May 22, 2024

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Interview with Thomas Lossius: I believe intellect can be a tool for conveying something from soul to soul: Video

Jazz interview with jazz bassist Thomas Lossius. An interview by email in writing. 

JazzBluesNews.com: – First let’s start with where you grew up, and what got you interested in music?

Thomas Lossius: – I grew up in a musically active family close to the coastal city of Bergen, Norway. My father is a renowned sound artist, who works with creating artworks of three-dimensional sound, and my mom performs singer/songwriter-style music as a hobby. Since a young age, my dad brought me to all kinds of avant-garde performances, sparking an interest, curiosity and open-minded approach to music. That spark led to me playing instruments since the age of 11.

JBN: – How did your sound evolve over time? What did you do to find and develop your sound?

TL: – My musical point of origin is the avant-garde approach I grew up with from a family. From a young age, I was fascinated by pushing the edges and ideals of what music can be. But when I lived in South Africa in 2017-2018, that gave me some new (or should I say old) perspectives on sound. In South Africa, music education is not so focused on developing individuality as Norway. The goal of music education is not necessarily individual expression, but rather to become encultured into a musical tradition through imitation. My sound therefore becomes a development of the specific musical traditions I’ve been inspired by. In the case of our newest album, our sources are specifically of the hard-bop tradition, the spiritual jazz-tradition and the Scandinavian tradition of collective improvisation.

JBN: – What practice routine or exercise have you developed to maintain and improve your current musical ability especially pertaining to rhythm?

TL: – For me, improving rhythmic skill comes primarily through listening and immersing myself in musical rhythms that challenge my status quo. I’ve been especially fascinated by the rhythmic styles of the Malagasy (Madagascar), Shona (Zimbabwe) and Gnawa (Morocco). These three styles, dispersed across the African continent, share some fascinating rhythmic similarities, while still being combinable with a jazz-swing feel. I’ve tried to incorporate that actively into the tunes on our album, and you can hear it in the stylistic shiXs within Jacob’s Ladder, Shekhinah and Lineage.

JBN: – How to prevent disparate influences from coloring what you’re doing?

TL: – The instruments also have well defined functions. The trumpet and saxophone perform the melody, the right hand-piano and guitar lay the harmonic foundation, the leX hand-piano and bass establish the bass function, whereas the drums and percussion creates a clear rhythmic dimension. In this way, every instrument is functionally in a close relation to another. No one can think only of their own style, they are forced to interact and find common ground with another. This creates a collective sound. These kinds of creative limitations (and others) help give the album a consistent sound, rather than each tune being disparate styles.

JBN: – How do you prepare before your performances to help you maintain both spiritual and musical stamina?

TL: – Well, to be honest, when I’m with this project, I’m usually so occupied with making sure everyone else is in a good state of mind that I have no energy to take care of my own, haha! But in general, I make sure my physiological needs are met, then I try to get a good interpersonal connection with my bandmates. Then I focus on consciously gecng into a state of mind where I’m very present in the moment, being super observant of what’s happening now.

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JBN: – What’s the balance in music between intellect and soul?

TL: – As I see it, they are not necessarily a binary conflict. I believe intellect can be a tool for conveying something from soul to soul. A lot of the basic ideas for the songs came from experimenting on piano, searching for a specific kind of emotional state. It’s hard to describe in words, but it’s something like I feel the music inspires me to aim higher, making me amazed at the grandness of life and being liXed out of selfishness into compassion for other people, if that’s relatable. Then, the process of forming these ideas into whole compositions is very intellect-based. Developing ideas to a whole, creating melodies, writing sheet music, etc. Then, when I bring them to the band for performances, the original feeling of the ideas still shine through clearly for me. I hope the listeners also can participate in that feeling of inspiration, fascination, splendour through the music.

JBN: – There’s a two-way relationship between audience and artist; you’re okay with giving the people what they want?

TL: – I think most people who listen to jazz have a desire, enthusiasm and hunger for good music, and I think that we as artists shouldn’t underestimate them. Our album can in some places be complex and dissonant, but we still see thousands of people love it. We’ve been overwhelmed by the response.

So my perspective is this: people are capable, curious and recognise great music when they hear it. But they appreciate having something familiar in the music, which creates a point of entrance into the complexity of music. For us, that resonates with our vision of music being inspired by the tradition, while developing it and being innovative. Something old, something new, so to say. When both those are present, the music can be accessible without crowd-pleasing.

JBN: – Please any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?

TL: – I can tell about what it’s like to record an album during a pandemic! The studio session for our album was actually just between two peaks of Covid in Bergen. There was one peak in September and one in November. Luckily, we had scheduled the session to October, so we managed to pull through in that lifle amount of time where things were open. But practicing for the studio session in September was an hassle. Suddenly, some rehearsal spaces closed down, so then we had to reschedule a lot of rehearsals to different places that didn’t close down, so we could do our work. Luckily, it all worked out, and now you can hear the results.

Another story is how we get renowned pianist Eivind Austad to join us. He was actually the jazz teacher of most of the band at the University of Bergen. When I had him as teacher in piano (as secondary instrument), I had oXen been using all my time to compose in piano, rather than actually practicing tunes. So when I came to him, I would just show him the compositions I had made. But he got acquainted with them and liked them, so when I eventually asked him to play those tunes for gigs, he was positive. That’s how I got my own jazz teacher in my band, haha! It’s a pleasure having him there.

JBN: – How can we get young people interested in jazz when most of the standard tunes are half a century old?

TL: – That’s a great question! I believe good music is timeless, but conveying the essence of the music to new listeners in a new era can be a challenge. Many new listeners might be overtly focused on the constant cymbal paferns, while not noticing notice the playfulness, the interplay, the relational etc. in jazz. Our music is heavily influenced by jazz tradition, but there are some elements that might help new listeners get to the core of the music.

One thing, for instance, is the crystal clear mixing. Amazing musicians like Bird (Charlie Parker) become less accessible to modern listeners due to the challenges of record engineering and music technology of his day. It creates a barrier in the presentation of the music. Some other elements aiding new listeners are the unambiguous forms, the memorable melodies and the constant groove. Such elements helps the presentation be understandable, without sacrificing anything in regards to the integrity of the music, rather strengthening it.

JBN: – John Coltrane said that music was his spirit. How do you understand the spirit and the meaning of life?

TL: – I believe music, and particularly jazz can embody some of the most essential parts of life, namely the relational. I believe the meaning of life is loving your neighbour and potentially also God, for those who believe in such. Love is by its very essence relational, and jazz has a unique ability to embody and convey something profoundly relational. Each musician comes with their whole personality and integrity of being. When they come together, they listen deeply to the soul of the other musicians, interacting with understanding, open-mindedness, curiosity and acceptance in the interplay.

JBN: – If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?

TL: – I think an openness to the music of other cultures. At least in Norway and the West, we are so oXen unknowing to all the beautiful kind of music in Africa and other places.

JBN: – Who do you find yourself listening to these days?

Ndabo Zulu’s album “Queen Nandi: The African Symphony” is an amazing album that really inspires me in many ways. The afrocentric musical vision of the bandleader shines through the album with clarity; the musicians reference jazz tradition while bringing their own unique creative energy to the music; and the compositions have a way of building energythrough continual flow that I’ve never heard the like of. It deserves way more afention.

JBN: – What is the message you choose to bring through your music?

TL: – That we should have a curiosity and a willingness to learn from each other, from foreign cultures, and from traditions of the past.

JBN: – Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really wanna go?

TL: – Well, if focusing about the musical part of life, I would definitely go 100 years to future. It’s crazy how much music has changed the last 100 years, I wonder what the music of today will be the precursor to.

JBN: – So pucng that all together, how are you able to harness that now?

TL: – We’re definitely very proud of our album, and happy to see all the positive response. Once the pandemic calms down, we’re looking forward to touring Norway and hopefully beyond as well! The music has such a strong energy, we can’t wait to bring it live to people. Warm greetings, Thomas Lossius.

Interview by Simon Sargsyan

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