GETTING TO KNOW: ALEX STUART

Alex Stuart was born in Canberra and is based out of Paris, where he moved in 2005 after completing studies at the Canberra School of Music. In July 2011, his quartet featuring the highly regarded Guillaume Perret on the saxophone, Yoann Serra on the drums and Juan-Sebastien Jimenez on the bass took out the prestigious competition “Jazz A Juan Revelation” and was given the “Grand Jury Prize”. Previous winners include Tigran Hamasyan, Youn Sun Nah and Tineke Postma. Alex was nominated for the Freedman Fellowship in Australia in 2013.

Alex recorded his first album “Waves” in Sydney in 2005 with some of Australia’s top musicians including Eric Ajaye, Miroslav Bukovsky and James Hauptmann.

His latest and fourth album named “Aftermath” was released in Nov 2017 with Jazz Family. This time with the collaboration of some of the most renowned Parisian musicians, Irving Acao on the saxophone, Ouriel Ellert, on the bass, Arno de Casanove, (Lou Tavano), and Antoine Banvillle on drums.

His Quartet and Quintet have performed at festivals and venues across the world such as Jazz a Juan, Jazz en Touraine, Wangaratta Jazz Festival, Pune Jazz Utsav, Congo Square Jazz Fest, The New Morning, Jazz Contreband, Festiva’son, Jazz a Frontenay, Goa Heritage Jazz Festival, The Blue Frog Mumbai, The Sunset/Sunside, The Baiser Salé, Bennetts Lane, ANU School of Music, Goa Jazz Live Festival, Shisha Jazz Festival, Odemira Jazz Festival.

As a composer Alex is inspired by modern jazz, rock musicians such as Dirty Projectors, Bjork and Grizzly Bear, and the musics of Africa, Asia and Latin America. Inspired by these different elements he creates an organic new music, an ode to cultural openness. Performing in ‘Abakuya’, led by Camerounian Francois Essindi, provided a wonderful opportunity to explore the spirit and techniques of West African music, while a 2009 residency in India with master sarodist Anindya Banerjee plunged him into the beautiful melodies and complex rhythms of the Hindustani classical tradition

Alex Analog Ok .jpg

The Street talked to Alex Stuart before his return to Australia and hometown Canberra to launch his album Aftermath here in October.

DESCRIBE YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH MUSIC.

For me music is a way of expressing what words can’t. I picked up the guitar when I was 13 and, as a fairly shy teenager, I found an expression in music which I didn’t have elsewhere. I’ve grown, but that ability to express myself without words has remained extremely precious and, in a way. essential to my existence. Music is also for me somewhat of a spiritual experience and, in a way, of connecting with the universe. I’m into writing and playing very cyclical music which, when the stars align, enables me to get into trance like states and forget my physical and cerebral self. It’s very meditative. And it’s also a lot of fun of course!

WHAT ARE THE POSSIBILITIES OF GUITAR FOR YOU AS AN INSTRUMENT?

I first wanted to play the drums but my parents convinced me to try the guitar (I wonder why!) and I fell in love with the instrument. However I think my initial desire to play the drums stayed with me and, as a result, I approach the guitar quite rhythmically, both in the way I both compose and in my approach to improvisation.  I often approach the guitar as a kind of percussion instrument and also work off repetition and the high and low frequency interactions in rhythm, like the interaction between a bass and a snare drum on a groove. Aside from that I think the possibilities on the guitar, or any other instrument for that matter, are endless. It’s just a matter of how much time you have to explore those possibilities. Each instrument has its limitations but there are also doors you can open. There’s so many musical styles I want to study and integrate into both my playing and composing that I sometimes bite off more than I can chew, unfortunately! So it often means that I’ll check out a bit of this and then a bit of that, but I’m happy working that way and not thinking about it too much. I’m particularly interested in integrating sounds from ‘traditional musics’ on the guitar.

PLEASE TELL US MORE ABOUT YOUR FOURTH ALBUM AFTERMATH

Aftermath‘s title track was my first composition following the terrible November 2015 attacks in Paris. That composition provided a sort of guiding line, mood and emotion to the compositional process for the rest of the album. The tracks are influenced by the dark turning points the world is facing today, but are also inspired by the evident beauty that surrounds us – from the urban landscapes of Paris to the wild coasts of Australia. I’d describe the music as cross-cultural music that tries to dissolve boundaries: there are elements of jazz obviously, but also rock, some of the world’s traditional musics, minimalist music, pop and groove.

THIS IS THE FIRST TIME YOU HAVE BROUGHT YOUR FRENCH BAND TO AUSTRALIA. WHAT CAN WE EXPECT?

Yes I’m absolutely delighted to be bringing this French quintet for the first time. It features some of what I consider to be Paris’ finest musicians: Irving Acao on tenor saxophone and keyboards, Arno de Casanove on trumpet, Ouriel Ellert on bass and Antoine Banville on drums.

Irving Acao, as well as being an absolute virtuoso on the saxophone, is also an amazing groover. He has a huge rhythmic feel that sits perfectly in my music, which is extremely groove oriented. He’s toured with some of the greats including Chucho Valdes and Tony Allen. He featured on my last album ‘Place to Be‘.

Arno De Casanove is an extremely versatile, intensely melodic and poetic trumpet player. He’s an artist who’s open to many different musics, which is one of the reasons we get along so well musically. He plays with some amazing Paris based musicians including Etienne Mbappe and Lou Tavano and has toured with De La Soul, amongst others.

Ouriel Ellert is an incredible bass player. Once again the words groove and versatility come to mind. He has huge world music culture, which means he can tour with groups as diverse as Les Yeux Noir (Eastern European Gypsy Music) and Mamani Keita (Malian Singer). He’s also a very melodic musician.

Antoine Banville also featured on my last album ‘Place to Be‘. As well as being an outstanding groover he’s also an amazing colourist on the drums. He’s very open to diverse art forms and I think that comes out in his drumming.

PLEASE SHARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON COLLABORATION AND WORKING WITH OTHER MUSICIANS.

Collaborating with other musicians is one of the best ways to grow musically. Each musician has his or her own voice and it’s enriching to be able to experience that voice in person and to learn from it.

YOU STUDIED AT THE ANU SCHOOL OF MUSIC AND HAVE LIVED IN PARIS FOR THE PAST THIRTEEN YEARS. WHAT WAS THE IMPACT OF STUDYING AT THE CANBERRA SCHOOL OF MUSIC ON YOUR MUSIC?

I was really fortunate to study at the ANU School of Music. It was such a huge pool of talent and the teachers were amazing. At the time I was there, there was a great sprit of emulation. I also did the prep course of the CSM while I was going through Narrabundah College and that put me in that pool of talent early and got me working hard on the guitar! My first album ‘Waves’ was recorded in 2005, just before I moved to Paris, and featured only students from the School of Music or teachers Miroslav Bukovsky and Eric Ajaye. I listen to it from time to time now and I’m still impressed by how well everyone already played back then, 13 years ago.

HOW HAS YOUR AUSTRALIAN HERITAGE INFORMED YOUR CREATIVE LIFE INCLUDING COMPOSING AND ARRANGING?

That’s a very hard thing to put in to words.  I like to compose with a sense of space and I think quite clearly I received that from my Australian heritage. Australia’s wild and expansive landscapes have stayed in my heart and have become part of my musical identity. There’s also a very multi-cultural element in my music that in part comes from the influence of growing up in Australia’s very diverse society. Evolving with so many amazing musicians in the country has also been a great influence. We’re playing at the 2018 edition of the Wangaratta Jazz Festival and that festival in particular has blown me away with the creativity, depth and talent of Australian musicians.

YOU HAVE FOUND A SECOND HOME IN FRANCE. HOW HAS THE PLACE AND CULTURE INFLUENCED YOUR COMPOSITIONS AND PLAYING?

Paris in particular has been a place that’s influenced me a lot. One of the reasons I decided to move there was for its great world music scene. So, ironically, it’s not necessarily France’s culture in particular that influenced me, but rather its multiculturalism. Thanks to my time there I’ve been able to collaborate with wonderful musicians from France, of course, but also from India, Congo, Haiti, Congo, Cameroun, Cuba, Brazil… I’ve learnt a lot from all of those experiences.

WHAT DOORS HAVE OPENED UP FOR YOU BY LIVING IN PARIS?

To follow on from my last answer I’d also say being able to play with such quality musicians.  It truly is a musical capital and the quality and depth of musicians is extremely inspiring. Having access to and playing at some of its world renowned clubs has also been a great booster for forming my musical path.

WHAT IS YOUR PERSPECTIVE ON THE MUSIC/JAZZ SCENE IN AUSTRALIA?

I’m a little distant from the scene now but I know it’s a rich one! I regularly keep in touch with the up and coming musicians and the pool of talent is enormous. I also continue listen to the music of wonderful more established musicians or groups such as Ben Hauptmann (former ANU CSM student too and one of my favourite guitarists in the world), Julien Wilson, Barney Mcall, James Muller, Wanderlust…One of the big barriers of the scene I think is the distance between the cultural capitals such as Melbourne, Sydney, Perth, Canberra etc… That being said there are also a lot of interesting collaborations between the different cities and at the same time that distance is what makes Australia such a beautiful place.

WHAT’S INSPIRING YOU CREATIVELY AT THE MOMENT?

I’m listening to a lot of Malian guitarists, whose sound I absolutely adore.

WHAT MUSIC ARE YOU LISTENING TO CURRENTLY?

It goes in cycles but I’m always listening to a lot of music from diverse sources. At the moment I’m listening to Battles, Arcade Fire, Nelson Veras, Ben Hauptmann, Ivo Papassov, Bjork’s wonderful new album, Bombino, Hiatus Kaiyote, Girls in Airports, Dirty Projectors, and The Contortionist.

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