Anthony Jackson and Yiorgos Fakanas: Interspirits
The miniature string ensemble piece "Cuore Vibes Part 1" may seem like something of an anomaly in a fast-paced fusion album but the reason for its inclusion is quite simple, as Fakanas explains: " As I mentioned before, I had composed a CD a few years before with a string ensemble, which Anthony liked very much. It is the only ballad on this CD. I had the idea to start the ballad with a string ensemble playing the main melody. Anthony liked the way I write for strings, and this CD is for Anthony, so it's like a dedication to him.
"On the other hand," continues Fakanas, "combining string orchestras and classical orchestras with jazz or any other modern arrangement is something that interests me very much. In Greece, I'm arranging and composing for very large classical orchestras. Here I use the combination of the classical and jazz styles, which has sometimes been called Third Stream. What I really like doing and what I am trying to do is to compose music in this style, with the combination of two orchestras.
"I'm just trying to use jazz harmonies to add new colors to the symphonic, orchestral colors. That's why I like composers like the Russians and the French of the early nineteenth century, like Stravinsky and Prokoviev. They created completely new colors in the symphonic orchestra. These are the composers who most influence me."
Classical music has made a huge impact on Jackson as well, and his breadth of knowledge of classical music and the history of the music is quite staggering. Listening to him talk so passionately about his formative childhood influences such as Chopin, Schuman, Prokoviev, Shostakovich, Bartok and Rachmaninov is illuminating: "My way of approaching the bass guitar is influenced by the way Rachmaninov approached the piano" Jackson asserts. "The way he played the piano was unlike anything else. Staggering technical accomplishment and power, married to the ability to play like a butterfly when required. Whatever he felt the music required and that's the way I've tried to play as well."
Besides a shared love of classical music the two bassists share a common outlook on the universality of music. Fakanas says, "I believe that jazz music and fusion music are international. Of course, the music was born and developed in America, but for me it is always a combination of African rhythms and European harmonies, and this combination developed in America. So, Interspirit represents the international spirit that comes from all over the world. It underlines an international meeting between different cultures, but with a common goal in coming together." Says Jackson, "I've always been attracted to musicwhether it be jazz, rock, pop or countryas pure music. Be well versed in all the forms. I came to Yiorgos completely open, not thinking that this would be America meets old world, jazz and classical; oh, no. Don't ask what I'd like to do; don't write something because you'd think it'd be comfortable for Anthony, just write whatever you want." Some "murderously difficult" playing later, Jackson realized that he got exactly what he wished for.
Fakanas's writing is ambitious, with some of the pieces written and arranged for up to fourteen musicians. On "Cuore Vibes Part 2," there is even a third bassist, Tasos Kazaglis on contrabass. If this seems like an excess which even Ornette Coleman would shy from, there is a very simple explanation, as Fakanas reveals: "Tasos is a very good classical double-bassist, and is part of the string ensemble. I'm using this double-bass in order to give a more complete character to the string ensemble. It's a string quartet plus a double-bass. He's playing in the upper octaves in order not to be between me and Anthony."
Much of the music on Interspirit has the feel of a little big band, something which Fakanas is quick to recognize: "That's exactly the point," affirms Fakanas. "When I was growing up in Greece in the late seventies and early eighties, we didn't have any schools offering jazz education. But I had a very good opportunity to learn; when I was nineteen years old I was chosen by the Greek government to represent Greece in the European Youth Jazz Orchestra. It was a big band made up of musicians under twenty-three years of age, from all the European countries. It was impossible to have something like that in Greece at that time, so it was a major influence on me. The leaders, pianist Michael Garrick, and Bill Ashton were composing and arranging. John Etheridge was one of the band instructors.
"When I returned to Greece I started composing tunes," continues Fakanas, "and kept in mind the big-band concept. That's what I'm trying to do with my quintet, because I always like a lot of rhythm in my compositions. At the same time I leave space for improvisation, and this characterizes my music. The sound of a big band is always somewhere in my compositions."