Berardi/ Foran/ Karlen is our idea of a supergroup; bringing together three creative musicians, each with their own voice and trajectory in music, the trio is the perfect vehicle for pianist Sean Foran, saxophonist Rafael Karlen and vocalist Kristin Berardi to create a sonic universe where jazz meets classical and folk music, delivered in intricate, yet light-as-air arrangements. Now BFK are back, this time augmented by a guest musician: acclaimed vibraphonist Pascal Schumacher travelled all the way from Luxembourg to join the group a couple of years ago – and the result is enchanting. Here’s pianist Sean Foran, talking about Haven – and the crowdfunding campaign leading to its launch.
It’s been more than four years since Hope in My Pocket; what has happened in the meantime?
Yes, it’s really been some time… The years passed quickly, and over those years we’ve been performing around the country, plus a tour of New Zealand. After completing the last album we really thought the next one needed to be a departure from what we created on Hope in My Pocket and we really liked the idea of bringing on a collaborator. Thus, getting Pascal involved was perfect and allowed us to put together a tour with him in Australia – and record the album at the same time.
I think the band has really settled into the sound of the trio as well were comfortable in what we do. Often we joke that it’s really not a Friday night uptempo group, there’s a lot of slow ballads – but were happy with this, and we’re coming to really dig into how we can develop that sound of closeness in the group.
How were you introduced to Pascal Schumacher and his music?
We’ve known Pascal for many years; he came out to Australia for his first tour and played a double bill with Trichotomy, so I’ve been into his music for some time. Kristin has also been in touch with him and collaborated with other members of his band at various times over the years. So really, when we started thinking about collaborators, Pascal came to mind instantly. Firstly we were all a fan of his playing and writing, and also we were looking for a sound that would complement the trio, something a little unexpected – vibraphone fit that. We already have an instrumentation that is a little unusual, so I think this pushed that even further, which was great.
How would you describe his contribution to the group’s sound?
I think Pascal brings a real sense of soundscape to the music; he thinks texturally, but also melodically. So when we added him to the group, it brought so much colour and depth to the sound, but also without standing out. To us it sounds like a natural fit.
What are the challenges of a cross-continent collaboration, particularly when it comes to the kind of music that you make?
Well, it’s always a challenge – time is the biggest factor, as usually you just don’t have much time together. Pascal arrived in Brisbane, I think we we had one rehearsal, then the first gig, then we recorded the album over one day, and then a few more performances around the country. You’ve really got to just nail it as quickly as you can. I think knowing the style of the collaborator is critical – we’d written the songs with Pascal in mind, but also left space for him to work with them. I don’t think you need to be too directive, so by giving Pascal space to be himself I think it makes the collaboration happen quickly.
What was the best thing about it?
The benefits are really wonderful musically; bringing in someone like Pascal with a completely different background to us really opens up the sounds of the album. Plus, it’s just great fun!
What was the first tune that you played together?
Oh gosh… I dont know. Rafael, Kristin and I all wrote a few songs each for the album – works that we wrote with Pascal in mind. So in the first rehearsal it was very much “here’s what we’ve got for you, these are the ideas of what we think you can play in this track, but you can change this; use this as a template and make this your own.” The amazing thing was that so quickly we developed a sound as a quartet. Pascal fit into the group and understood what we were trying to achieve. There was a lot of listening from everyone, and I think that enabled the music to work. That recording day was intense though – it was a heap of music to get down, so the pressure was really on.
Why did you decide to launch a crowdfunding campaign for the album?
It was a tough choice given the intense situation at the moment, but we decided that it shouldn’t stop us for creating this project in the way we wanted. We recorded the album a couple of years ago, and have been putting it together slowly, thinking about when to release it, and in what format. A lot of people at gigs would ask when the next album is coming, and we also got some great feedback from the sheet music book we created for the last album.
I think the crowdfunding campaign gives people a chance to really make a connection with the project, they get to directly help us make it happen, and we can do some things personally for people – like lessons, gigs, commissioned work; that kind of stuff is excellent, and without the crowdfunding it’s really hard to make it happen.
How is it going so far?
The response so far has been great. We’re certainly conscious of the mood in the community right now, but I think if we can bring this to everyone, it’s something positive, and if people can get involved, well, that’s wonderful.
Your first album was about Hope; this one is titled ‘Haven’; what does this say about your music?
You know, I didn’t really put that together with the two titles, but the music really is quite emotive and uplifting, so I think it’s good that the title connects with that. Is the music a Haven for us? Yeah, probably it’s a special place, and when I listen to it, I’m really drawn into the world it creates. We place a lot of importance on creating a sense of emotion in the music and the overall album imagery.
If all the covid19 related restrictions were lifted tomorrow and you could get back to performing again, what gig would you arrange to do?
Wouldn’t that be good… Getting together in Brisbane at the Old Museum or the Multicultural Centre and playing on the amazing Kawai Shigeru grand piano (the one we recorded on), would be perfect. Then we’d take the album to all the capital cities and to Luxembourg – we’ve got to get over there and play with Pascal!
What is the role of music in challenging times, such as the current pandemic?
Music, and all the arts are critical; music nourishing, it transports us, it makes us feel and connect with others even though we’re not in the same room as them. I’ve been so amazed at the work artists all over the world are doing to connect with audiences – there are some projects happening that I don’t think would have occured, so that’s something. As for us, well, as with many, it’s thrown a spanner in the works for general plans for this year and next, but it also motivated us to push on with releasing this album – it feels like its even more needed now, a slice of calm in the world.
After Pascal Schumacher, who is next on your list of BFK guests?
Which tune best describes your current state of mind?
Positive and moving, but also calm and grounded.