An interview with Briana Cowlishaw and Gavin Ahearn on the eve of the launch of their duo album Fjord
JK: How did you first meet with Gavin musically?
BC: I met Gavin five or so years ago now, through a few mutual musician friends on the Sydney jazz scene, all of whom had mentioned Gavin was a beautiful piano player I should get to know! But because he had been doing the cruise ships for quite a few years and I was new on the scene, our paths didn’t align until 2011 when I asked him to play a gig with my band at 505 in Sydney. It was the beginning of an era you might say.
JK: How has this musical partnership evolved over the past four to five years?
GA:It started with me being a hired hand in Bri’s quintet but soon after that we started collaborating on compositions and arrangements which eventually led to The Wires Project. We have toured a whole bunch of places together including South East Asia and Europe and hopefully hitting Japan in August of this year. We have also collaborated on pop music, music production and advertising music.
JK: How do you see this partnership progressing in the next few years?
BC: Well, after composing a suite of music together last year The Helgeland Suite (for the Hemnes Jazz Festival in Norway), co-founding a mixed media improvised based project The Wires Project and composing together for a huge variety of styles and projects, I think our collaborations could go just about anywhere. Gavin and I share a similar passion for composition and we both have an urge to explore new ground and come up with unique projects that both challenge us musically, conceptually and simultaneously allow us to do the thing we both love most (apart from music)… TRAVEL!
We threw a huge amount of energy into composing The Helgeland Suite last year and all composers (Gavin, Gary Hoffman and I) feel it’s just the beginning for that suite; we are also really proud of how the collaboration eventuated. So I think after this album we will be working out a way to fund a recording of the suite (14 musicians, 45 min – hour music) and then try and get it on the bill for a few cool music festivals in Australia and overseas. Time to get cracking I guess.
JK:How did your rapport with Norway begin and what fascinates you about this particular country?
GA: I have always loved wintry, rugged, expansive landscapes such as Norway. Maybe it’s because I spent the first few years of my life in Saudi Arabia. My physical association with Norway began when one of my old music campadres moved there from New Orleans and married a Norwegian. I was always threating him I would come visit and fulfilled this threat in 2008 when my wife Marianna and I took a freewheeling camping trip there and ended up at Gary’s joint 40 km’s below the Arctic Circle. We also played a series of gigs in that region and that got me hooked.
JK: What is the jazz scene like in Norway and can you tell us about some of your experiences there?
BC: I was totally blown away by Norway on all fronts. The landscape is so overwhelming beautiful and the energy of the smaller towns and regions carry is so different from anywhere I have ever been before, and quite refreshing for me (being a city girl that’s grown up in Sydney and now living in London). It’s amazing what space, quiet and the vastness or nature can bring out of you creatively. The first trip and tour we did in 2014, I wrote the title track of this new duo album Fjord while sitting in a classroom at the school where Gary teaches in Nesna, looking out onto these indescribably huge mountains. It was so cleansing and brought me such a sense of calm, that it seriously made me feel like I might have to live somewhere like that one day.
In terms of the Jazz scene in Norway, I am still just getting to know it really. We did some fantastic little gigs at some smaller venues in towns such as Mo I Rana, Sandnessjoen, Mosjoen, Hemnes and Nesna. The crowds were not huge as these are smaller towns with little jazz happening on a regular basis, but they were extremely enthusiastic and really appreciative listeners. We had a ball playing to them. There seems to be some fantastic opportunities (and decent funding) to play at the bigger jazz festivals in Norway… that’s really the next goal for us. One step at a time 🙂
JK: You recorded your album whilst on tour in Norway in 2014 – tell us about that and the concept behind the album?
GA: We had been discussing recording a duo album for a while and we had some downtime between gigs and a studio and engineer in the form of Gary Hoffman. So it was an easy decision to go ahead with the recording. Conceptually both of us had been listening to a record by Fred Hersch and Nancy King which has a very relaxed and open attitude and I think we wanted to bring that to the recording. At the same time we both enjoy arranging so we spent some time working out a few more specific arrangements such as on Stompin’ at the Savoy.
JK: You have worked together on numerous music projects and compositions – what are some of the highlights?
BC: Wow…. there have been so many moments… some amazing, some terrifying and some quite stressful, as is usually the case in the music industry. A huge highlight for me was playing at the Melbourne International Jazz Festival with The Wires Project, right on the Yarra River, with a glass roof over us so you could see into the sky as we played. It was a great open room too which was perfect for the improvisation we were doing. I remember feeling very free that day making music with some of my favourite musicians in AUS – Gavin, Nic Cecire and Peter Koopman. Another highlight was performing to a few thousand people in South Korea at the 2013 Chilpo Jazz Festival. Hilarious really, I think most people in the audience would not have understood a word I was saying, but they were bopping along and waving their hands as we played and were such a great audience. I think I signed more CD’s on that gig that I have ever sold or signed in my life – haha.
But really most of the highlights are the little opportunities to play music in random unexpected places, like when we went into a rehearsal room in Berlin to come up with some of the arrangements for this album. It’s really great making music with someone you have such a rapport with, where you can just relax, be yourself, and create.
JK: What can Australian audiences expect to hear at your forthcoming gigs?
GA: Most of the gigs will feature us playing a duo set up front followed by a band set with some of our favourite musicians (depending on the city). We will play a few things off the album plus some of Bri’s new music and maybe one or two of my pieces as well.
AUSTRALIAN/NEW ZEALAND TOUR FEBRUARY 2016
Thurs 11 – Venue 505 Sydney, feat. Peter Koopman (Gtr) Thomas Botting (bass) Nic Cecire (drums) http://www.trybooking.com/Booking/BookingEventSummary.aspx?eid=177620
Sunday 14 – Uptown Jazz Cafe, Melbourne www.uptownjazzcafe.com/
Tuesday 16 – NIMA Newcastle feat. Peter Gray (bass) Toby Hall (drums) www.nima.org.au/
Wed 24th – Creative Jazz Club – Auckland, NZ 8pm. $20/15/5 feat. Cameron McArthur (bass), Adam Tobeck (drums), Roger Manins (tenor sax)
Fri/Sat 26/27 – Nirvana Lounge Hamilton
Sun 28 – Hamilton Jazz Society NZ www.hjs.org.nz/