NEW RELEASE – ARBENZ MEHARI VERAS
Conversations #1: Condensed teams up drummer Florian Arbenz with trumpeter Hermon Mehari and guitarist Nelson Veras. It’s a promising start to Arbenz’s ambitious project of twelve records with different line ups.
Florian Arbenz (drums), Hermon Mehari (trumpet), Nelson Veras (guitar)
in 2020 in Basel
on Hammer Recordings in 2021
Boarding The Beat
Let’s Try This Again
In Medias Res
Vibing With Morton
Dedicated To The Quintessence
Freedom Jazz Dance
Swiss drummer Florian Arbenz is part of that versatile and exceptional European breed that partakes in multiple musical settings. Arbenz worked with Bennie Maupin, Dave Liebman and Greg Osby and sustains membership of various bands, notably the long-standing trio VEIN.
Only last year, Arbenz released the self-titled, world music-tinged album of his band Convergence and a duet with Osby, Reflections Of The Eternal Line, reviewed here. This year Arbenz has taken on the challenging plan of Conversations, which involves the release of no less than twelve albums of different line ups, recorded in his studio in Basel.
The kick-off is Conversations #1: Condensed featuring American trumpeter Hermon Mehari and Brazilian guitarist Nelson Veras. The trio explores a wide variety of moods and strikes a fine balance between groove, tunefulness and free expression. Both Mehari and Veras are flexible, exceptional players and their continuous stream of ideas is underlined by Arbenz, who fills spaces actively and with precise and melodically refined rhythms and provides a succinct bass “feel” with various percussive additions on his kit. Arbenz blends well with Mehari’s beautiful tart tone and Veras’s sultry lines and voicing.
Boarding The Beat is a hip Latin vamp, Olha Maria a lovely Spanish-tinged melody and In Medias Res uplifting post-modern bop. The moody piece Let’s Try This Again makes you feel as if an angel has descended from the sky to offer you a can of water while you’re standing in the blistering hot Mexican desert. The loose harmonic texture of Race Face does nothing to hide a good old swing feeling. Eddie Harris’s Freedom Jazz Dance is notable for Arbenz’s fearless and articulate drum thunder near the end. There’s more and not a note is wasted.
Intrigued by his challenging concept, I asked Florian a few questions.
Flophouse Magazine: You will be releasing no less than twelve ‘Conversations’. Could you give me an idea of the musicians and what kind of music it will contain?
Florian Arbenz: Yes, it’s quite a big and challenging project for me! So far I recorded six Conversations and the next three are fully planned and will be recorded in August. I cannot talk too much about names yet, but I can tell you that the participating musicians are renowned jazz musicians of all generations living in Europe. The next Conversation, a double release, will be released on July 30. Conversation #2 is a duet with the great British vibes/marimba-player Jim Hart and in Conversation #3 I add Swiss bass legend Heiri Känzig to the duo.
I expect to release all twelve Conversations before summer 2022 and really hope I will succeed!
Well, about the music, each Conversation will have a main focus which is part of my musical life. In Conversation #1 it was the very quick and spontaneous possibility of communication, #2 and #3 will be with a focus on percussion.
FM: How did you come up with the idea of joining Herman and Nelson?
FA: I already knew Nelson and I really admire his playing. I never met Hermon before the recording but I knew that he’s a killer musician. So I decided to take some risk and just try this combination. This is a great thing about this project, I don’t really have much pressure, I can experiment and try things and if it turns out good I can release it. So far, all the six Conversation-recordings went very well but maybe there also will be a combination which doesn’t work at all… Let’s see.
FM: Did you write all the music except Freedom Jazz Dance?
Yes, I wrote music especially for this combination. It’s quite crucial that the musicians feel comfortable with the music if you don’t have time to rehearse.
I will also record a different version of Freedom Jazz Dance with every combination. It’s very interesting for me to see how the possibilities to play this tune change with the participating musicians.
FM: I guess it is rather different playing with someone for the first time, a step out of the comfort zone.
FA: That’s right. But this is the great thing about improvisation, isn’t it? If you step out of your comfort zone you will discover other things you might never would have discovered. I think that if you play with a musician you never played with before, there is maybe a risk that your personalities don’t fit too well. But in the case of Hermon, it felt great from the first moment, so the whole recording session felt very easy and natural.
FM: Your drum sound is intriguing, it’s got a different feel. Clear, very balanced and not so much resonation. How did you reach that point?
FA: I maybe took a little different way in my career as I studied classical percussion. So I think I might have a bit different view on sound than other drummers. I use a drumset with a small bass drum, wooden rims and natural skins. This naturally leads to a different sound. I think I just try to find myself in my sound, to be authentic, in my opinion that’s crucial if you’re an improvising musician.
FM: How did you create that bass feel on Condensed?
FA: I love to extend my drums with different percussion instruments. For instance, I use a big gong on Vibing with Morton and a marimbula on Race Face.
FM: How’s your hometown of Basel these days?
FA: Fine! My family and my friends also live here. It’s not necessarily a major jazz city, but I travel a lot, so I need to have a place where my loved ones are. Basel is small and nice, it’s easy to move and just great for me to live here.