type project based in Birmingham. I also did Transtango with Tim Garland and a bandoneon player from Switzerland called Marcelo Nisinman, and that was all original music. So basically over a few years I’ve been playing more and more tango, I had my own tango quintet too, so I wanted to include something of that in there. The piece that I’ve chosen for the album, although it’s by a tango composer, is quite jazz-based and comfortable for the guys. It sounds a bit like a Kenny Wheeler piece but that particular composer, Diego Schissi, I’ve loved his writing for many years and he’s got something of jazz, something of classical music and something of tango in his writing which really appeals to me.
Tell us about some of the other projects that you’re involved, such as Solstice.
I’ve been in lots of sideman projects with people like Matt Ridley’s Quartet, things with Tim Garland and Asaf Sirkis, but Solstice is the first thing that I’ve done since my duo with Brigitte Beraha, which was quite a few years ago now, I was strongly involved with it in terms of writing. It’s really my project in a sense: I got all of the gigs but it’s also co-led in that we all write for it. It’s a really nice project because it’s just a group of friends. They’re all musicians that I love playing with and they’re lovely people as well. Brigitte Beraha, Tori Freestone, Jez Franks, Dave Manington, George Hart. We all write, we all compose for it and it’s just a kind of sound that I guess is a bit British. We’re all into Django Bates and that kind of sound. Some of it is quite lyrical as well. It’s got a big range, it’s got all sorts of things, sometimes a bit prog rocky, it’s a really fun band. We did the second album a couple of years ago, just after we toured Elementation which was our first one. It was a nice Arts Council tour but we haven’t been doing much with that recently. We’re definitely thinking about labels for the new album and then we’ll tour it next year at some point.
Tell us about some of your influences on the new album.
I’m also really influenced by classical music which is one of the things on that album, probably more than say the Solstice album, that I’ve explored a bit. On Conception I had three duets with cellist Eduardo Vassallo, who actually runs the Birmingham group El Ultimo Tango. He’s a really amazing musician. I’ve been involved with him for a while.
A lot of things just came together in the studio that we hadn’t planned, which is always really nice. The Perfect Foil, for example, there’s a bit where it goes into a sax solo in the middle, I said to Julian, ‘play on these changes’, we had a go but it wasn’t really working, then Julian said ’shall I just play free?’ so it ended up being a free-up. That wasn’t really planned.
Another tune, Seahorses, was meant to start quite chilled with a bass line and just a cooking drum solo, and its building up. We tried that and it didn’t really work because it was quite long and I wanted to do a shorter track. So we tried starting really intense, and then spared it out towards the end.
A Perfect Foil with Julian is very classical sounding. I suppose I’ve been listening a lot to French composers recently, Ravel, Federico Mompou who is a Spanish composer in the French style. So it’s got a bit of that to the sound, with some of the harmonies from those guys. That’s definitely influenced me as a writer, a bit of tango, a bit of classical music, a bit of contemporary jazz, especially John Taylor and Kenny Wheeler. There’s quite a variety on the album and it was quite interesting to put together.
John Turville Quintet feat. Julian Arguelles
The Verdict, Brighton
Saturday 9th March, 2019
The album Head First is out now on Whirlwind Recordings.
Read a review of the album here:
Interview conducted by Charlie Anderson.
Photo by Rob Blackham.