Jakob Bro on “Bay of Rainbows”
For a new parent, it can be a challenge to carve out time for the simple things, like a haircut. When we first try to connect for our interview, we realize we’ve mixed up the time difference and the call has come an hour earlier than anticipated. Jakob Bro lives in Copenhagen, and is in the midst of an overdue trim. He laughs over the phone and explains, “I’m going on tour soon and my hair is . . . well, this haircut is very necessary.”
In the last year, there’s been a lot to keep him busy. The 40-year-old jazz guitarist recently released Bay of Rainbows on ECM Records on October 5 with his trio, featuring sought-after bassist Thomas Morgan and esteemed drummer Joey Baron. The group leaves for a North American tour next week, beginning with a stop in Winnipeg on October 14 at the Good Will Social Club. The record comes not only on the heels of Returnings, a studio album Jakob released in March of this year, but also as his daughter Dagny turns one. “It might look like I was really busy in my daughter’s first year of life,” he laughs, “but I essentially had two records finished and recorded just before she came.”
The title of this latest record, ‘Bay of Rainbows,’ is a direct nod to the birth of his daughter. Jakob explains that little Dagny was given a very special gift for her first Christmas: a small piece of the moon. The Bay of Rainbows (Sinus Iridum in Latin) is a distinct geographical feature of the moon and as a gift, Jakob’s brother-in-law gave her a seemingly official certificate that claimed a small piece of the moon in her name. He laughs, “though it did say that if humans eventually did get there [to colonize] the certificate wouldn’t really do much.” He says that he’d been looking for a way to signify her birth through his music, and liked the sound of the lunar formation’s title.
“When we’re playing live, we’re trying to react to the audience, the room, the sound, and follow our ideas . . . There are many more factors at stake when you’re on stage.”
Bay of Rainbows was recorded live at Jazz Standard NYC over two nights in 2017. Recording a live album was a big wish for the band. “Many times on tour we’d come off stage after playing and wish it was recorded,” Jakob explains. “When we’re playing live, we’re trying to react to the audience, the room, the sound, and follow our ideas . . . There are many more factors at stake when you’re on stage. When you’re playing music live you can take chances and explore together on stage.” The trio’s live show blends planning and practice, with improvisation based on the mood of the room and the audience. As such, Bay of Rainbows is indeed exploratory, moving with unhurried ease and grace to create an expansive sound and atmosphere. At times bright and fluid, and others discordant and angular, the album embraces its own slowly unfolding identity.
Bay of Rainbows features some of Jakob’s older compositions, written up to 15 years ago. Jakob and bassist Thomas Morgan have been friends for a long time, and the opportunity to play together was a welcome one. “I’ve been a fan of his playing since the first time I heard him,” Jakob explains. Morgan has also played with Bill Frisell, Lee Konitz, and Paul Motian.
On the drums is Joey Baron. Baron is self-taught, having started playing as a nine-year-old in the mid 60s. Throughout his long-standing career, he’s played with Chet Baker, Dizzy Gillespie, David Bowie, Laurie Anderson, and John Zorn. Jakob explains, “I’ve been a fan of Joey’s for pretty much my whole life. He’s a great listener, and somebody who creates and contributes to melodies with his drums. I’ll be listening after [to a recording] and hear all the things he’s doing; reacting to music, and all the things that are happening. He adds to the texture and make up of the music with creation and improvisation.”
Jakob’s 2018 solo release Returnings was recorded in July 2016 at Rainbow Studio in Oslo, and produced by ECM founder and producer, Manfred Eicher. The record was well received by jazz critics and fans, and regarded for its “oblique Americana with a Nordic sense of space,” in the Financial Times. The moody and atmospheric jazz that Jakob is now known for is a sound that he’s crafted throughout his career, studying at Denmark’s Royal Academy of Music, Boston’s Berklee School, and the New School in New York. Growing up, his father was a big band leader in Denmark, and he explains that there was always music in his home. “I played the trumpet in my father’s big band, and my father was also teaching music - there were always students in the house to learn music.” As a teenager, he began playing his current instrument of choice, the electric guitar. He credits much of his inspiration to the late drummer Paul Motian. “He was probably my biggest hero in music,” he remarks. “His approach to time, melody, and gathering groups together was a big inspiration for the band.” Jakob played in Motian's twin-sax/triple-guitar band for the record Garden of Eden (2006) before Motian’s passing in 2011.
For the next several months, the trio are intermittently touring North America, Europe, Scandinavia, and Asia. Jakob explains that when he’s not working on music, he’s at home with his wife and daughter. “We listen to a lot of music at home. [Dagny’s] listening to Billie Holiday, Louis Armstrong, Nina Simone. She’s clapping along to the music, and she’s just started dancing,” he explains. Separating his creative work from his life at home is relatively new to the musician, but he explains that it’s a boundary that’s welcome. “Ten years ago, I would have found it stressful to not work at home, but now I do my best work while I’m on the road and playing shows. When I’m home, I want to be there for my family.”
Jakob Bro Trio perform at the Good Will Social Club (625 Portage Ave) on Sunday October 14, with BlinkerPhase. Tickets available online and at 007-100 Arthur St.