Jazz state of mind: A chat with Charlotte Greve on making music with the Lisbeth Quartett
As jazz ensembles go, the Lisbeth Quartett is anything but predictable. Fronted by Brooklyn-based saxophonist and composer Charlotte Greve, the quartet includes Manuel Schmiedel on piano, Igor Spallati on bass, and Moritz Baumgärtner on drums.
Founded in 2009, the quartet has gained much international acclaim over the course of its tours, with five albums released so far. Their list of accolades runs long, but truth be told, it’s all about the joy of improvising on stage.
To that end, you’d need an extremely attuned set of minds, all in sync with, and ever-mindful of each other's thoughts, even as they conduct the give-and-take exchange of ideas and energies that leads to pure musical magic, in any performance.
Their last album, There is Only Make (2017) features multi-faceted pieces that ‘oscillate between quiet passages and vigorous intensification’.
As a profile note of the band puts it, ‘Melodic lines and clear forms, subtle interplay and a modern approach demonstrate creative drive and strength of character.’ We got to chat with Charlotte about some of that character, and the joy of making music...
You’ve spoken about how this album came together like a painting, building ‘details and depth... bit by bit’. Tell us a little more about that process, and the overall joy of making, There is Only Make.
Charlotte Greve: Before going into the studio, we had played all of the songs that are on the album on several concerts and tours — over time, we really got to know the music super well and recording material like this, which is so familiar, felt very flexible and easy.
Tell us about the meaning behind the album’s name, There is Only Make. How much do you enjoy the act, the exercise and creative process of making music? What other things do you like to make — food, laughter and some noise perhaps?
CG: The album title, There is Only Make, is a quote from Corita Kent, an artist who used to run an art school in San Francisco in the 1960s. She once made a list of Rules for Students and Teachers in the art world, and I found this particular rule very inspiring and true: “There is no win and no fail — there is only make.” Except for creating music in the form of records, performances, tours, rehearsals and composing, I enjoy cooking, baking, swimming, running and travelling.
How does the alto saxophone sit in between all of this, as that perfect sound to bring together Igor’s bass lines, Manuel’s notes on the piano, and Moritz’s drumming?
CG: We all have our place in the music and we have developed a language together, over the last ten years. Depending on the song and of the particular version of each song in each performance, each instrument sometimes is in the fore, mid or background.
If you were to pick anyone, which of the instruments in the quartet, would you say lends that added sense of suspense, in some of your longer compositions — the saxophone, piano, drums or bass?
CG: It depends on the piece and on the way we approach it — that normally changes from one concert to the next.
Each member here seems fully musically equipped and geared to perform full-length solos. As a composer, how do you factor in their vast personal repertoires, in making arrangements that make room for each other’s improvisations?
CG: I write all of the music for the Lisbeth Quartett, especially for these specific musicians. So while composing, I’m thinking especially about the sound that each of them brings to the table and factor that in as much as possible into what I’m writing.
Tell us about your expectations about India. What can audiences expect, as something special, in your performance in the city of Chennai?
CG: I’m not there yet, but I’m sure I will enjoy my time in India a lot! We would like to invite each and every listener in the concert to get an insight into the musical world that we are creating, and I’m hoping that we can make that happen with the way we play.
Tell us about your international travels — where do you find the most appreciative crowds, and also, the audiences who are most open to experimental sounds?
CG: Most of my concerts take place in either New York City or Germany. The crowd in Germany is definitely very appreciative most of the time, and quite open-minded. In New York, the crowd is definitely very open-minded, however, it can be hard to get a big and appreciative crowd out to the shows, as there is always so much going on.
Give us your take on preserving the best of the traditional classical world, and working with new sounds, to make new music for listeners in the future?
CG: I think it’s always important to cherish and be aware of the traditions and everything that has been around for a much longer time in the world of music. I like to take that inspiration into my current and constantly changing musical world, and combine the two into something that is new, and in the moment.
How would you compare the joy of performing live as opposed to doing studio recordings? How do the albums balance out, for you, as a band, when compared to tours, album releases and promotions?
CG: Especially with the Lisbeth Quartett, the live experience can differ a lot from the way the music works on the album. I enjoy both scenarios and processes — working in the studio is like putting a magnifying glass on everything and asking yourself, which one of the many can be the best possible version of a piece.
In the live setting, anything is possible, and that is a beautiful state of mind to be in. Especially with this band, it works well because we know each others playing inside out and don’t need a musical safety net.
Do you plan to record and release videos sometime soon? Give us your dream idea of an album, and if you could invite guest musicians to collaborate with you — who would you pick?
CG: I have a few projects in the works right now that will be released in 2020 — so keep your ears open and eyes peeled. With the Lisbeth Quartett, we had worked with other alto players in the past and I would like to re-visit the idea of two alto saxophones in the band. It brings out new ideas and ways to play together. Who exactly it will be is yet to be decided.
Goethe-Institut / Max Mueller Bhavan Chennai will host the Lisbeth Quartett in a jazz concert at the Goethe-Institut Auditorium on November 18, 7 pm onwards.
— Jaideep Sen