Fresh, Organic Music in “Tiny Grass is Dreaming” by Jonathan Andersen

Jonathan Andersen CD cover

Bassist Jonathan Andersen of Denmark started with scraps and roots of songs that grew into his debut album “Tiny Grass is Dreaming.” A serious display of talent and heart, the album explores the width of the emotional spectrum with pieces that are sometimes frail, sometimes hearty; sometimes hopeless and sometimes starry-eyed.

“Dry Air” is an excellent opportunity to witness the fine chops of Andersen on bass. The piano’s blocked chords, strong rhythm on bass and percussion that highlight the off beats and the chatter of a sax which turns to the lyrical – these elements convene to make “Hello Gulina” an expressive and uplifting ride. “Macroscope” pairs sax and bass with a unified melody and really brings out not just what they share but the scintillating textural differences between them. Not one of the tracks is derivative of any other, but they form a complete whole because of the soul-searching love that consistently pours from each musician into the same pitcher.

How does the bass capture your voice- how does it allow you to express yourself, why did you choose it?

I usually tell people that the bass choose me and not the other way around.

It all started in music class in elementary school. One day our teacher started to hand out random instruments to the pupils, and it just so happened that I got the electric bass guitar. It just felt right right away and there and then I decided to become a bass player.

Somewhere along the way, when my skills improved, I was also encouraged to try out more advanced music. That eventually led me to the world of jazz and improvised music. From that, the switch to the double bass came as a natural extension, since it is the sound that suits this type of music best.

I am content with not being the one in the spotlight all the time. I enjoy laying out the foundation of the music, along with the rest of rhythm section. Creating what makes the soloist sound good and makes that person secure enough to sound his/her best is rewarding in so many ways. I like the dark, deep notes and how they influence the feel of a tune.

How long have you been planning this CD and when did you start writing this music?

I decided to launch this project in July last year and I knew I had to plan ahead if I wanted it to happen. The musicians on the album are all very busy people, so I needed to book them and the recording studio far in advance to be sure they had vacant spots in their schedule. We went to the recording studio for two days in October and did 42 takes of which 12 were selected for the album.

The tunes come from different stages in my life. Some of them are very recent and some very old. The title track “Tiny Grass Is Dreaming” and “Macroscope” are written especially for this album. I thought hard about what tunes would suit each other on an album. I wanted the overall feeling to be just right. 

What inspired this CD and how did you come up with the name?

The album title came from a faulty translated Chinese sign I saw on the internet. It was probably supposed to say “Please keep off the grass” but came out very differently in the translation. At first I found it amusing and it made me laugh. But then I realized I actually found it very beautiful, poetic and fragile in a way. Instead of a harsh command, it was a gentle suggestion and it also made me wonder: What does grass dream about? Inspired by that, I wrote the theme in one afternoon around a simple bass line that I was already working on.

I decided to put out this music and see if it would carry its own weight. I took a look at all the compositions I had written up to that point and selected the ones that would reflect well with each other in a common context.

What ideas inspire you when you compose?

People, places, time and spaces. It can come from numerous sources. I have different methods of working with composition and develop structures and melody, so if I am stuck, I can move to another. Usually I start by picking out a work title from somewhere and see where that takes me. It can be a word or a short sentence that describes something that makes me think or wonder. From there, I try to translate that into sound. Not mathematically but more on an emotionally level.

Literature and travels can be really inspiring as well. I have fractions of melodic lines popping up in my head from time to time from my travels in Tuscany Italy and New York. Eventually they will become new tunes. 

I am also inspired by the masters that came before me; artists like Dave Holland, Larry Grenadier, Scott Colley and Michael Grenadier. A tune of theirs can make me want to recreate a certain feeling or groove and I examine them to see how I can make that happen.

The tune “KOAN” was partly inspired by one of my favorite ballads called Elm by the great pianist Richie Beirach. I wanted to recreate that sound from his arrangement of the piano part and make it my own. Another example: I was toying around with a chord structure on my bass and slowly a melody emerged that started to remind me of light. That made me think what if, if you needed light, you had to go to the well and hoist it up in your bucket. The tune “Lightwell” emerged from that. It’s a bit silly I know, but I like that stuff and I like to mix up the seriousness that sometimes surrounds the whole jazz thing with a little silliness.

What does it mean to you to come out with your first CD?

It means that for the first time I get exposure on a larger level, which is exciting but also provokes a certain level of anxiety. What if people don’t like it or even worse, just don’t care? It’s also a personal landmark and I get to show how I sound. I guess you could also see it as a kind of “proof of life”. Most of all, people now get to listen to my music, instead of it just being stored away in my drawer.

What does each musician bring to the table?

For this project I had a vision of how these musicians would sound together as a band. They each have got their own bands and projects going on and a unique sound. I had the feeling that something very special would come out of it, if I brought them together on this album. Fortunately they all liked the idea and the music.

I know Magnus Thuelund (saxophone) from when we both studied at the music academy. We have been playing together on a regular basis since then. We listen to a lot of the same music and having this same reference really helps in our mutual understanding of where to take the music. This means that he immediately understands my music when I bring in new stuff.

Espen Laub Von Lillienskjold (drums) is rock steady and has got a music vocabulary that extends over many styles. He just makes everybody sound good and I just love his commentary style of playing. With him I feel like I am always “in the pocket.”.He never himself suggests a drum solo, because as he says himself, I’m already doing it, I don’t need a showcase. And he is right. He improvises and varies his playing all the time, but you might not notice it because he is really subtle about it.

Jacob Anderskov (piano) is literately the Professor. He is a Professor at the Music Academy in Copenhagen (RMC). He has a wide knowledge of music and his harmonic repertoire is endless. He has a background in the avant-garde and his sound is very personal. I´ve been listening to his recordings for years and I just knew he would give an interpretation of my compositions that would bring more of an edge to my music, and he really did. I feel very fortunate to have these remarkable musicians with me on this project.

Describing my own sound/groove doesn’t come all that easy for me. Being a bass player I of course need to keep the beat steady and all, but I’ve always been more inspired by players with a more commentary style that contributes to the melodic elements as well, instead of just “minding the shop.”

What was the most challenging track and why?

“Mending the Broken” was the most challenging, at least for me. The bass line in the A part is basically the melody. It’s got a lot of notes and a lot is going on. The saxophone comes in on top playing second voice and they really need to be interlocked in order for it to work. Getting that to sound effortlessly and not rushed was a little difficult I have to admit.

If you were to ask the band, I have to say they would point towards “Woodcraft” as being the difficult one. It contains a lot of so-called hybrid chords, so it can be complex to work with. The guys did an excellent job with it.  

Being your first album, what was your favorite part of the entire process?

Doing the actual recording session was my absolute favorite part. After many hours of planning and preparing, it was a joy to go in and let the tape roll and just play music.

We did not have time for many rehearsals prior to the session, but we worked really concentrated and everybody knew exactly what to do. The fact that everybody worked very professionally and were committed made it all fluent. Also I kept my mind open to suggestions from the guys in the band. They are all very creative and I value their opinion highly. They came up with several ideas that sent the music into a slightly different direction and changed it for the better. Experiencing that level of devotion to music made it worthwhile and memorable.  

Where and when will you perform this music?

We were scheduled to play a concert at a club during the Copenhagen Jazz Festival in Denmark in July and it was to be the first concert with this band and a celebration of the release. We had other concerts pending but then the COVID-19 turned the world upside down and naturally all planning came to an end. Hopefully things will come back to natural within a foreseeable future. I just can’t wait to play this music live. 

Other comments?

I like to create music around a storyline and at the same time encourage the listener to make the experience their own and finish the story in their imagination. I am really excited to get feedback from listeners. 

For more information, visit https://fandalism.com/jonathan74.

Photos courtesy of and with permission of Jonathan Andersen. Top photo (c) Jonas Lyngdam.
© Debbie Burke 2020

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