A request from Eva Kess fell into my lap, just fresh off the heels of connecting with Thana Alexa on her latest work, another artist had come to us noting that their tour was most likely cancelled too, and if we could share something – well lucky for me! I decided to take a listen to the Sternschnuppen album by Eva Kess, and what a delightful treat it was! I don’t know much about Eva, but boy would I like to, as her compositions are really exciting to me! So let’s get into it!
1. Tell me your origins story, as long or as short as you’d like to keep it!
Thank you Jessica for having me and listening so closely to my record Sternschnuppen - falling stars.
There was a lot of moving around in my early life and collecting impressions in the north as well as in the south. I was born in Berlin-Schöneberg, then we moved to the south of Brasil as my dad got a guest professorship in philosophy in Porto Alegre, and then we moved to Switzerland, to Bern, the capital. I used to be a classical pianist and dancer and I did a lot of sports. Actually, my brothers and I did always the same stuff. My brothers also went to dance lessons and the three of us went snowboarding and climbing together. And my mum also grew up with two brothers. Then I discovered the double bass with it's awesome sound that I love so much! It makes your whole body vibrate. My other passion is composition, imagining my own musical universe. It makes me feel very happy and fulfilled.
2. Your album falling stars!
a. Ikigai – The word for the Japanese secret to long life? Tell me the story! Can you speak to your use of strings in this composition?
The Japanese concept Ikigai means “a reason for being”. Having a direction or purpose in life, that makes your life worthwhile and towards which you can take spontaneous and willing actions. Your Ikigai gives you satisfaction and a sense of meaning to life. It reflects the inner self and has been associated with health and longevity. My Ikigai is clearly music. Dear reader, what is yours?
I love the sound of string instruments and the endless possibilities when it comes to string writing. There are so many possibilities of sounds for each instrument and they blend very well as they belong to the same instrument family. My instrument, the double bass, is a string instrument as well. Therefore I feel very connected to the sound and the temper of string players.
For Sternschnuppen - Falling Stars I have been combining Jazz with elements of classical, Brazilian and experimental music - blurring the genre boundaries. On Ikigai we're starting with a lyrical beginning, a conversation between the violoncello played by Ambrosius Huber and the viola played by Nao Rohr. The violins Vincent Millioud and Susanna Andres are adding their comments and the whole is accompanied by Simon Schwaninger on piano, Philipp Leibundgut on drums and myself on bass. I am using the whole register of the instrumentation: From very high pizzicato on the second violin, over a unison line in different octaves played by viola and the piano, the bass very low grooving around with the drums in some baião like groove and the melody of violin and violoncello remaining until the end. A short drum interlude rounds the whole thing up and the tune ends on high tremoli played by the strings!
b. Porto Alegre – The playful bass really draws my initial attention – I’d love to hear your thoughts on what it means to be a bass player in jazz? (Also can you tell us who the soloists are on this track?)
Oh yeah, that bass line is really fun! We're playing it in octave unison, Ambrosius Huber on violoncello and me on double bass. The whole tune is lively, playful and light-hearted, capturing my mood when thinking about my childhood city of Porto Alegre in the south of Brazil. The soloists are Vincent Millioud on violin - in one of the CD reviews the German jazz magazine Jazzthing recently wrote that awesome phrase about him gently modernizing Stéphane Grapelli - followed by a bass solo by me where the strings are joining with a nice arco & pizz background. As a rhythm section player, the whole groove part is a matter of the heart for me. As a double bassist, I am in a team with piano and drums and am connecting the two by providing as well rhythmical as well as harmonical information, defining the harmony through my choice of the bass note!
c. Love Is – Wow, this ascending harmonic progression, yet there seems to be a presence of something bittersweet? You take the first solo on this track, and your sound is so warm and round, the whole thing almost feels like chicken noodle soup, or soaking in a hot bath after coming in from the cold rainy day. I’d love to know what your intention was for this track?
Thanks for sharing the pictures that are coming up when you listen to Love Is! I like to hear what other people imagine when they listen to my music.
d. The Subsequent Use of Yesteryear and Futurity – Pizz heaven right off the top! This sort of push an pull of the time and feel, accentuated by the strings' harmonies executed quite rhythmically gives a lopsided feeling.
The only tune on the record without the piano! Yeah, we go through many phases on this journey through Yesteryear and Futurity - pizz heaven (as you say, I like it :)), double stops, free improvisation, .. - and then some elements are getting recycled.
e. Sternschnuppen – This was the first track I listened to, and it immediately took me into the stratosphere, the violin dancing in amongst the drums splashing away in this effervescent trip, the particular rhythms in the piano I almost overlooked. Please tell me about why this song is your title track.
Awesome, so we have done our job well - off into space you went! Actually, the bass line is a cool counter melody in this tune. Sometimes, I'm taking decisions subconsciously, which means I have trained my creative instincts over the years, and then when it comes to decisions like which tune was the title tune I just felt Sternschnuppen was it. After taking the decision it felt good and therefore I stayed with it. Sternschnuppen is a tune with a very high and special energy.
f. Experimental Dreaming – very edgy! Quite a lot of fun! What did the chart look like for this piece?
Yes, complete fun with the scratchy sounds and other experiments! We all love it! This tune became the album teaser.
Actually, my composition mentor Django Bates inspired me to compose in a way that I have never composed before and I am very grateful for it. Django is great, go check out his music. Genius!
I'm very happy that I can give any kind of structure to Vincent and he is going to do a great violin solo, no matter what. He's like a joker.
I am also happy and greatful that my band plays all the stuff I am coming up with. The whole range! They are very open, curious and capable.
g. Let the Miracle Unfold – The world could use a miracle right now, that’s for sure. Patience can be a very hard thing to keep and cultivate, can you tell me more about the story behind this song?
Well said. We need patience these days. I would be happy if this tune or the record could add some miracle to the life of other humans.
The tune Let the Miracle Unfold starts and ends with a super slow string quartet feature. The feeling is that something is brewing, you don't really know what it is. Certainly, it's something nice and exciting - and it is unfolding very slowly and gently with a dreamy touch. Then comes the contrasting middle part with string melodies and shifted bass lines for piano and bass and after this through-composed middle section, we're entering a freely improvised beautiful string sound bath. Towards the end of the tune, I am closing it similarly as it began, you can hear an extended version of the slow string section from the start, this time featuring Ambrosius on the violoncello. Again it feels like something nice and exciting was brewing and unfolding carefully. This is kind of the feeling of my life this year - like a caterpillar gliding out of its cocoon.
h. Many Black Dots – Okay I must know the story about the name! I love the stops you have in this piece, your entire album boasts a skill in leading the listener like a dance lead through your works, and I as the follow delight at the surprises that knock me off my feet!
Great that you use the word dance, thank you for this! I used to be a dancer and like everybody who used to dance classical ballet intensely in childhood and youth, I realized that I will never get those movements out of my body again.
Well, during my composition studies I had times when I was super focused, reading scores or writing many notes every day and then at some point, they started to dance in front of my eyes. I wrote and wrote on this tune for a week like crazy and when I first presented it to my mentor Django Bates he was a bit shocked. It was way longer and more elaborate than what I usually came up with after a week. I had been listing to Charles Yves, but the tune is not in this mood. It's more like sometimes you just can make things happen easily and this is what happened here. My other composition mentor Guillermo Klein showed me how to cut things out. Pretty fun! What is not needed just goes away.
And we really rehearsed this one!! It's a challenge! It's quite tricky with those intertwining melodies. I am happy the black dots are dancing so light-heartedly.
i. Penta Piece – Penta for five! Throughout this album you demonstrate the many different effects that can be created by arranging the strings – in this track a strings soli(?), apart from the bass, fly in tight formations like birds. I’d love to hear more about the nuance of strings arranging, what are some tips and tricks?
That's a fun groove, I love to play this tune! Exactly, the strings are a union. They have tons of glissandi up and down and many times they have to start and end chords with the bell effect that I know from big band horn writing: One after the other starts or ends half a note after the previous player, it's magic string quartet interplay.
Nunances of string arranging. Hm.. there are so many possibilities. The instruments have a big range tonally as well as in the ways they can produce sound. I love to experiment with all of it! You have to make sure that what you write is actually playable. It depends on the level of your players and the number of rehearsals. Double stops are an important topic: the perfect intervalls are expremely difficult to intonate, fifths and fourths. Fifths are a bit friendlier than fourths - as opposed to the major/minor intervals where the intonation is a little bit more variable.
3. Tell me about working with your ensemble – how many years have you worked together? How long did if take for you to get the right fit for this ensemble? Can you tell me more about being the band leader, and the lessons you’ve learned?
I have written for and led other bands before this one and was able to make many experiences. The music and the players are the most important elements, both have to be very convincing. And the players need to get along well together as musicians as well as human beings. As a bandleader, besides having a musical vision, you have to make good opportunities to perform the music happen.Sternschnuppen - Falling Stars was my diploma band for the composition masters that I was lucky to get into at the University of the Arts in Bern and study with composition masters like Django Bates and Guillermo Klein.
I wrote music for several months, then I started to put the ensemble together. First I had my friend Susanna on the violin and I was asking her if this and that would be playable and she took time to look at what I wrote and told me: no problem! This is how I knew Susanna is it. My friend Vincent came shortly after and then I simply knew and felt, that this whole thing is going to work out! He helped me with his contacts to find string players that he likes to work with and this is how Nao and Ambrosius joined. I was very happy when drummer Phil wanted to play my music as it is not easy to find a drummer that can and wants to play with strings. Like sitting around and waiting when we fix intonation and bowing.. Surprisingly, finding a pianist was the hardest thing. Our cellist Ambrosius helped me to find Simon - and then we were complete! We did some rehearsals in spring and some in August 2019, played some concerts and went straight into the studio and recorded Sternschnuppen - Falling Stars. A month later I got a yes from the great German label Neuklang. Everything fell into place!
4. Last but certainly not least, What would you like to say to the womxn and youth in jazz? To aspiring womxn composers and bandleaders?
Go for it, believe in yourself, go with what feels good, find the right people and always keep your love for the music alife and use it as your primary inspiration!