On her new album "Cycle of Silence" the Norwegian saxophonist Frøy Aagre follows a unique vision based on the sound of her soprano: Her band, although conventional in line-up with piano, bass and drums, never gets caught in the trap of sounding like any other jazz quartet.
Frøy Aagre doesn't only play the saxophone, she also composes and arranges all of the repertoire and for "Cycle of Silence" in the end also most naturally took the producer's seat. Releasing her current album on ACT music for her was a wish come true.
Carina Prange talked to Frøy Aagre for Jazzdimensions
Carina: Norway is well-known for female singers like Silje Nergaard, Kristin Asbjørnsen and pianists like Tord Gustavsen. Occasionally there's also a saxophone player among. However nobody has heard much about female sax players up to now. What is the current situation likeare there many female students of music aspiring careers as instrumentalists? On what instruments?
Frøy: Yes, there are! Actually it is a very positive development visible now. Because at the different educational institutions for jazz around Norway, there's a growing number of female instrumentalists.
Carina: On what instruments mostly?
Frøy: It's mainly pianists and saxophonists. And some bassplayers. And I think, that's because in Norway we have role models in those instruments, we've had some well-known saxophonists and piano players and also some bass players. Whereas for instance on the drums…
We have hardly any female drummers in jazz, so there is no role model. I think there must be some kind of connection, because there is really a growing number of pianists and bassplayers and saxophone players. On all these instruments we have established musicians already. That was an inspiration for me, too, when I grew up.
Carina: What was your personal road to the saxophone? Did you grow up with music?
Frøy: (laughs) I had a musical family and also some friends who did music. So music was a natural thing for me. I started playing the clarinet at the age of twelve and then moved on to the saxophone eventually.
Carina: Last year in April you were on stage at the Vosajazz Concert together with trumpeter Mathias Eick. As a guest on your CD we can read the name Trude Eick. Is she a relative of Mathias?
Frøy: She is his sister! Trude has been a guest with my band before. I really like way she plays the French horn. Together with Øyvind Braekke on trombone, that was a really nice deep brass sound at the bottom. And then I had the challenge of three kind of deep instruments: that gives different dimensions to the piano and the soprano which is the top of the register. And then obviously the double bass and the piano form the low register. I wanted these deep brass sounds. That's why I chose Trude and Øyvind.
Carina: Will you be touring with the line-up of the album in March?
Frøy: Yeah, it's the same line up!
Carina: What does the constellation in the band have to be like, or the vibes of the location to make you feel really at home on stage? Does the audience have an influence also?
Frøy: An interesting question! We are really comfortable playing together and we know each other really well musically. Even if someone'd make a mistake or something, it's never gonna be a problem! We'd just continue and make something out of it. Musically it's just a question of if we play "really, really well" or if we just kind of play well. We never play a "bad" concert, just because we play together for a long time and know our material from the heart.
The atmosphere and the audience also has a lot of influence on if we'll be able to give a little extra. If the audience is really eager and positive, that for sure gives me an extra boost! In that way the audience can contribute to the interaction of the band. And sometimes we have magic moments with the band. Everything we do just works. So it's a combination of how we play that evening as a band and the audience.
Carina: The title of your current album is "Circle Of Silence". You claim to have explicitly used "silence as an integrated part" of your music on it. Is it easier to work with silence than with notes?
Frøy: Yeah… (laughs) but I work with a lot of notes, too! However this time I tried to think of silence as a musical parameter, as important as melody, harmony and rhythm. Also silence is not always just complete silence. It can be "less notes" or "more space" in a solo. Or more room in the interaction.
In the arrangements, I just thought of silence as something which can be used in addition. It's been interesting to deal with both: lots of notes and also their complete absence. And everything in-between.
Carina: Can we say that silence generally grows in importance in these increasingly fast-paced times?
Frøy: Yeah, I think, everything is really quick these days and I think, it's nice to be able to just sit down and hear some space in music. I feel that when music is more spacious, it leaves more room for the listener to think and to get carried away. And even get carried away in their own thoughts.
So when you go to concerts where the music is kind of taking you on a journey, that's a really nice thing. And so the music leaves spaces for the listener also to have their own journey when listening to the music. So I try to give the listener some space, too.
Carina: Does that make silence a kind of "nourishing soil" for the music? Is listening to silence a precondition for creativity, for the urge to fill this silence?
Frøy: If there is some room and space that can be filled, it can be filled with "nothing" or it can be filled with "something". For creativity it's a good thing to have some room. Also, I think, you need to have a band that is mature in terms of knowing each other well. In order to dare to leave silence and space for each other. Because it's much easier to fill every gap with music!
I don't think we could have made this album three or four years ago. Because now we've already recorded two CDs and I, too, have kind of matured as a composer. So now it turned out to be the time to experiment with that new element!
Carina: In what way do you find the titles for your compositions? For example "Words on an envelope" or "Lost connection" how did you arrive there?
Frøy: As always, when I am in composing, most of the time I am inspired by something. I can get inspired by lots of different things. "Siberia" is inspired by a flight over Siberia from Japan, in the clear sky. During the flight I got the immediate idea of a melody.
In cases like that I kind of sample the whole atmosphere of my getting inspired. And then I try to remember how I got inspired and how I felt at that moment. When I come back home, I sit with the piano and I try to get myself into the same frame of mind I was in when I had the idea in the first place. I try to get back into the mood and then compose.
"Words on an envelope" for instance is about all the small letters left from family members and about that I love writing notes on paper. And I always like it when people write, when my mother or family write messages on pieces of paper for each other. That's really niceloving words on small pieces of paper for the closest people in your life.
Carina: Do you think your lyrics out directly in English or first in Norwegian?
Frøy: It is always in English from the beginning. Because English is like my second language since I lived in England for four years. It feels natural for me to think in English. So all my titles have been in English always.
I started composing for bands, when I was nineteen. At that time I studied in England, so naturally all my titles were in English. It just continued to be in English after that. Also I think it's easier to make poetic titles in English rather than in Norwegian. I don't knowmaybe it's a richer language.
Carina: You concentrated on the soprano sax as your sole instrument on "Circle Of Silence". Did the music call for this instrument especially? Or did you choose or arrange the compositions so that they fit to the sound of the soprano?
Frøy: It had all been with the soprano in mind, when I composed. I was getting deep into the sound of it. The soprano is a very difficult instrument, so I felt when I'd focus only on the soprano, I could get more out of it. I could develop more and get deeper into it's sound. So all the melodies and everything are conceived for the soprano.
The soprano works really well with the piano, they blend well together-the piano in the high register and the soprano. And that's a different dimension. I don't think, it'd work that well with the tenor, for instance.
So especially to connect with the piano, make them sound like one instrument, that was easier with the soprano: All of a sudden we had a saxophone-piano combination which kind of sounded like a new instrument.
Carina: In what way can you express different things on the soprano compared to other types of saxes?
Frøy: Well, I love the tenor, too! But on the soprano, I feel I have a stronger individual sound. I'm more free in expressing myself. Also it is not as common an instrument as the tenor and the alto. There is a more established sound and established way of playing on the other instruments. Whereas the soprano is not an instrument that is played that much, if you know, what I mean…
It's the same with the baritoneanother instrument, that's not that much used in jazz. It's different, when you play the instrumentkind of a different sound from the beginning. And then it's easier to explore when you have a kind of fresher instrument.
My quartet, as you know, is a traditional quartet. It's piano, double bass and drums. And then the soprano, it adds an element to it, which makes it different. With for instance the tenor, it would be a more common jazz sound.
Carina: To come back to the silence: Silence plays a major role in the aesthetics and the label concept of Manfred Eicher and his record company ECMwhy did you choose ACT instead of ECM as your record company?
Frøy: ACT has been my first choice because I always loved the releases they haveand also E.S.T. and all these things. That was like the label I really wanted my music to be on. I thought my music would fit well with ACT. That's why I contacted Siegfried and requested to release it on his label.
CD: Frøy Aagre - "Cycle Of Silence" (ACT Music ACT 9491-2)
Frøy Aagre im Internet: www.froyaagre.com
ACT Music im Internet: www.actmusic.com
Fotos: Joerg Grosse Geldermann / ACT