One of the perks of doing interviews with musicians is something that does not transfer to writing: it is the part where they stop talking and start singing, or humming a tune, to illustrate a point. Chris Frangou did exactly that, in about the middle of our conversation.
He started singing a series of musical phrases, to explain how he built melodic layers to create the specific sonic texture of his album, ‘Kaleidoscope’.
He attributes it to his influences from African music; after all, for the past few years he is the bassist of Black Jesus Experience, a band playing Ethiopean Jazz with a hip-hop twist (you can see them perform every Sunday at the Horn, in Colingwood). “It’s almost like counterpoint”, he explains, adding: “I kind of wanted everything to be kind of rhythmic and groovy”.
That is exactly what ‘Kaleidoscope’ is: a high-energy approach to modern jazz, played by an electrified trio (Frangou on the bass, his alter ego Matt Head on the drums and the brilliant Hue Blanes on piano).
Contrary to most modern jazz recordings, that verge towards minimalism and a downtempo, contemplative approach to analyzing and exploring musical ideas, Chris Frangou created an uplifting, visceral rollercoaster of rhythms.”I’ve got a bit of hyper-energetic personality”, he agrees, “and that’s something that came in that record. I like music to invigorate me, to motivate me, to make me run 14,000 km and climb a building from the outside. That’s what I want music to make me feel and I was trying to transfer that energy in the recording”.
This album is my perspective on modern jazz and it reflects on what being born and brought up in Australia is like. We have a disconnect from the origins of jazz music, compared to the experience of being an African-American in New York, we discover and play it and explore it. Jazz is always evolving, incorporating various styles and influences”. As for his own influences, they have to do with his interest in odd time signatures, “stuff beyond 4/4”.
This focus has resulted to most of his intricate melodies having a Balkan echo to them. “Yes, but I didn’t want to intellectualize it too much, like most modern musicians do”, he says. “I wanted something that felt good; when you go to the Balkans, to Greece, Serbia, Croatia, even Turkey, their folk dances have these odd time signatures, but it comes natural and they make you want to participate and dance. This is what I wanted to see, how far I can take these odd times, without getting weird and intellectual about it”.
One of his allies in this goal is another acclaimed electric bass virtuoso, himself of Greek background, also combining jazz with latin and Balkan elements, though this one is based in New York – Panagiotis Andreou. “I’ve known him for five years and it’s fascinating that we kind of gravitate to similar music, which is not Greek, but the influences are there”, says Chris.
“So, when I thought of someone playing rhythmic harmony, he was the one that came to mind”. Their cooperation was made possible through modern technology. “I just sent him the track and he’s been able to record his part on it and send it back to me”. To say that this album was a long time coming would be an understatement; it was recorded in 2013, so why the four year delay? “First a few other projects got in the way and later on I decided that I want to start my own record label and I wanted to release it on it, so I had to do all the other things that you do when you start a record label”.
His label is named ‘Boundary Records’, the name coming from his home, which is located in the boundary between Thornbury and Preston. “I wanted it to have a local connection” he says, something that applies to the whole concept of the label.
“I like to work on a lot of different projects and different styles and with different artists. I thought that a label would be a good hub to have all this music come together in one spot and be like a community of sound, to have artists working on each other’s projects and create cool, interesting music regardless of style”.
As for his advice to the artists on his roster, it is to not worry, particularly about trying to create a specific sound and bring out specific elements. “When you write music, regardless of what you try to make it, every single thing you’ve ever listened to is definitely going to come out in the product. The best thing is just play the music and it’s gonna come out in a way that is you. That’s the thing that you should not suppress. That’s how the Balkan thing comes in my music”.