HILMAR JENSSON - INTERVIEW FROM ØYVIND JAZZFORUM MAGAZINE 2007
I find that a lot of the stuff you do has large elements of rock, and not like a jazz musician trying to play rock, but it has an authentic rock attitude. How did you arrive at this open approach to playing music?
First of all let me make it clear that all I care about is the music, everything else is secondary! Quite a lot of the stuff I have done lately has been rock oriented but that has been unintentional. When I came out of Berklee I was very much a jazz oriented player, although I was quite on the avant garde side. That also goes for my fellow musicians, Jim Black, Chris Speed, Skuli Sverrison, Andrew D'Angelo, Cuong Vu and all the others. For some reason we all got interested in combining the improvisational skills we had with the rock stuff we'd been listening to, like Messhuggah and some others. It has not been a very concious approach at all, and for me personally it was very hard to "convert" to a rock approach and in some ways I felt I was compromising, but later on I realized that I was just playing good music and it made made no difference what the label was!
In Norway there's often the opinion that Europe is the place where jazz is really developing. You`ve lived in New York as well as Reykjavik and played with musicians all over the place. What's your view on this and what is the difference between American and European musicians?
I really don't think there is any more developement in Europe than in the US., in jazz that is. I have worked quite a bit on both continents and the
main issue for me seems to be that the people in Europe, especially in Scandinavia, are unaware of what is happening in the US and the people in
the US, espesially outside of NY & Chicago, seems to be unaware of what is happening in Europe! There are great things happening on both continents and in Asia as well. Especially in Japan.
When it comes to the difference in US and Europe musicians, there isn't a whole lot of difference. But the US ones tend to have more energy and "hunger" somehow. They are also usually better at every aspect of music and more experienced, but there are many European musicians that challange that rule. As far as Norweigian musicianss go I could name Paal Nilssen-Love, Arve Henriksen, Terje Isungset, Ståle Storløkken, Ingebrigt Håker Flaten, and there are of course many more but I'm just trying to make a simple point. In general US musicians are both highly creative, highly
educated and supremly hungry for attention! That often results in amazing music!
What does a totally improvised gig give you that a gig based on written material won't give you? And vice versa.
I really enjoy composing music as well as playing compositions by others. But I also get a great kick out of just improvising with people. The great
thing about the improv is that anything can happen and the bad thing about the improve is that anything can happen! So the better you know the people you are playing with the safer the situation. Not necessarily better, but safer! But if everybodies aim is for the music to be good, then having
total faith in everyone else is a must. And letting go of the ego is a must as well. I has to be all about the music!
Some of the tours you're doing are fairly long ones. What's an ideal situation for you? As much touring as possible with as many people as possible?
Some of the tours I do are long ones but I also do a fair bit of brief tours, just 1-3 shows sometimes. In general I have to say that I prefer working with bands and developing the music over a period of time, both on the road and in the studio. There is pretty much nothing that surpasses making music with people that you have known for a long time and have a close relationship with. That being said, there are always a few moments where meeting up with new musicians that you have perhaps never played with, can be extremely exciting and meaningful! Often those moments continue into a long lasting partnership. But all in all, I enjoy all. I love meeting new people and musicians and I love continuing my work and friendship with the
ones I have worked with for a long time. As far as the touring goes. I really like the long tours when the music gets to develop from night to night. I really enjoy that process.
Why did you go to New York, and why did you eventually go back to Reykjavik?
I lived in Boston and NY when I was studying, and my wife was still here in Iceland so therefore I came back. It is also very hard to get work permit in the US and perhaps even harder to make a living as a musician there.