A spinning globe of sound breathing through each other, the quartet fronted by flautist Christian Artmann brings the listener through lush and multicolored places. In May they released the CD “Our Story” that has a chapter for anybody who appreciates stunning melodies, harmonies that artfully blend/depart/blend back, and a grooving rhythmic backbone traded seamlessly between drums and bass.
The track “Earthling” is bold, tight, with a wound-up energy that could even make a lamppost bop. “Tropic of Capricorn” bursts the envelope with high-octane textures, and the interplay between flute and bass on “Always Here” soothes and affirms. “Our Story” is inclusive, universal and etches beauty on the heart.
Do you recall the first time you heard the flute?
It’s actually one of my earliest memories! I was three or four years old, and my parents played a record of Baroque music featuring the wonderful Jean-Pierre Rampal. I instantly loved his sound! Among all the other beautiful sounds on my parents’ records, this one just stood out as truly magical. Full of life and charisma, it had a remarkable ability to make me feel different emotions depending on the piece or passage. When the flute solo started, it was like fairytale nobility had entered the room!
What is the biggest challenge in developing your embouchure for flute?
Not giving up! And not becoming sloppy… The goal needs to be a sound that is personal, reliable and does justice to the instrument.
Your most memorable performance ever and why?
First flute in Dvořák’s Symphony of the New World with the Aspen Festival Orchestra. This took place a long time ago, before I started developing my own musical voice. But it’s a performance that I’ll truly never forget: being allowed, at the tender age of 15, to be a part of such an amazing orchestra full of pro musicians and led by a famous and inspiring conductor, and playing this incredibly emotional ode to the New World under the Aspen Festival tent in the middle of the Colorado Rockies. Goosebumps!
How did classical lead you to jazz? What elements do you think overlap?
As a teenager, I was playing all this beautiful and challenging classical music without understanding any of it! People in the classical world would say things like “Mozart was a genius, the greatest ever” or “this/that conductor’s interpretation was closer to Brahms’ true intent” or “Debussy was a revolutionary.” As a little kid, I just accepted all this. But as a teenager I started to ask: “Why?”
After attending Aspen Music Festival, I felt the urge to really understand music, to learn how to compose and improvise. I discovered that performance, composition and improvisation were still unified in the jazz tradition. Once I opened my ears to this tradition, I was completely in awe with the depth of musicianship, understanding and emotional content!
Your question regarding overlaps is an interesting one. As a Buddhist, I believe that individuals do not have a separate self but rather carry within them the whole universe. In the same way, I do not view musical genres as being separate entities with rigid boundaries. Rather, all sincere, spiritual music is hopefully a universal expression.
Think about it: What would jazz be without the blues, without African or European music? Not much! So how can we say that jazz is separate from the blues, or from African or European music?
Most important lesson you learned (about jazz) outside of your formal education?
That this music is infinite in its possibilities and deserves a lifetime of dedication, as well as a much bigger audience.
Festival or large venue you have always wanted to play?
I’d like to play all great venues: Newport, North Sea, Marciac, Japan, the list goes on. That said, I have a particular connection to the Paris Jazz Festival at Parc Floral. I used to see concerts there a long time ago and remember it as truly magical.
What do you like most about small clubs?
The intimate atmosphere, with the audience and the band almost becoming one.
Talk about your personnel. What do they add to the overall spirit of the band?
Part of what makes the “Our Story” band special is that I have had the privilege to play with each member for many years. As a result, there is a strong sense of trust and mutual support which goes a long way in making music together.
Laszlo Gardony (piano) was my teacher at Berklee College of Music back in the days, and it’s an honor to have him onboard. I heard him play this incredible music on a radio interview around 2000, integrating influences from Coltrane and Bill Evans to Bartok and Hungarian folk music. I knew I had to find a way to study with him, because his music seemed closely connected to what I was hearing. Since then, Laszlo has been a musical and spiritual guide and, most importantly, a great friend. I love the joyous energy, rhythmic intensity and spiritual depth that he added to the recording of “Our Story.”
Johannes Weidenmueller (bass) and Jeff Hirshfield (drums) have been my musical companions since the recording of my first New York album “Uneasy Dreams” in 2010. Both are unbelievable players and good friends. They are sharp observers of what’s going on in a composition or performance, and always willing and able to provide support, constructive criticism and helpful ideas. They are also incredibly versatile which makes them a particularly good fit for my music since I like to cross genre boundaries and cast a wide net with my writing.
As for Elena McEntire, the first time I heard her sing, her voice put me into a trance-like state! There is a magical and mysterious quality in her timbre which has a much more universal appeal than your typical opera or chamber music voice. I’m really proud of how much ground she was able to cover on “Our Story”: doubling challenging, angular lines with the flute on “Earthling”, merging her voice with the flute to the point where the two instruments appear as one on “Always Here”, and bringing to life the mystery of my arrangement of “Amazing Grace”, like the sun barely shining through the fog.
What do you love about composing? What is the most difficult?
Wayne Shorter said that composition is just improvisation slowed down, and vice versa. Inspiration and creativity are central to both. But in an improvised solo, everything happens very fast, and one has to make split-second decisions. In composition, on the other hand, there is time to develop ideas and explore options. Having the luxury of time can be great fun, but it’s important to not lose the forest for the trees.
How is “Our Story” infused with your spiritual beliefs?
The title track of “Our Story” and my conception of the album as a whole, are a reflection of my Buddhist faith. The idea that we all interrelate, that whatever I do has an effect on you and vice versa, that’s a powerful concept that I really believe in. The music on “Our Story” isn’t so much about me as it is about us as a band and as companions in challenging times, and about all of us as eternal beings living together on this precious planet.
What’s your favorite track on it and why?
If I had to pick one to take to an island, it would be “The Noctambulist.” It makes me think of a sleepwalker who shuffles around full of intense, unresolved energy, tangled up by his own ego in a web of delusions. And then suddenly he walks out into this deeper space where all is clear and redeemed. A victory of the subconscious in the middle of the night!
Where are you playing these days?
I just played some of the music from “Our Story” in duo with wonderful Spanish pianist Yago Vazquez at the new Spectrum venue in Brooklyn. Upcoming concerts are September 29 at ShapeShifter Lab in Brooklyn with the Our Story band; October 6 at The Buttonwood Tree, Connecticut in duo with Laszlo Gardony; and October 18 at The Kitano in Manhattan with the Our Story band. More gigs to be announced over the coming weeks, stay tuned!
How do we get jazz out to more young people?
We need to put music education back in schools! That way, kids can learn this wonderful language, and natural curiosity will take over.
What do you want people to get from your music?
Engaging with the present moment.
For more information, visit https://artmannjazz.wordpress.com.
Photos courtesy of and with permission of Christian Artmann.
(c) Debbie Burke 2018