By Kyrre Tromm Lindvig
John Surman, who is also featured on ECM's "Rarum" series these days (a collection of tracks that have been selected by the artists themselves) visited Oslo to talk about his long standing collaboration with Norwegian jazz singer Karin Krogh. Since Krogh owns all the rights to her own master tapes, she has had the possibility to re-release the recording "Cloud Line Blue" on her own label, Meantime Recordings. This is the first time the 1979 recording is available on CD.
Surman recollected how the recording process went by:
- We started doing it in London in -77, but I ran out of money. Therefore we had to wait a while before we had enough funds to continue the recording process in Oslo, he tells us.
Krogh points out that at that time, jazz musicians had nowhere near the funds that are available today.
- And the record companies did not show the slightest interest, we were far too experimental, she recalls.
But what is so special about this recording? And why re-release it now?
According to both Surman and Krogh, the use of old electronic equipment is having a renaissance of sorts these days. This inspired them to document the work they did with electronics 25 years ago.
Clearly, there has been substantial development in the field of music technology since then, but both Krogh and Surman want to make it clear that the use of electronics in music is not something that has arrived the later years: Krogh owned an Oberheim synthesizer and an echo machine, which she experimented with during the 70s. Surman was also heavily into electronics, so they decided to record the project which got the title "Cloud Line Blue". But it not was not an easy task, Surman recalls.
- At that time we were very interested in and committed to the possibilities of electronic equipment, but we spent most of our time on the floor underneath the machinery, trying to get them to work, he tells us.
And quite often, things did not work out the way one expected. Surman has scores of stories to tell on this topic:
- At a gig in Germany the synthesizer suddenly started playing on its own, nobody understood what was going on. It turned out somebody was using a vacuum cleaner backstage, that somehow affected the controls of the synthesizer, he laughs.
Surman gets a bit nostalgic when he talks about the unreliability of 30-year old synthesizer technology.
- They don't make instruments like this anymore. But I can't play them anymore either, he adds with his typical British wit.
But the use of electronics is not the only thing that makes this recording something out of the ordinary. Krogh explains that the music was inspired by modern abstract poetry and that this also meant that she had to improvise vocal melodies that would fit the words - a challenging process.
"Cloud Line Blue "also marked the beginning of a long and fruitful collaboration between Surman and Krogh, especially towards their numerous ECM-releases.
Surman points out that the two are planning a remix album of material from the electronic period as well.
- It is now being worked on in secrecy in the English countryside. I do not know how it will turn out yet. And I am not too concerned about the question whether it is jazz or not: I have no idea. Who cares, Surman concludes.
Karin Krog, Jazz Singer