“It’s always an interesting and enlightening process working on new projects, especially when there’s a real connection in terms of lineage with the composer. Joe has been a student of two of my closest piano playing colleagues, Paul Grabowsky and Marc Hannaford. There’s a strong connection to both of these players in Joe, yet the great thing about music is that if done with the right attitude, you become your own, not a copy.
“I’ve found Joe’s music to be very challenging, yet generous in its idea and concept for creative input through improvisation. It’s always been important to me that the material allows freedom, yet kind of directs creative input. The new works that Joe has written have done just that. It’s a joy working with him and I’m very excited at what this group will bring to the Melbourne International Jazz Festival“.
In other words, Scott Tinkler confirms that Joe O’ Connor is one to watch. The PBS “Young Elder of Jazz” for 2016 will present his new musical venture, ‘Confrontations’ on Friday 3 June, as part of the 2016 Melbourne International Jazz Festival. Tinkler’s praise takes another meaning, given that he is not only participating in the pianist’s project (along with bassist Marty Holoubek and drummer James MacLean), but he is also the source of inspiration. “The concept comes from the influence that Scott Tinkler’s music has had on what I do”, says Joe O’ Connor. “My response to that is what Confrontations explore”. The title of the project refers to “a way of structuring music. What interests me is how different things that happen at the same time can relate to each other. There are different layers going on at the same time”, he explains, describing the interaction between the members of the ensemble, which are “not aligned, but rubbing against each other. It is a tense relationship”.
That level of intensity marks a change of course from the pianist’s previous work, “Praxis“, which was an exploration of counterpoint. “In Praxis, conflict would come from harmonic ideas. In the music we’re making with Scott, rhythm has become much more substantial, everything is centered towards it”. As for the experience itself of working with the person who has inspired him, Joe O’ Connor admits that it can be challenging. “When you’re playing with someone you admire, you might be worried if they’re enjoying what you’re playing – or if you might not live up to their expectations”, he says.
What about the audience;s expectations? “I can’t promise what they’ll experience”, he says. “It depends on their level of experience as a listener. Someone who hasn’t engaged in jazz may find it challenging”.That said, he doesn’t seem very fond of the word ‘jazz’, himself. “It is an industry term”, he explains. “It is useful, as a label used to sell albums, but I’d hesitate to call myself a jazz musician – this is not a label that describes my music. A lot of music that inspires me comes from the tradition called jazz, a lot comes from outside”. A classically trained pianist with a flair for improvisation, Joe O’ Connor is trying to push boundaries, beyond preconceived labels. “The idea of preconception is unproductive, I think. I try to write music that I want to hear and hope that some sort of audience agrees”.