|It means to take a big risk to record an album exclusively with solo piano pieces in our days. Certainly there are solo piano recordings in jazz which achieved the status of the ideal christmas present but on the other hand there are many others which receive hardly any attention. If we look at the previous work of the celebrated composer and multi-instrumentalist (piano, keybords, peck-horn) Django Bates we will recognize that "risk" is one of Django's favourite words and therefore won't be surprised that he just recorded his first solo piano album Autumn Fires (And Green Shoots).
On his preceding '93 production Summer Fruits (And Unrest) (JMT 919 065-2) Django surprised the jazz-world with very uncommon compositions for his 18-piece orchestra Delightful Precipice and his quartet Human Chain. Fusion, faked Heavy Metal, a waltz and circus music created an intelligent and very entertaining mixture. His performance at the Berlin Jazz Festival 1993 was celebrated as "the only sensation of the festival" (AZ Munich). He was nominated for the British Jazz Award 1993 in several categories.
From The AZ Munich, one of the most important newpapers in Germany, Django Bates has received the award Star Of The Year in January 1994. Other prize-winners: Jane Campion for her film "The Piano", Steve Reich for his opera The Cave, the painter Gerhard Richter…
Django's work in the legendary Loose Tubes jazz orchestra made him one of the leading figures of the progressive British Jazz scene of the 80s. His 1990 album Music for the Third Policeman was voted one of the years best by The Wire magazine. Since then he worked together with highly influential musicians of the international jazz scene-upon them Hank Roberts, Tim Berne, Sidsel Endresen and Christy Doran. Django is also succesful as a composer of classical music and was commissioned to write a piano concert for the London Philharmonic Orchestra.
A solo piano recording has been one of Djangos dreams for a long time - a dream he could finally realize in New York in February 1994. The piano was the first instrument he played as a kid. He tried to immitate the piano heroes of his father in an attempt to get his attention and was exposed to piano teachers he today regards as ranging from "evil to inspiring". Just 19 years old, Django started studying composition at the Royal College Of Music where he found little cards on the pianos which said "This instrument is not to be used for the playing of jazz music." So his career as a music student was very short and he decided to make his own way through the music scene.
Autumn Fires (And Green Shoots) tries to show fully what Django is like as a piano player. So besides his original compositions he also recorded three standards and some improvised pieces. Each of these require a slightly different approach from the instrumentalist and make him mobilize the whole range of his musical skills. This approach certainly contributes to making the recording uncommonly many-facetted and exciting.
Just like Django's other recordings his piano pieces are descriptive of various feelings, events, characters and memories. In the most concentrated way this becomes obvious in his original compositions. For instance: the panic and eventual death of rats with tails knotted together in Rat King or seaside vibe and stunning contrast of colour in Raoul Dufy's paintings in Dufy.
Django plays interpretations of the standards Autumn Leaves, Giant Steps and Solitude but he does more than merely looking back and tries to enrich the tunes with his personal history. Django describes his relationship to jazz standards the following: "Playing standards is like telling an old story: the plot is embedded in our brains and its very pleasing to weave in and out of it.". Django manages to re-tell these stories in an exciting way.
Django also introduces himself as a strong and sensitive improviser. The improvised pieces of the album were hardly fixed before the recording dates. So Django sometimes used the title of a piece as a trigger, sometimes he just developed ideas out of the musical instant. The improvisations were open to absorb Djangos momentary feelings and thereby reflect an influence of the winterly New York: "The snow, the canceled flights, the change of piano, the change of studio, the lunatic taxi experiences, and New York's social hyperactivity - all that unexpectedly influenced my music".
Engineer Joe Ferla (who besides Carlos Albrecht is responsible for all recent JMT recordings) decided together with Django Bates and producer Stefan Winter to record the piano with a very natural and unpretentious sound directly from a stereo microphone to digital two track. The atmosphere in the studio which was built by Jimi Hendrix should be preserved instead of creating an artificial concert hall sound with the help of special effects.
Django Bates will be touring with his various projects throughout 1994. On the 13th of July he will perform a solo piano concert at one of the worlds most important jazz festivals: The Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland.