I was so much taken by Silke Eberhard’s wonderful album, Potsa Lotsa XL Plays Silk Songs for Space Dogs, that I felt compelled to interview her, at least via email. And I’m very glad I did, because her answers to my questions reveal so much depth in this young German musician that listening to the record might only suggest. Here is the full interview for your reading pleasure, and I hope that you come to admire this remarkable musician as much as I do.
Art Music Lounge: First of all, I wanted to congratulate you on this particular CD. So much of the music was, in my view, both thought-provoking and well written. None of the pieces seemed to me to ramble or go out of control, no matter now wild the improvisations; there is a solid sense of musical structure in each and every piece. Did you, by any chance, study composition?
Silke Eberhard: Thank you for your kind words. The thing is I have always been composing, but I did not study it academically in this sense. I studied jazz saxophone at the university, and there I had some music arrangement courses. During that time I began to try out a lot and wrote really strange and sometimes naive stuff, my friendly teachers encouraged me to continue. I got great advice from Steve Gray, who was a visiting professor for a semester – (and I deeply regret that I missed some of his lectures because I was too busy with nightly jam sessions). Some things I got only from records, manuscript books or directly from fellow musicians. So I still feel almost like an autodidact when it comes to composition, and in my pieces there are probably passages that you wouldn´t find in the schoolbooks or they would appear as examples for a mistake or so. But that’s what makes the magic for me, all in all I have always liked to construct and build and search for different or unusual ways of musical performance. For me, composition is extensive and should go further, the charm lies in sounding out the limits, even in areas of unknown or so-called unwanted sounds.
AML: Although your charts sounded very original in terms of construction, there were moments when I felt that the orchestration was similar to some of the arrangements that Eric Dolphy wrote for John Coltrane (the Africa/Brass Sessions) or the charts that Charles Mingus wrote for his quintet when Dolphy was in it (the Candid sessions). Did any of that music influence you?
SE: These records are masterpieces. The whole work of both musicians – Eric Dolphy and Charles Mingus – has left a big mark on me. In my view, the collaboration between the two even takes on a potentiation, for example concerts/recordings like “Mingus in Oslo” or “Live at Antibes,” these are milestones. But in addition to these works, I have also dealt with the compositions of Eric Dolphy, from which an album with “the complete works” of Eric Dolphy was created, in a quartet instrumentation of four wind players. Later then also the Love Suite, which seemed to have been lost for decades. On my search I got in contact with Gunther Schuller, he had the original manuscript and sent a copy to me – in Dolphy’s own handwriting. It was sensational to actually see the work of the genius right in front of me. I was also in Washington D.C. at the Library of Congress to study his estate. Dolphy was a great composer – and there’s also the closeness to Third Stream… Also Mingus’s compositions, on the other hand, touch me deeply, in a different and very emotional way. With the collaborative trio “I Am Three”, consisting of trumpeter Nikolaus Neuser, drummer Christian Marien and myself, we arranged and interpreted Charles Mingus’ pieces. Meanwhile there are two CDs, also released on Leo Records, the second one is with the wonderful singer Maggie Nicols, on which we approach the text-based work of Mingus.
AML: It was also evident to me that you think of your 10-piece band more in terms of an orchestra than as a large improvising ensemble. Was there anyone who influenced your decision to use the band this way?
SE: No, it just developed into that because I just love writing. It was clear to me that I wanted to write out more musical material for a larger ensemble than for my trio, for example, where we develop the arrangements for pieces together through improvising – but strangely enough, I first selected trio pieces and then arranged them for the larger ensemble, adding many new parts and voices. So some of the pieces were created from the smallest form, others were intended for the orchestra from the beginning, and both approaches then came together.
AML: I’m curious to know if any other sax players influenced your style, either before you discovered Dolphy or afterwards. You have a great sense of lyricism in your playing that seemed to me quite different from Dolphy.
SE: Yes, there are. So many. The first influences were Charlie Parker and very early on Eric Dolphy, Ornette Coleman, also Lee Konitz. But also players as different as Johnny Hodges, Coleman Hawkins, Sonny Stitt, Jimmy Lyons, Archie Shepp, Albert Ayler, Steve Lacy, just to name a few…
AML: I’m wondering how you found the other musicians for your band and whether or not they, too, were in some ways influenced by either Dolphy or the Mingus quintet with Dolphy? I thought I heard a little bit of Ted Curson in Nikolaus Neuser’s playing.
SE: Yeah, that’s right. Nikolaus Neuser loves Ted Curson, I also hear a lot of Booker Little in his playing, which gives almost a double connection to Dolphy. Most of the musicians in the band are longtime musician friends, we all live in Berlin and know each other from the scene. Every one of them is an individual, it’s not that it’s just any cello, it’s Johannes Fink who plays it – he could play any instrument, it doesn’t matter. Or Jürgen Kupke, he is the clarinet itself, or the wonderful Taiko Saito, the most fearless vibraphonist of all. The music is actually tailor-made for exactly these people, not just the instruments.
AML: Are there any other modern jazz musicians or arrangers who have influenced your solo and writing style?
SE: Also many… But some are Ornette Coleman, Gunther Schuller, Mal Waldron, Carla Bley, Gil Evans, Igor Stravinsky, Alfred Schnittke.
AML: I also wondered about the inclusion of the cello. Just about the only well-known jazz cellists I know of are older musicians, specifically Oscar Pettiford and Fred Katz. Who influenced your decision to use a cello as both a solo and ensemble instrument?
SE: I have always loved the cello. And maybe Chico Hamilton’s group sounded a little bit in my ear, where Fred Katz was also part of, this instrumentation was fantastic. Johannes Fink plays the cello in our group, it’s a five-string cello, in a very special way, he changes between soloist or can also be part of the rhythm section, he has a great style.
AML: Are there any upcoming recording plans that you would like to share with my readers?
SE: In August I will receive the Berlin Jazz Award 2020. This will be a public concert that I will play with my trio (with Jan Roder on bass and Kay Lübke on drums), and I have new pieces for it. The concert will be recorded by Radio Berlin Brandenburg, and it is planned to release an album later.
AML: Thank you for your time!
—© 2020 Lynn René Bayley
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