“Many Dimensions To Explore” : The Heady And Cosmic Sounds Of London Odense Ensemble

Photos by Casper Schärfe and Jakob Skøtt

Of course if you’re a semi-regular here then you know of my love and adoration for El Paraiso Records. This label prides itself on putting out music you’re meant to plug into and vibe with on a molecular level. Jonas Munk and Jakob Skott, co-label runners and Causa Sui founders have made it their mission to only put out the best exploratory music out there. And also being stellar musical astronauts themselves, they tend to work within projects that are, in whiskey terms, top shelf. One such recent project they find themselves in is London Odense Ensemble.

London Odense Ensemble is the musical collaboration between Odense, Demark-based Munk(Causa Sui, Manual, Billow Observatory) and Skott(Causa Sui, Videodrones, Edena Gardens) and El Paraiso Records frequent collaborator Martin Rude(Sun River, Edena Gardens, stand-in bassist for Causa Sui); as well as London-based musicians Tamar Osborn(Collocutor, Dele Sosimi Afrobeat Orchestra) and Al MacSween( Kefaya, as well as work with American jazz legend Gary Bartz, Syrian qanun master Maya Youseff, Flock, Sarathy Korwar, Nubya Garcia, Maisha and Yelfris Valdés.) Together these five have put out two volumes of exploratory, heady, and cosmic music that follows in the footsteps of Electric Miles, Mwandishi-era Herbie, and heavy hitters like Joe Henderson, Freddie Hubbard, Pharaoh Sanders, and Alice Coltrane. This isn’t jam band circle jerk nonsense; this is mind-expanding explorations that takes you on a journey. Next level improvisations to crack open your brain and move some wires around.

Today I’m sharing a recent conversation I had with the London Odense Ensemble crew. It’s a good one, so grab some coffee, or a pint, and dig in.

J Hubner: So how did the London Odense Ensemble come together? I know Jonas, Jakob, and Martin have been collaborators for years, going back to the Sun River days. And Martin, Tamar, and Jakob have their own trio. When did Al come into the picture, and the Ensemble come to fruition?

Jonas Munk: Well, actually the chronology is a bit different. Al and Tamar have been collaborating in various projects in London for several years, and the London Odense Ensemble sessions were planned quite some time before the Trio record was set in motion. Let me see if I can get the story right:

This project was really conceptualized and developed by Casper Scharfe, a local music enthusiast, manager and concert booker. Back in 2017 he started setting up shows at Teater Momentum in Odense (a theater, bar and concert venue), presenting alternative music of all sorts, but rather quickly these events got centered around exploratory jazz, and often presenting artists from the vibrant London scene. One of the first shows he did – perhaps THE first? – was British/Indian drummer Sarathy Korwar, who featured both Tamar and Al in the band. A few months later Tamar and Al came back with the group Kefaya, and the following year Casper put together the first Jaiyede Jazz Festival, presenting a wider range of London Jazz and experimental music: Emanative, Dele Sosimi and UK spiritual jazz legend Nat Birchall, besides Sarathy Korwar and Kefaya again, as well as Tamar’s own project Collocutor.

To make a long story short, all the finest musicians from the London jazz scene became regular visitors here in Odense, and the Jaiyede Jazz Festival has since become a yearly event, and has often featured El Paraiso acts in the lineup as well. And since both El Paraiso and the London scene represent a collaborative spirit, it made sense to combine these forces and create some music together. In 2020 Casper started setting things in motion and in October 2021 it came to fruition – Al and Tamar came over to Odense once again, for two days of recording in our studio as well as a London Odense Ensemble show at the fourth Jaiyede Festival.

Martin Rude: I remember the Sarathy Korwar concert vividly. We were all totally blown away by the level of musicianship and the absolutely perfect way they captured everything about the type of jazz music we’d all been digging since our youth, but rarely have the chance to hear, here in Denmark. Let alone our small town of Odense.

J Hubner: Tell me about the recording sessions. Were these pieces for Vol. 1 and Vol. 2 conceived in the studio? Improvisations that bore compositional fruit? I’m imagining a Miles/Macero situation, with long jams recorded and then edited into the final form we hear on the albums.

Martin Rude: I think most of us contributed in different ways. Some of the tracks started in the same way as the duo records were created. Where Jacob and I start out feeling out a beat and bass line, and the others would chime in. A few others just by all of us being totally mesmerized by Al’s magical noodling, while trying out Jonas’ stable of synths and keyboards, and some were more deliberate ideas, that we would jam out and expand over the session.

Jonas Munk: Yeah, these two albums are all studio work. A few tracks were loosely structured, but most of it comes from long improvisations. Often we’d explore a mode for a long time and select the most interesting parts. For example, we did one long recording where we explored E major for 30-40 minutes and that yielded four different tracks, three of which were used on the albums. And that Teo Macero analogy is spot on! We never prioritized any sense of “realism” or authenticity – there was quite a bit of heavy editing going on in the mixing process, different takes being spliced together and synthesizers added, etc. And I had several effects units patched in when mixing, so I’d send Tamar’s flute to delay pedals and filters, route Martin’s bass through my Moogerfoogers, that kinda thing.

J Hubner: When I’d spoken to Jonas and Jakob a few years ago about the Chicago Odense Ensemble record, it was stated that they approached those sessions like it was their ‘Live Evil’. Were there any foundational records or artists that inspired the work of the London Odense Ensemble? To my ears, late 60s/early 70s jazz and fusion are in the sound, but Tamar’s woodwind and saxophone work elevates the proceedings to something quite unique and of its own.

Jonas Munk: Jakob and I have been 1960s/1970s jazz fanatics for over 15 years, and we’ve been searching for projects to take us further in that direction pretty much the whole time. Of course jazz has always played some part in the Causa Sui sound, and some of the other projects we’ve done, but to be honest we have neither the theoretical nor improvisational skills to really go deep into that sound on our own. So for us this was another chance to dive straight into more “bona fide” jazz territory (Chicago Odense Ensemble perhaps being the first) and see where that would take us. It was very much an honor working with musicians of that pedigree – it’s super inspiring for us to create music with world-class improvisers such as Tamar and Al, and to be able to materialize sounds that we normally only fantasize about.

Stylistically there was no doubt about whether we were on the same wavelength – I’d seen 6-7 shows with them over that four year period and I’d been blown away each time. I still remember the very first one with Sarathy Korwar back in 2017 vividly – they performed Pharoah Sanders’ classic ”The Creator Has A Masterplan”, but they introduced it like: ”We’re not gonna do it exactly like Pharoah did it – we’re gonna approach it more like Don Cherry did” (!) That totally encapsulated everything I love about jazz from that era!!

So going into these sessions that’s kind of the sound my mind was tuned to – the kind of sound perhaps best exemplified by artists such as Alice Coltrane, Pharoah Sanders and Don Cherry. But also stuff like the esoteric fusion of Joe Henderson and Freddie Hubbard’s 1970s records, Herbie Hancock’s “Mwandishi” trilogy and that kinda thing. But the beautiful thing is no matter how far we might try to go in those directions it’ll always be coloured heavily by where we come from – after all, our roots are in psychedelic rock, ambient and post-rock. It ends up being very much its own thing.

J Hubner: This question is for Tamar, how do you approach arranging and writing in the Ensemble? Your work in the Rude Skott Osborn Trio added a sense of mystery. Your work here I can hear more Coltrane and Eric Dolphy in the compositions. Who or what are some influences and inspirations?

Tamar Osborn: From my perspective everything was improvised! With the Rude Skott Osborn recording, I added my parts at home in the UK so while it was mostly improvised there was a little more time to try out different instruments, extra harmonies and layering up ideas. For the London Odense Ensemble, the guys in Denmark had sketched a couple of loose ideas as starting points but (if I remember rightly) Al and I didn’t hear them until we were in the studio. So everything was fresh on the day. I was using effects pedals live in the session as well, so interplay with that set-up as an instrument in its own right informed some of how I played – listening back it’s often hard to tell which are the effects from the session versus those Jonas added later!

The influences and inspirations question is always a tricky one to answer as there are so many, but like some of the others the 1960s and 70s are a touchstone for me, be it in jazz, library music, Afrobeat, Brazilian music, film music, rock etc. Joe Henderson, Herbie Hancock and Miles Davis’ early 70s explorations with new technology and studio techniques are always there (a good chunk of my teens was spent in bands covering various Headhunters tunes, and later on hearing Bitches Brew, On The Corner and Joe Henderson/Alice Coltrane’s The Elements were important moments). Also, over the years I’ve been lucky enough to work with several artists from different musical traditions, such as Indian classical music, Ethiopian music and Afrobeat to name a few, so some of what I’ve learned from them (and from there listening to Shakti, Amancio D’Silva, Mulatu Astake, Fela Kuti) is there as well.

The freer side of my playing comes via an, I guess, unexpected route – I was performing in the London production of the ‘Fela!’ musical (thanks to the booker having seen me in Dele Sosimi’s band) and one of the scenes was a dream sequence that required some more out-there playing. They suggested I check out baritone players Alex Harding (who was part of the the original New York production) and Hamiet Bluiett – my mind was subsequently blown, and it really pushed me to try playing in a way I wouldn’t have previously attempted.

And then there’s Hendrix. Always Hendrix, since my teens. This was the perfect project to try to channel some of that!

J Hubner: Hendrix is the DNA for everything. I’m certain of it.

Where and when were the sessions recorded for the albums? How long was the process from start to finish to record the albums? I’m assuming both albums were culled from the same sessions?

Jakob Skott: It was a full day of setting up and recording, really digging in deep but also hanging and getting some food, drinks etc along the way. Soaking in the vibe. And then we returned the next day and played a few hours, because we wanted to do some stuff with Martin on stand-up bass. But we had to play the show in the evening, so we packed up and went to do sound rather than play for endless hours like we did the first day. So it’s one day plus change. There’s still hours of material not deemed interesting on the cutting room floor, but I’m very happy about the way the 2 volumes sort of have different perspectives from the sessions.

J Hubner: This is for Al, how did you approach the keys within the Ensemble? You add such a cosmic element to the record. I’m reminded a lot of Terry Riley in your work here. Who or what were some influences on your playing, both for the band and just for you personally?

Al MacSween: Well, I had a nasty finger injury from falling off my bike a couple of days before the session, so my main approach to keys was how to avoid using that finger! We wanted to allow the music to develop spontaneously and organically, so I didn’t really approach the keys with any preconceived ideas. Instead I set up a wide palette of sounds in the studio – I had a monosynth, a polysynth and a stage piano, so I was able to be pretty flexible sonically and stylistically. It was particularly good fun getting to know the Roland Juno synthesizer which I’d not really used before those sessions (I’m sure this contributed to the cosmic element!). Yes Terry Riley is definitely a big influence here, as well as other modal improvisers such as Alice Coltrane, Bismillah Khan, Charanjit Singh, McCoy Tyner, Pharaoh Sanders and so many others.

J Hubner: El Paraiso Records has always been about the collaboration process, and between three different Ensemble releases(Chicago Odense/Ellis Munk/London Odense), as well as countless projects over the years that were more about one or more distinct artists coming together to collectively create, I feel that’s the spirit El Paraiso Records has always gone for. Will we see more London Odense Ensemble in the future? If so, what would each of you like to see happen in future releases? Is there a possibility of any more live shows? Or is this a project that should remain a studio endeavor?

Tamar Osborn: I think there’s a wish across the board to keep this collaboration going – we played live at the 2021 Jaiyede Jazz Festival, directly after the recording sessions, and are looking at doing more gigs as and when logistics allow…..

Jakob Skott: Most definitely! we’ll put it back together one way or another. There are still many dimensions to explore with the meeting between London & Odense. Also, we’re working on a live album, which will show off more sides of the group.

Hit up El Paraiso Records for London Odense Ensemble’s Jaiyede Sessions Vol. 1 and Vol. 2.

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