ArkivJazz: Congratulations on the new disc – it’s gorgeous.
Mats Eilertsen: Thank you
AJ: It’s really a remarkably moving disc and an extraordinary piece of music. I know you’ve been one of the mainstays of ECM for a long time. How many recordings have you made with the label?
ME: Maybe 12 or 14? Yes, I’ve been very fortunate working with them.
AJ: So, what brought about this record? It begins and ends with a very somber piece in “22.” It’s such a heavy start and an ending, but in between you manage to put together a wonderfully varied collection of sounds and music that really holds together as a whole.
ME: That’s good to hear. Our plan was to just come together in the studio with loose sketches and ideas. We have played together for ten years so we knew we could do it, as opposed to the normal thing of just going into the studio to document what we had been working on. It was really an open discussion of ideas. Manfred (producer Manfred Eicher) had an overview for the album that really helped us, and the order of the songs is actually his work. He had the idea of using “22” two times on the album, because they’re each a bit different.
AJ: That simple, beautiful opening just sets the pace. It’s just very quiet, but then you have gongs starting off “Perpetum” and it just takes off from there into some interesting directions. There’s also a feeling with the drums and the gong, of just creating an atmosphere to play within. It’s less carrying the song as it is almost changing the color of the room in a way.
ME: Yeah, Thomas (Strønen) on drums is very good with that as well, and all three of us are concerned about sounds, timbre and orchestration, more than grabbing the solo spot. It’s more of - what can I add, or what does the music need for color? Thomas’s drum set is inspired by Japanese music, so he has a vast and impressive gong collection. Unfortunately, several of his cymbals & other pieces of equipment were lost by the airlines when we traveled to record, so that’s why we have some duo tracks on the album. We decided to record some tracks while he was running around Lugano looking for some equipment to use [laughs].
AJ: Is one of those “Solace,”…the tune that’s just piano and bass?
ME: Yes, that and “After the Rain.”
AJ: Yes, “After the Rain,” has that nice suspended ostinato in it, which sounds like it just came out of somewhere very fresh…
ME: Yeah, and those are improvised tracks, as we improvised in a composed manner. That’s just the way we like it.
AJ: You also get the feeling, that if you re-recorded the disc today, that each tune would be subtly and maybe quite different. I mean, on “Sirens” you kind of play the theme once, and then it goes off in this wonderful direction.
ME: Yeah, that is more or less played as written…
AJ: Do you have live dates behind this?
ME: Actually, we just did two weeks here in Europe and we have some other dates planned for the spring.
AJ: Another tune that sticks out is “Then Comes the Night." What is the meter in that tune? It has the pre-drums, then the piano over the drums, and the piano building…there are a lot of textures in a very focused way.
ME: Yeah, I don’t know the meter there. We’re a really tolerant group – if one of us steps out of time with the meter the others don’t mind because they trust where we’re going.
AJ: You give yourself the freedom to go with it or not…
ME: Yeah, and that song is also improvised. I remember it quite well, because in the studio I could see the recording booth where Stefano (engineer Stefano Amerio) and Manfred were. Harmen (pianist Harmen Fraanje) could also see them. So after the intro on that piece, it’s left with the bass and the low toms on the drums. While we were recording that section, Harmen suddenly looked up to the booth and just saw Manfred pounding in the air, like “play something on the piano” and he (Harmen) just attacked the keyboard [laughs]. You can actually hear that point on the recording.
AJ: It sounds like you were very much into the moment at the time, and it was more about listening rather than reading the music.
ME: Maybe it’s just me as I’m remembering that day, but I think there’s a different attitude on the piano on that particular piece. We all share a love for Paul Bley’s music and we were talking a lot about him during that time. Manfred was telling us about all these stories about recording, and I think you can hear that in the piano part. I’m not saying it sounds like Paul Bley, but it you can hear a little bit of that influence in that song.
AJ: To hear you say that, I’ll never listen to the song the same way again because now I know that. Moving on to “Soften,” with that 16-bar ostinato and then that two-note theme with the bass note over the piano….it’s quiet, compelling, and arresting. It’s very subtle and it doesn’t hit you in the face.
ME: Yes, thanks.
AJ: Mats, I thank you for speaking with us. Do you have any plans to play in the States soon?
ME: No, we just did a tour in the past year or two. It’s fantastic and I would love to, but its quite a lot of work to get there from here.
AJ: Thanks for taking the time to speak with us, and again, congratulations on the new album….it’s really a beautiful piece of work.