The Norwegian guitarist, Jacob Young has quietly and steadily built a reputation as musician with something to say. This he does, often with a softly spoken approach to his instrument that is refreshing. His improvisations are like his compositions, clean limbed and economical with a strong sense of melody.
Young has worked patiently at this music and this has paid huge dividends. In a recording career that began in 1994 he has hardly been prolific, but each new recording has revealed a new maturity in the his playing.
From his days studying at the New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music in Manhattan and private studies with Jim Hall, Young steeped himself in the jazz tradition and the standard repertoire. Through this study he has been able hone his own musical language that has been allowed to evolve over time.
With Eventually, his fourth release for ECM Records, the guitarist takes another big step in recording his first album in the classic jazz line up of guitar, bass and drums. So, why wait so long before making a trio record, and why now was one of the questions I was keen to ask Jacob when the opportunity of this interview came up.
Firstly, let’s talk about your new album, Eventually. It has been quite some time since your last album for ECM, Forever Young. How did the opportunity to record a new album come about, and what it something that you had been preparing for a while?
Well, I have had longstanding but sparse talks with Manfred about doing a new album after Forever Young, but we didn’t find the right constellation. I guess also that I had to mature a little. Then the pandemic years provided an opportunity for me to write some music with a trio in mind, and also actually record it with an all Norwegian cast of musicians locally in Norway.
Remember the travel restrictions around the globe and cancellations of concerts around the world was immense and musicians had time on their hands, so it created a vacuum that we explored. We recorded near drummer Audun Kleives residence in a tiny town called Gjøvik about two hours from Oslo.
Manfred heard the rough mix of the first tracks we did and liked it, so we continued with the blessings from ECM.
Remarkably, Eventually is your first album in the guitar trio format. Was there a hesitancy to record in this format, or was it a case of waiting for the right time to make this recording?
I guess both. I have a great deal of respect for the format, because it is difficult and demands full attention. Also being the only chordal instrument and for the most part also doing the melodic lead, combines roles that I mostly have had once at a time, when playing either in duo with vocalist Siril Malmedal Hauge – we did two records “Last Things“ (2018) and “Chasing Sunsets“ (2020) or in a bigger group like the “Forever…” quintet with Trygve Seim, Marcin Wasilewski, Slawomir Kurkiewicz, Michal Mieskiewicz and myself.
Then I wanted to have material that would work in this setting. And also avoid the sound of a guitar bass drums trio getting predictable, to make it sound fresh on a whole album – or two sets live. That is a challenge for anyone.
Also, all the great trios with guitarists that have already explored the format and made classic recordings makes the openings narrower. If that makes sense. I don’t know. But yes, it felt like I had to mature to do this format. So, the right timing always have to be there, for anything good or new to happen. Sometimes it comes immediately, other times you have to be patient.
There is a real diversity in the pieces you composed for the album. Was this a conscious decision to open up the music in this way as opposed to focussing on one particular area within the trio sound?
Yes, to make it more interesting to me or us, (also the listeners) not to repeat myself too much. Arrange the music and the performances in fresh ways to surprise the listener (us). And also provide freedom within the form, so the musicians have the space to create within the shapes I provided with the written parts. But it is melody and harmony and form.
Nothing new about that. But we explored the sounds and the sonic atmospheres we wanted to present each piece in – and the arrangements of those songs, was important too, this we did together.
One of the qualities of the album that I have particularly enjoyed is that the material is obviously meticulously thought out yet when played by the trio there seems to be a lot of space and flexibility within each of the tunes for interaction and a three-way conversation between you, Mats Eilertsen and Audun Kleive. You have a long musical history playing with both Mats and Audun but what made you select these two musicians to record with you as a trio?
So, they are both great listening and lyrical players that I thought would work nicely together with me on this material. Mats and I have a long history – actually since 1997 and my second release “Pieces of Time” and Audun was the drummer in Terje Rypdal Trio in the 1980-1990s and I heard that trio live and on records and that made a big impact on my musical horizon when I was a teenager. So, I have had for a while the idea that it could work with us three together on a recording.
First, I called Mats and we talked about it a little then decided to include Audun, thankfully he was into it too. They are both strong players with a lot of personality and that is a quality that I like in jazz music.
But in the end its all about finding musicians that know how to listen to each other, and not play to much, embrace the space between the notes as well. Allowing the performance to be free from proving anything on your instrument.
There is a noticeable difference in the way you play on this recording as opposed to the earlier group albums for the label. There is a relaxed and laid back feeling in your playing, even on the tougher sounding ‘Schönstedtstraße’. Is this due to the stripped down line up of the trio and with the absence of another chordal instrument?
Maybe. And that I worked on the sound and my playing regularly. Also, there is more space for the guitar so I could take more control of it. And play more the whole guitar, with chords lines and melodies. Be more in focus.
Now having taken the plunge to make a trio record, is the guitar-bass-drums format an avenue you would like to explore further?
Yes. Absolutely. I am open to that and to other formats as well. Now I am eager to do some live concerts with the material around. So, if you know of anyone concert promotor that would like me to bring my live trio let me know!
You also have a musical life away from ECM and have recorded for other labels. One of your projects has been your duo with vocalist Siril Malmedal Hauge with who you have recorded two acclaimed albums in Chasing Sunsets and Last Things. How did you come to work with Siril and record these lovely albums?
We meet at another recording session for an album on a Swedish label with musicians like Lars Jansson, Jesper Bodilsen and Anders Thoren, a few years back. I liked her voice and phrasing, so we started to play together after that and have worked for some years already and made the two albums you have mentioned.
We have also played Japan, South Korea and several venues in Europe with this duo. It has been great. We still play and will do more concerts in the future I do hope.
Of course, you are no stranger to working as a duet with vocals as the excellent Where Flamingos Fly with Karin Krog testifies. Your duo with Karin travelled widely; can you tell us a bit about your time together?
That was also really fun and a learning experience for me. We worked around the world for about 5 years. Karin is a real musician and she is brave and playful as well. She is a master and I grew during that period.
I had a lot of responsibility being the only other musician and we played complicated standards, and we did it as jazz musicians do, with lots of room for improvisation yet still keeping the form and structure. She has a big standing on the Norwegian scene and around other parts in the world as well, and is still going strong despite her age.
In addition, you also recorded three albums as leader for other labels, This Is You (1994), Pieces of Time (1997) and Glow (2001). All were group recording featuring musicians that you have continued to work with over the years such as Trygve Seim, Nils Petter Molvær, Per Oddvar Johansen, Arve Henriksen, Knut Reiersrud, and of course Mats and Audun. Looking back, how do feel about these early albums, and your subsequent development?
That is a huge question. How much time do you have? I feel thankful and proud about all of them. They have all each in their own way been valuable for my musical journey and development. I seldom listen back to them, but I think there is some cool stuff going on in all of them. I would probably play that music differently today, but that is cool too.
Life is like a river; you float away and pick up stuff on your way and develop along with it. Nothing human retains its form. It shows my writing and playing at a certain time in age. Obviously, they are a testament to my early years and how I started.
In addition to your playing commitments, you also run your own label Oslo Session Recordings, that focusses on releasing music on 180-gram vinyl. Can you tell us about the label and the decision for the vinyl only format?
Yes, I started this when I realised that I had to many projects that wouldn’t fit in on ECM. It’s been fun, but very hard to make it sustainable. So now it is barely alive only at a minimum.
The only release I will do this year is the new Øyvind Brække Sextet album with the great cast of a younger generation players on the scene in Oslo these days; Jørgen Mathisen on saxophone, Bardur Reinert Poulsen on bass, Erik Nylander on drums, veteran Bergmund Waal Skaslien on viola, me on guitar and the composer himself Mr. Brække on trombone. Should come out after the summer season in Europe 2023.
And finally, what about plans for the future?
I have just come back from Buenos Aires, Argentina where I recorded a new album with the fantastic Dino Saluzzi on bandoneon and Jose Maria Saluzzi on classical guitar. We played 4 concerts at the Cafe Vinilo and recorded at the Saluzzi family studio. Now we are going to mix and hopefully it will come out in 2024, also on ECM. Maybe there will be concerts to celebrate that release also.
Then I will try to play some live concerts with my trio – the live edition is with Mats Eilertsen myself and the very promising and talented young drummer from Kristiansand Veslemøy Narvesen. She replaces Audun Kleive who needs to focus on other projects live. We are very excited about this edition.
It’s great to add players from different generations in a band, first Audun who is older than Mats and myself, now Veslemøy who is only 25. We will play a concert in Oslo in October and more touring in 2024. Then I’ll also play with the Øyvind Brække Sextet and we’ll take it from there.
For more information visit Jacob Young’s website.
Click here to read our review of Jacob’s new album, Eventually.