The new album from The Benny Lackner Trio delves deeps into the pool of knowledge, yet stays smooth on the ear as the group winds and wefts into another sonic essay on modern jazz.
Upon first listening to your material, I find a simplicity to the arrangement, though not to any common theme or formula. Can you please explain your style.
The number one goal here for us is to dedicate all exposure to melody. The choice of material is all derived from the idea that the melody has to carry the tune and not the soloing or the harmony. Melody is what makes every listener, no matter what musical background they come from, relate to the music.
A piano trio is usually seen as pretentious or idolatrous; but what I’ve heard doesn’t reflect that. Were you conscious of that perception?
Well, I am certainly aware of the lineage of piano trios throughout the history of jazz. For me there wouldn't be: Art Tatum, Monk, Bill Evans, Keith Jarrett, Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock, Brad Mehldau, BadPlus, Vijay iyer, Craig Taborn... the list goes on and on... development without the other. They are all related in a way and influence each other even if some of them do not want to admit that. Personally, I don't worry about where to fit in, I just have no choice but to play my music.
Jazz is enjoying a fresh resurgence in Australia; it’s no longer seen as obscure or hard to approach. Have you experienced this in other parts of the world?
Oh yes, definitely. Especially in places like NYC, Berlin and Hong Kong.
With the blending toward modern styles, has there been any surprises in reaction regarding the more populist-feeling material?
Not at all... it’s actually weird nowadays if you have a modern jazz group that doesn't have a contemporary rock or pop song in their repertoire. I also believe that the concept of taking current material and arranging it in a jazz setting is what jazz musicians like Miles Davis have based their entire careers on.
Your piano moods have a wide reach as far as style goes; can you tell us more about the inspirations and methods behind your arrangements?
I am influenced by the ambient feel of Radiohead, the harmonies of Brahms and Chopin, the melodies of all of the above. We like to incorporate slight electronic embellishments as a contrast to the acoustic sound that a piano trio usually produces.
You have a really cool and dynamic style to your handwork and composition on piano. Has there been a prominent figure of influence on your playing that you’d like to mention?
Well, thank you very much. When I was 12 I heard Oscar Peterson's ‘Night Train’ for the first time and decided instantly that I would have to lead my own trio one day. Then I heard Keith Jarrett and it was over. There was no choice in the matter anymore. Then at age 20 I studied with Brad Mehldau for a year. He opened me up to classical music and the the development of contrapunctal improvisations rather than a lefthand chord style with the everlasting one note sole in the righthand.
Your group seems to have a really broad improvisational vocabulary; yet there seems to be a conscious move toward simpler, less ostentatious soloing. Is this part of a conscious paradigm or just a natural occurrence between all players?
Well, in the beginning of my career it was a way of dealing with the fact that I simply didn't have enough chops to burn all the time. Now that my technique has developed I try conciously not to overplay all the time. But it's hard... it’s fun to ride the wave of a burning rhythm section and keep going and going. But one can loose focus of the tune and the audience easily that way.
The jazz spectrum is mostly perceived as hard to approach and elitist. Do you have any words for those who are curious about the J-word?
I think nowadays there is only instrumental improvisational music of all styles. People call it jazz for a lack of a better reference. It hurts the musicians because jazz to many means noise or Dixieland.
The Benny Lackner Trio play the Brisbane Jazz Club Thursday October 10.