Jazz interview with jazz pianist Mattias Risberg. An interview by email in writing.
JazzBluesNews.Space: – First let’s start with where you grew up, and what got you interested in music?
Mattias Risberg: –I grow up in a small village in the middle of Sweden known for iron mining, about 200 km west of Stockholm. My first bewildering memories of music are from church, the mysticism of the pipe organ. I didn’t feel comfortable at all in church with the hard cold wooden benches and didactic priests but when the organ music started I was lost, it was so beautiful! On my wish lists around Christmas and birthday organ was always the first choice. I never got one but I bought an electric organ later, when I was 16 or 17, I guess with some major financial help from my parents.
JBN.S: – What got you interested in picking up the piano? What teacher or teachers helped you progress to the level of playing you have today? What made you choose the piano?
MR: – The interest of playing the piano came from the longing of the organ I guess. We got a piano at home that wasn’t at all as exciting as the church organ but the closest I could get. I started take piano lessons in school at the age of eight and continued for four years and then quit at the age of twelve. At that time, where I lived, you couldn’t get the teaching of chords and stuff like that, you should just play by the book which didn’t suite me at all. I start to play drums instead for a couple of years and then bass followed by guitar when my elder brother bought one. I returned to the piano at the age of sixteen when my father started a distance course in piano playing. Suddenly I had all the magic tricks to put chords to melodies in front of me.
JBN.S: – How did your sound evolve over time? What did you do to find and develop your sound?
MR: – When I started again with the piano at the age of sixteen it was because I was longing for playing in my own band, of course the type of music that I loved at that time (and still do!), like Genesis, Yes and Frank Zappa. I formed a band together with some of my soul mates in the village and we started to write our own music. Long endless jam sessions took us to ideas that ended up in some kind of instrumental structures and patterns though we had no singer. I was burning for music at that time and could have had rehearsals with the band every evening but the other guys wasn’t that hooked I guess. So, after a couple of years I started to study classical music by my own after having heard some amazing music by J.S Bach, who then became my new shining star. I remember the first time I heard and saw Glenn Gould on TV playing the Goldberg variations, that was truly bewildering. I started to take lessons again around the age of 21-22 and moved to Stockholm at the age of 24 to study classic music at a pre university school, but pretty soon I switched over to play with the schools jazz ensembles instead. The approach to jazz suited me much better, to write my own material, improvise, explore new sounds etc was what I would do. At that time I also discovered Bill Evans, Keith Jarrett, McCoy Tyner etc and started to transcribe their stuff. After some years I entered music university and studied piano improvisation and composition for four years. There I got a fantastic piano teacher, Ove Lundin, who gave me some very important keys to get my piano technique together.
JBN.S: – What practice routine or exercise have you developed to maintain and improve your current musical ability especially pertaining to rhythm?
MR: – I often play or practice as if the piano was a percussion instrument, which it is of course! There is to often a main focus on the pitch/harmonies when you studying the piano, so if you let that go some times and just play ramdom keys, or just one key, or a pattern and then focus on the rhythm instead. To dance is another good exercise for the rhythm.
JBN.S: – Which harmonies and harmonic patterns do you prefer now?
MR: – I do my own, composition and practice goes hand in hand for me these days. But I love Messiaens world for example. And polytonality like Paul Bley handled it in some of his beautiful improvisations. And then of course prepared piano because it pushes me in to a freer way to deal with harmonies, I can–and must-play more intuitive.
JBN.S: – Which are the best jazz albums for you of 2017 year?
MR: – I’m not very happy about ranking music but “Bricks” by David Stackenäs is a beautiful record.
JBN.S: – What’s the balance in music between intellect and soul?
MR: – Everyones choice I should say, and one of the beauties of almost all art, that you can select your own mix of intellect and soul, from time to another. When I perform my intention is to go for 100% soul and think or construct as little as possible. But when I practice or writing music I often starts with an idea that can be pretty intellectual. Like a frame. But I’m always happy when the soul comes in and guides me further.
JBN.S: – Please any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?
MR: – Hard one, trying this: My first gig when I was eighteen was in a school crowded with beautiful girls. I was so nervous so my noose started to bleed two minutes before concert.
JBN.S: – Which collaboration have been the most important experiences for you?
MR: – I will mention two musicians that I have been playing with now and then for the last 25 years, it’s reed player Fredrik Ljungkvist and drummer Raymond Strid. I have learned a lot about music in general and especially improvisation from playing and hanging with these two fine artists.
JBN.S: – How can we get young people interested in jazz when most of the standard tunes are half a century old?
MR: – To let them write their own music! And “write” doesn’t mean it has to be with a pen or computer, it can be through jamming, experimenting, electronics or what ever. If not, we are doing the same mistakes as in classical music, to look too much back instead of ahead. Music has always to be created, again and again. It’s a living force You have to get in touch with, it’s a dance. You have to learn from the old masters, of course, and it is possible to play a piece of Bach for example so it lives it’s own life. Or a standard tune. But the history and the rules must never take over. To create music or, better, to channel music is a very sensitive act of presence.
JBN.S: – John Coltrane said that music was his spirit. How do you understand the spirit and the meaning of life?
MR: – I have always thought, or felt, that exercise and develop music and art is some kind of existential journey, a way to explore life and what might be beyond life. Science are now clayming that everything is built up on vibrations – music is the pure art of vibrations, do I need to say moore?
JBN.S: – What are your expectations of the future? What brings you fear or anxiety?
MR: – I try my best to not have expectations of the future because it will always crash with reality. Fear and anxiety also comes from worrying of the future or pondering of the past. I will try to have a good time with music and follow my heart, that’s about it I think.
JBN.S: – If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?
MR: – Maybe to get rid of the music industry, that part which suffer from macDonaldsation.
JBN.S: – What’s the next musical frontier for you?
MR: – I will write a piece of music that will be performed in an old mine in my home village this summer. It will be a challenge to try to catch some of the sounds from iron mining and turn them into a music form without ending up in the program music trap.
JBN.S: – Are there any similarities between jazz and world music, including folk music?
MR: – They have all their roots mainly in ethnic forms of music.
JBN.S: – Who do you find yourself listening to these days?
MR: – Mainly new exciting bands from the impro area or older stuff like jazz from the fifties or sixties or prog-rock from sixties or seventies.
JBN.S: – Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really wanna go?
MR: – I would love to be surprised!
JBN.S: – I have been asking you so far, now may I have a question from yourself…
MR: – Name your favourite cuisine!
JBN.S: – Thank you for answers. Lunch counter: Salads.
Interview by Simon Sargsyan