From 2018. Passing the torch master to future master, Tomasz Stanko and Paul Motian hovered over this phone conversation as a benign presence. ‘The weather is pretty incredible,’ says guitarist composer bandleader Jakob Bro on the other end of the phone in Copenhagen.
Looking forward to a coffee with his friend Steve Cardenas later who is playing the music of Leadbelly in the Danish capital with the legendary Adam Nussbaum at the Jazzhus Montmartre, Bro and Steve go way back to the Motian Electric Bebop Garden of Eden band 14 years ago.
Speaking of the present as well as the past what a year the 40-something Dane has had in terms of records in 2018: the trio with bassist Thomas Morgan and drummer Joey Baron two years on from Streams appeared just this month on the pristine Bay of Rainbows and even better earlier complete with Palle Mikkelborg on the beautiful Returnings which I guess will feature in many among the un-tineared critics’ end of year best-ofs at the very least.
Bro recalls how happy he was to get the call to play with Stanko in Poland and how he was met by a limousine surprisingly containing Stanko himself inside when he was picked up at the airport.
How Stanko had got his name, at that time a pretty unknown young player, was through ECM producer Manfred Eicher who had by that time long since Litania had the Pole playing like an angel once again for ECM.
The Dark Eyes band was special and defined by the popularity of ‘So Nice’. ‘We toured most of the world’ Jakob says. ‘I loved being next to Tomasz on stage.’
How he got there was circuitous and we track back to his school days playing in his teacher dad’s big-band to a brief time as a student in Aarhus at the Royal Academy of Music. Bro dropped out after a year but not before he took time to transcribe plenty of Miles and Monk and play gigs around town with his pals like the future pro he would become.
Encouraged by visiting stars like Danilo Pérez and Kurt Rosenwinkel he moved to the States and studied at both Berklee for one semester and in New York at the New School.
‘Paul Motian was my mentor, my hero, every time I would go listen I’d then take lessons with his band like Chris Cheek and Steve Cardenas who I’m having coffee with later today. While I was at the New School I was living with Ben Street. But 9/11 happened and my visa was denied so I came back to Denmark. Paul was an inspiration for me. I loved his sound and he inspired my generation.’
Nowadays Bro is a proud dad to a young daughter and takes on less sideman work than he used to.
‘I feel at home in Copenhagen’ although he is still away a lot, his Nash Telecaster-like guitar crammed into his luggage the instrument that he uses both for gigs and in the studio.
He says he is ‘no longer’ a lunatic guitar obsessive but remains in love with playing in the studio but also likes the ‘looseness’ of playing on a live recording with people crowded in to share the moment.
Happier now with pedals he wishes even to somehow draw on the sound of the trumpet through technology to harness his compositional ideas.
There is a lot of water flowing still under the bridge since as a young player he poured his love into playing the guitar inspired by the blues and by Hendrix and John Lee Hooker. Later John Scofield and Bill Frisell would blow his mind and Frisell would even play on his own records as have many international stars and legends notably a journey back to the birth of the cool with Lee Konitz.
Bro tells me how he likes drummers who compose as they play and you can understand that factor listening to Jon Christensen on their life affirming work together.
Tantalisingly Bro speaks of an album he is holding back kept for now in his personal vaults featuring free jazz legend Andrew Cyrille and the great Bandwagon piano star Jason Moran and putting the phone down I am determined to pick up where we left off on this next time we chat badgering ideally to cop an unofficial earful.
Interview: Stephen Graham