Spotlight: Jakob Bro

In a video below, Lee Konitz says about Jakob Bro’s  music, “He has no words for it. It’s not folk music, it’s not jazz, it’s not pop music, it’s not funk, you know, it’s just balladeering.” Bro’s beautiful sound and compositional voice, on his new ECM release Gefion, seem an extension of the more pastoral sides of Paul Motian, with whom he has played, and Bill Frisell, who has appeared on a few of the Danish guitarist’s records. It also recalls the patient, ambience of fellow Scandinavians like Jan Garbarek and Eberhard Weber in their more reflective moments. Still, Bro is occasionally capable of stomping on the distortion to shift from the calm of the pasture to urban tension. The uncatagorizable nature of his music, combined with his use of looping and effects, places him firmly in the modern guitar firmament. Those in Scandinavia will be able to see him perform this May, with a band that includes Frisell and Konitz, on his Balladeering Tour.

What kind of music were you playing when you first became proficient on the instrument?

My first real guitar inspiration was Jimi Hendrix so I tried to play his music for a long time while at the same time I was playing Louis Armstrong songs on trumpet.

What led you to create more experimental (non-mainstream) music?

I’ve always enjoyed improvised music. I started playing jazz when I was a kid. My dad was conducting a big band and I played trumpet in that and became fascinated with this music. So, the direction of the musical approach I have today started in that big band where we played Ellington, Count Basie and Louis Armstrong.

Whose music inspires you?

Some big influences for me are: Coltrane, Monk, Miles, Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Billie Holiday, Lester Young, Kraftwerk, Boards of Canada, Mark Hollis, Arvo Pärt, Johan Sebastian Bach. Paul Motian, The Beatles, John Lee hooker, Jimi Hendrix, Ornette Coleman, Ed Blackwell, Charlie Haden etc.

I’ll be playing some shows with Lee Konitz this spring. I’ve dedicated the first half of 2015 to exploring his music—that’s what I’m listening to now. He is a big inspiration for me also.

How did you get better at your current style?

I learn the most when I’m playing with other people. I’ve been very fortunate to collaborate with some incredible musicians. I learned a lot from playing in Paul Motian’s band and in Tomasz Stanko’s band. When I am not playing music, I spend a lot of time practicing my instrument, thinking about music, listening to music and trying to come up with exercises for myself that can help me improve my ears and my way of playing.

What are you trying convey with your music?

I feel like my new record GEFION is the best current example of what I am trying to convey with my music. This album documents how Jon Christensen, Thomas Morgan, and I, have found a united musical language as well as a platform where the three of us can be ourselves within the music.

Which guitars, amps, effects, plug-ins and software do you use to create your music, and why?

At the moment I use a Danish guitar (Tele-like) with humbucker pickups. I like the Fender Princeton Reverb amps (preferably from the 60s, but the re-issues can sound great too). In my effect board I have a tremolo, two delays, a reverb, distortion, Z.Vex Ring Tone and a Pitch shifter. I like working with a clean sound but sometimes I need effects to color the music. I also use effects to follow the energy of the music; sometimes I don’t feel that’s possible with “just” a clean sound. (Bro has been known to use Strymon Blue Sky Reverberator and El Capistan pedals, a Z.Vex Distortron, an Electro-Harmonix Freeze and POG pedals, a Boss Loop Station.)

Which do you enjoy more: recording or playing live and why?

I enjoy both equally. I love touring and developing the music every night on stage. But I also love going into the studio to capture the moment and try to create something that I’d like to listen to and explore afterwards.

How have you built up an audience for your music?

For me it’s all about the music. I love writing songs for specific musicians I like, trying to imagine the sound of this and this person together. Learning how to play, exploring the music, and being true to this is my way of thinking about music. If it reaches an audience it’s great, if not, too bad.

With whom would you like to collaborate and why?

For many years it was a big wish for me to collaborate with Jon Christensen from Norway. So, it was a dream come true for me when he and I started playing trio together with Thomas Morgan back in 2012.  I have learned so much from playing with this constellation and the record we did is very dear and special to me. Also, collaborating with Manfred EIcher has been an equally big wish for me for the last ten years or so. He has made so many incredible recordings and his approach to music is genius in my opinion.

Looking ahead I don’t have new collaborations lined up other than the fact that I really wish to collaborate more with Manfred Eicher.

What is your latest project? When will it be available and where can people in different parts of the world get it?

My latest project is my trio record GEFION with Jon Christensen and Thomas Morgan. It’s out on ECM and should be easy to get a hold of.

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