April 14, 2024

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Interview with Petr Venkrbec։ We are working on 2023: Mr. Lovo – Whatever Title: Video, new CD cover, Photos

Jazz interview with jazz saxophonist of Mr. Lovo Petr Venkrbec. An interview by email in writing. 

JazzBluesNews.com: – First, let’s start out with where you grew up, and what got you interested in music. How exactly did your adventure take off? When did you realize that this was a passion you could make a living out of?

Petr Venkrbec: – Imagine a boy in an Eastern European provincial town deep in the commie era. Total cultural stillness, or stiffness. I had a musical dream since boyhood, absorbing almost everything from the few records we could get to via the unofficial channels and sharing. Rock and Jazz. I loved the fusion ones most. The specialty of my homeland is complete lack of interest in Soul and R’n’B. Then and now. Strange. I got quite good classical clarinet education, Mozart-like concertos and so on… At home I was destroying the jazz LP’s picking up the themes and solos. The records suffered but the dream was blooming. The break point came when my brother took me to Prague to Emil Viklicky’s workshop (he is a noble jazz pianist). Couple of hours of playing with real musicians and the smell of Saturday morning club made it. I left the dead town as soon as it was possible for physics studies at uni and started joining bands in a city where at least something was moving a bit. I have no degree in physics…

JBN: – How has your sound evolved over time? What have you been doing to find and develop your own sound?

PV: – Looking back, it was a hopeless search for a real sound on bad gear. The suffering ended when I realized that I am allowed to listen to what’s coming out of my horn, what the tones mean to me and how they work with the sound of the band, and I don’t have to follow any icon literally. Shouldn’t, I’d rather say, since I am convinced that it’s the road to hell. I am also not mad about the best of best instruments. I believe the sound is more about what you play and how you phrase it. Both with sax and synth.

JBN: – What routine practices or exercises have you developed to maintain and improve your current musical proficiency, in terms of both rhythm and harmony?

PV: – I’d be careful discussing proficiency, for me, something like a personal musical language is way easier to talk about. I love playing to my own harmony loops and getting to the point where I find myself boring, or exhausted of fresh melodies and rhythms. Then, as a good cure for such personal disappointment, I take some scale / chord / rhythm exercises to widen my limited instrumental channel, hoping to invite more musical ideas to pass through it. Sigurd Rascher’s 158 Exercises is my favourite book, especially the rhythmic variations, though I am not really that good at them:)

JBN: – Have you changed through the years? Any charges or overall evolution? And if so why?

PV: – Difficult question, I feel that my answer will not be very good, or, intelligible here. Musical taste varies, everyone’s taste does, I think. That’s not interesting. There are, maybe, two things worth mentioning:

Musical self-confidence. It has been going through cycles, or in a spiral. There are stages with similar intensity but completely different flavour. I’ll never make it – This is something – Still a lot to do before I can… – I’ve done enough, so why…? – and so on. Ups and downs with different flavours. There are two things happening to me lately, or perhaps, they are the same one, just viewed differently: The cycle is pretty natural, not worth being anxious about. And the importance of the extremes in my life is fading. I am happy to care less. A glimpse of a trace amount of wisdom in a far distance?

Visible physical power in musical performance. I am getting tired of the principle that you should be all sweaty to satisfy, to prove that you are really ‘in’. Less and less I think a groove that makes you move should have power involved. The most subtle one is the best one for me. Steadily throughout my musical life I have wanted to be attracted towards this direction, though there have been deviations. But this is my inner personal stance, it does not apply outside, not even within the band.

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

PV: – The only thing I want to focus to is how much I look forward to the gig. No extra rehearsing, no last-minute improvements and “look-I’ve-got-a-better-idea” distracting rubbish. It’s not 100% rehearsed? So what? We call ourselves good musicians, so we should be able to play well on the spot with what we’ve got.

Same with recording, no test runs, no rehearsing. Red light on and let it happen. Music is a free-minded beast, it does not like to be tamed.

If I know the venue, I try to recall the acoustic environment, how the band sounds there, before I go. Much better than relying on the sound check to immerse into the sound of the place, because that, strangely, very rarely works. I take pity on the first song if it’s sacrificed to groping around in the dark to find who’s where and how to interconnect.

It’s strange that when I play a good lick at the sound check, it’s lost for the concert, I cannot touch it again, no matter how much I try to convince myself that there was no audience at the check, so I wouldn’t be repeating myself at the concert. It’s probably very selfish of me.

JBN: – What do you love most about your new album 2022: Mr. Lovo – Node, how it was formed and what you are working on today.

PV: – I’ll be answering backwards. We are working on 2023: Mr. Lovo – Whatever Title. The music keeps arising and sooner or later we will do the same thing as we did in 2021-22. Put it on a record. It will be different, but I hope we’ll keep what makes Node an album I like: It is one of the few records I have participated on which I can listen to almost anytime again. It is live and it is studio at the same time. It was mixed by someone who loves jazz but doesn’t play it or usually mix it, which takes the sound far from being academic. The tunes are very different in character, yet they all have that gluing Lovo’s feel.

It is a real footprint of what the band is, which is difficult to describe, for me, it’s something like a musical home where things are possible.

In some review, there was a reproach that the forms follow the ‘theme – solo – theme’ progression too much. Thinking ‘Isn’t most of jazz like it?’, I was swinging between two opposite emotions – disapproval and honour – and finally took it as a very intricate compliment.

And, being it a CD, I love the cover as well.

New CD – 2022 – Buy from here

JBN: – How did you select the musicians who play on the album?

PV: – What’s nice about it, it wasn’t me. The story went like this:

A few years ago I left Prague with slight disappointment of the showbiz atmosphere. I took an ordinary job in a small town in the Highlands, my horn hung up, collecting dust. And suddenly there was a surprise telephone call: “Are you the man who plays the sax?” at the other end, “And wouldn’t mind a bit of jazz with us?” Of course I wouldn’t mind, I love the music. The sax got dusted, together with my beloved woodwind synth, and soon all that materialized in a fusion of five characters who love their different, but beautifully aligning personal fusions. Mr. Lovo is a band which does not need a leader, image, style definition or make-up. A band which basically requires from me only one thing – something I haven’t experienced much so far – just being myself.

JBN: – In your opinion, what’s the balance in music between intellect and soul?

PV: – I believe that music is one of the forces which is able to bring peace between these two, often arguing, parts of ourselves. Maybe more, it can melt them painlessly into one single quality. I think this is what happens inside me when the music is going on, when I’m there, at her place.

Forcing one of these aspects to become prominent in music or trying to set the balance consciously means missing the point. That’s my opinion.

JBN: – There’s a two-way relationship between audience and artist; are you okay with delivering people the emotion they long for?

PV: – Certainly, that is what I’m here for, isn’t it? That is, if they know what they long for, OK? I also long for some emotion and if we meet somewhere, we are all at the right place right time.

Certainly not, I could also answer. I have played many gigs, different genre, where the crowd were so stoned that I would argue they were able to identify what they longed for. I was standing on the stage just thinking “What am I doing here? Would anything change if I left?” I did, a couple of times, and finding out that nothing changed didn’t make me feel any better.

So it’s not that simple. The delivering. What makes me laugh are some musicians who storm startled to the backstage “There are some guys in tuxedos, shouldn’t we play more swingy?” That’s nonsense, not dignified at all. On the other hand, jazz for people who want to chat quietly over a glass of wine does not offend me at all. Or, to show a funky face if it’s more of a dance and drink party. It’s a pleasure.

JBN: – Can you share any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions over the years?

PV: – I’m sorry, I’ll be a very boring person. Whatever I think of, has a taste of gossip. Would it do any good to people named or unnamed?

Hang on, there is one from the town where the band is based. Big stage in the main square, long line up, whole town there. We are offered 10 minutes to introduce the band, let the people know that we exist. We choose Pat Metheny’s Stranger in Town. It always works. Short introduction and we start the tune – guitar with synth. Total mess, the wind controller is somehow transposed half tone down. Reset, and it transposes God only knows where to. Sax is in the car, half a mile away. The song has a synth solo at the end. Longest minutes of the most stupid pitch-bend meowing. That was bad, just very bad. At the evening gig we advertised this way, the wind controller worked flawlessly. And some people came…

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

PV: – Whenever I try to talk about standard tunes in a company with higher concentration of jazz musicians, there is often immediate tension in the air. It is a sensitive issue, somehow. Do standards define jazz? I certainly hope it is not that bad that they would define what isn’t jazz. I would not like to be a jazz musician then. I understand that clinging to standards can be received as a message saying: “Good music finished half a century ago”. As far as I remember, I never liked messages like this, especially when I was young. So I’d say: let’s play jazz and worry little about what is or isn’t standard. I love playing a good load of the old tunes as well as the contemporary ones. None of them should be compulsory. And, by the way, the band I’m with is, apart from me and Rumil, all young guys. Young guys interested in jazz so much that they devoted their musicianship to it.

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

PV: – I am not much spiritually anchored anywhere. I perceive my spirit’s existence through interactions, and though it might look a bit like a shaky existence, I like it that way. And music is one of the greatest forms of interaction, plus a very mysterious one. So from this point of view, I am, perhaps, or slightly, on the same boat as John Coltrane. May I feel honoured?

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

PV: – Only one? That’s mean! OK, lets take the cliche of a technical setup a musical event should take place in to be called a concert, gig, show. I mean the stage which more and more imitates a video screen ready to be stared at. I mean the fact that the audience gets the music delivered and processed by more and more intricate PA systems. I mean the horrifying fact that the musicians will never hear what exactly gets to the audience. And all the monitors on stage and drummers behind your back… Isn’t all this just so clumsy?

I know, you can choose and play in any setup you like, but I’m afraid it would never be taken as “a normal musical event”, but rather as “an interesting experiment”. Why is it so?

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

PV: – At this very moment – next week might sound different – I’m in the wonderland of Scandinavian contemporary jazz.

And, Miles Davis’ In a Silent Way, and related stuff.

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

PV: – Strangely enough, I have never thought of sending a concrete message. I have recklessly thought it was somehow automatically a good one with music, no matter what kind. Let me at least deduce from what a good gig means to me: gentle human contact, joy of peace in motion, touch of beauty…?

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

PV: – 1969, in a studio when the tape starts rolling for the Miles Davis’ session. 1956, somewhere in West Germany when the radio starts broadcasting Stockhausen’s Zeitmasse. Anywhere anytime at the moment when some new form of beauty is born. Sorry to mention just those two ancient ones. There are millions like those, for sure. I am kindly rejecting the Time Machine offer, I wouldn’t like to spent the rest of my life traveling.

JBN: – Do You like our questions? So far, it’s been me asking you questions, now may I have a question from yourself…

PV: – I do, a lot. I have my way of viewing musical things, and good questions make me sort my views and think about them before I answer. Regardless of the intellectual qualities of the result, it just feels good. I feel connected, not alone in the universe.

And my question would be: I have a theory that the forms of art take turns to pull the rope of progress. One is pulling hard, way ahead, vital, full of fresh new stuff, while others moderately follow, and some just survive at the tail in endless repetitions and permutations of themselves. These days, I think, the top dog is called Dance. Where do you think Music is now?

JBN: – Music is a broad concept. I am an optimist, sometimes not so much. Since I organize many concerts and festivals in Europe, I’m sorry, but I don’t feel death. I think that the state of classical, jazz, blues, rock and soul music is good. Mixing other styles, for example jazz, is a separate issue. For example, I am against jazz rap.

JBN: – Have you ever given a free concert during your entire concert career?

PV: – Sure, I have. For a good reason, I hope.

JBN: – At the bottom line, what are your expectations from our interview?

PV: – Simply that there might be someone out there who enjoys reading it.

Interview by Simon Sargsyan

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