Roxana Amed and Frank Carlberg will make the Argentine premier of La Sombra De Su Sombra featuring Carlberg’s settings to poetry by the late great Argentine writer Alejandra Pizarnik. Also look for the new CD release of the piece on Red Piano Records.
Frank Carlberg’s BIG ENIGMA will be performing at the Poetry Project at St Marks Church in NY, NY on Friday, October 18th. Also look for the upcoming CD Big Enigmas (Red Piano Records) which features Christine Correa, John Carlson, Jeremy Udden, Matt Moran, John Hébert, Michael Sarin and Frank Carlberg. Poetry by Ken Mikolowski.
Frank Carlberg’s new piece Word Circus, a CMA New Jazz Works Commission, will be premiered in October in New York, Boston, Portland etc (check calendar for more details). The piece is a song cycle with poems by Ron Padgett, Anselm Berrigan, Jim Gustafson, Anselm Hollo, Joe Elliot and Ken Mikolowski. The band features Christine Correa, John O’Gallagher, Pascal Niggenkemper, Michael Sarin and Frank Carlberg.
The Amsterdam-based CLAZZ ENSEMBLE and pianist/composer Frank Carlberg meet somewhere at the crossroads of cinema, carnivals, the circus, 20th (and 21st) century classical music, childhood remembrances and tie it all together with the spirit of jazz. CLAZZ ENSEMBLE seems like the ideal partner to navigate and realize the knotty nooks and crannies of Carlberg’s tricky scores, and they do it with great éclat.
CLAZZ ENSEMBLE, the brainchild of trumpeter Gerard Kleijn and saxophonist Dick de Graaf, is a “small” Big Band. It features many of the leading Dutch improvisers and instrumentalists, but their deeper commitment is to make music collectively which they do here splendidly. In addition to Carlberg, CLAZZ ENSEMBLE has commissioned works from luminaries in new music such as Louis Andriessen, Jacob Ter Veldhuis and Michael Moore. CLAZZ ENSEMBLE is at the forefront of European new music.
To buy go to:
Available June 14, 2011 on Red Piano Records
About Uncivilized Ruminations:
Pianist/composer Frank Carlberg continues his fecund meditations on contemporary American and European poetry with his new CD from Red Piano Records, “Uncivilized Ruminations,” featuring regular band-mates vocalist extraordinaire Christine Correa, saxophonists Chris Cheek and John O’Gallagher, bassist John Hebert and Michael Sarin on drums.
The works Mr. Carlberg has chosen for this opus are characterized by a trenchant humor that is deftly mordant albeit never arch or outright sarcastic… a series of poetic asides, if you will, just this side of aphoristic, that highlight a range of fractal truths rising out of this particular juncture of time and “the great whatever it is out there.”
In many of these poems the tongue may indeed be buried in the cheek somewhat but it sure ain’t found no home sweet home there, not by a long shot.
The tastes left in ones mouth, so to speak, behind these bittersweet reflections, are not so much “bad tastes” but rather reminders of what it takes, in terms of courage, wit, to sally forth and muddle through this selva absurda that exacerbates our focus and keeps us on our toes, “ears to the ground,” “eyes peeled,” “nose to the grind stone,” all elements of Mr. Carlberg’s insightful hermeneutic sense.
If there is an absurdist bent to Mr. Carlberg’s settings it lies not so much in an existential angst-edged psycho-drama but rather in a pure appreciation of the heft and intentions of the language: the shaded possibilities of under-meanings and a kind of poise that clarifies the poem’s postures toward reality – and in so doing he becomes the poem’s partner as opposed to the poet’s.
Available at http://cdbaby.com/cd/frankcarlberg2
PIANIST/COMPOSER FRANK CARLBERG’S CINEMATIC “TIVOLI TRIO”
AVAILABLE MARCH 30th ON RED PIANO RECORDS
With bassist John Hebert and drummer Gerald Cleaver
With the release of Tivoli Trio, his remarkable new CD on the Red Piano Records label, pianist-composer Frank Carlberg has, with the incalculable support of his stellar accompanists, New Orleansian John Hebert on bass and the great Gerald Cleaver on drums, taken his place in the first rank of contemporary jazz masters, as both composer and performer.
The word “Tivoli” conjures up for many the mysteries and excitement, magic and otherworldliness of the carnival, the amusement park… be it the Tivoli Gardens in Mr. Carlberg’s native Helsinki, or the hurly-burly of the Mardi Gras in Mr. Hebert’s home town.
In these thirteen compositions Mr. Carlberg revisits the untrammeled precincts of innocence; reanimates the cusps of youthful anticipation of thrill and adventure; of facing our fears in order to discover the bittersweet perquisites of risk.
These songs are gifts from the edges of memory; intimations of “a world”, as the poet Robert Creeley wrote, “Underneath, or on top of this one- and that’s here, now.”
And it is into this world, where imagination trumps the so-called real, that Mr. Carlberg and his intensely simpatico collaborators, have provided us a glimpse and an access; frissions of the kaleidoscopic hurdy-gurdy that alternately delights and unnerves us.
The bass virtuoso John Hebert, whose unerring sense of mood and shading sets him apart from a generation of contra-bass colleagues, summons up the echoes of the Crescent City Boogaloo, from Marie Laveau to Eddie Blackwell, echoes that resonate in and around Mr. Carlberg’s compelling narratives.
Drummer Gerald Cleaver, magus of the motor city, has an uncanny ability to enter into, enhance and amplify, the compositional intentions of a range of band leaders from Ben Waltzer to Craig Taborn to, in this instance, Mr. Carlberg, against whose sonic architecture he provides a tantalizing underscore, exact and substantial.
In Tivoli Trio, Mr. Carlberg deciphers the mystique (and extents) of the Midway, from the romantic reveries of young love “on the stroll” past the barkers and shills, to the anxious, noiristic rigadoons of lost innocence and to the vast unknown onto which it opens, an unknown replete with all the possibilities and promises this remarkable music suggests and insinuates.
There are very few recordings being made these days (among many great records) of which in can be said they leave you wanting more… let’s hope this offering is the first of many by this extraordinary trio.
A new release by Tivoli Trio (Red Piano Records), featuring Frank Carlberg, John Hebert and Gerald Cleaver, will be available in March. The trio have some shows scheduled in NY (March 6th, March 20th and May 22nd) as well as other dates in the works for New England and beyond. Check the Calendar section.
Now pianist Frank Carlberg has also made jazz out of Creeley’s poetry, and the result is the tremendous “American Dream.” Carlberg doesn’t shrink from the poems, and Creeley’s lines are tougher than leather. The very first sound is vocalist Christine Correa’s wail, as gripping as anything since John Vicker’s sang “Gott! Welch Dunkel hier!” at Covent Garden. Carlberg’s band, with Chris Cheek on tenor sax, John Hebert playing bass and Michael Sarin on drums, has some qualities of Keith Jarrett’s great European quartet, but with an extra toughness to their grooves and a tastier blues/rock filling. His settings of the text are excellent, turning the lines of poetry into real songs with harmonies and contrapuntal material that give the musicians a lot of ideas to work with. The star is Correa, her powerful and expressive singing dominates the record. Her full-throated voice demands attention and her musical sense and diction convey both the text and a plangent sense of meaning. She colors the phrases and notes with the details of real thoughts – the way she clips ‘out there’ into ‘out! . . . there . . . ;’ the joy of ‘we get crazy but we have fun,’ the rueful hope of ‘no more war, dear brother’ – that show she has command of not just the notes but the meanings. The connection to Lacy’s music is mostly subtle, but clear, important and welcome. Lacy was enormously admired but so individual that his practical influence on jazz has been slight. Carlberg has his own way of setting the same poet, his lines are longer and more lyrical, but the roar in the vocals triggers immediate memories of Lacy’s wife Irene Aebi wailing out on his great live set, “The Way,” and the tune for ‘Fat Fate’ could be heard as a fast variation on Lacy’s lovely ‘Napping.’ “American Dream” is a model of what jazz and poetry can achieve together, and is one of the finest jazz records of this decade. Tough, beautiful, driving and moving, it is urgently recommended.
Here is an interview from Cadence Magazine, Oct-Nov-Dec 09
Interview conducted by Ludwig Van Trikt
CADENCE: I detect a couple of important threads in your music: a love of
poetry and a concern with national identity.
FRANK CARLBERG: For years poetry has offered me education, inspiration,
provocation, confusion and beauty. I wasn’t looking in poetry for some-
thing that I could use in my music … I was just reading … but, along the
way I’ve been setting some of it to music. I wrote a few settings. However,
Christine Correa is also an important reason why I kept on writing. In the
end I needed a voice … a specific voice to write for. She was able to sing
the melodies I dreamed up and she could give these lines emotional impact,
like an expression of the language they provided. Poetry really is a perfor-
mance art and these are our versions of the poems.
Many of the poems that I’ve chosen are masterpieces and clearly do not
need my musical settings. My wish is that through the music some of these
poets will find new readers that otherwise might have missed their work.
In terms of national identity, I never thought that I was especially con-
nected to my Finnish heritage. However, the immigrant experience has a
way of amplifying our connections to our roots. As one leaves ones cultural
environment behind there is often a need to understand ourselves more fully
through our earlier experiences. Recently, reading the works of Jhumpa
Lahiri, all of which deal with the collisions and juxtapositions of the past
with the present, I’ve realized that there are universal tendencies to the
immigrant experience. In a sense the immigrant is unable to be fully at
home anywhere. Years ago I played some folk songs at an event organized
by a Finnish-American organization and there was a poet there who spoke
about her experience growing up in America with grandparents who had
immigrated from Finland many years prior. Even though she had never set
foot in Finland she had grown to have this intense longing for the old coun-
try through her grandparents’ stories.
CADENCE: You became interested in Jazz by listening to your father’s very traditional
record collection,—which was very traditional—yet you became a Jazz
FRANK CARLBERG: The recordings that made the biggest impact back then were by Duke, Wes Montgomery, Louis, and especially the great singers such as Sarah, Ella,
Billie, etc. I also listened to people such as Oscar Peterson, Tatum, and
Erroll Garner although they never had the same kind of influence on me.
In addition to the vocalists I was drawn, even early on, to musical
“organizers”; composers, conceptualists, leaders of men … and Duke has
to be one of the greatest of all time. Well, to me Duke is a modernist! His
music (I’m also including Billy Strayhorn here—fair or not) still blows me
away consistently. Of course it is a product of its time but it is not dated.
And then from Duke one keeps moving quite naturally to Monk, Mingus,
Gil Evans, Steve Lacy, and there you have many lifetimes’ worth of things to
study. In many ways I feel that I am quite a Jazz traditionalist. During a time
when it seems increasingly common for people to downplay their Jazz roots,
I feel first and foremost like a Jazz musician …. I’ll leave it to others to
decide whether that is reflected in the way my music sounds.
CADENCE: When did you first start playing the piano?
FRANK CARLBERG: I started when I was around four or five. My first teacher was Alice Pacius. She was the great granddaughter of Fredrik Pacius, the composer of the
Finnish national anthem (useless trivia info, I know) … and no, I’m not
influenced by our national anthem! As a child, she seemed scary to me but
I think she was a decent teacher. I had a couple of other Classical teachers
after Ms. Pacius. In terms of Jazz I took occasional lessons from a Russian
pianist, Vova Shafranov, who lived in Helsinki at the time. I also took a few
lessons from Jarmo Savolainen, who had spent some time at Berklee in
Boston. However, as far as Jazz is concerned I was pretty much self-taught
early on. I mostly just listened to records and tried to piece some stuff
together from the bits of information that I had received.
CADENCE: What was it about Berklee College of Music that made you want to study
FRANK CARLBERG: I think my main motivation really was to come to the U.S., any way I could. I wanted to learn about Jazz in its own environment, so to speak. I certainly
also had a case of wanderlust … I had already spent some time bouncing
around Europe fairly aimlessly.
In order to come to the U.S. and stay for any extended period of time
one needed a visa in those days. So I applied to Berklee, which was the only
Jazz school in the U.S. that I had heard of, got my student visa, packed a
suitcase and came over. I was going to stay for one year. Oh well ….
CADENCE: The Class of 1984, of which you were a part, included some heavy hitters
(Jim Black, Chris Cheek, Antonio Hart, Sam Newsome, Chris Speed, and Ben
Street). Was there a sense that this was a new generation of important
players coming on the scene?
FRANK CARLBERG: It’s true that there were many great young players around Boston during that time. In addition to the people you mentioned, Danilo Perez, Roy Hargrove,
Edsel Gomez, Christian Jacob, Andrew D’Angelo, Matt Wilson, Julian Joseph,
Aydin Esen, Kurt Rosenwinkel, Joshua Redman, and John Carlson come to
mind. I am forgetting many names, I’m sure. It certainly was a great period
but Boston was my first destination when I came to the U.S., so I really did
not have anything to compare it with, except Helsinki. I was quite blown
away and inspired by the music that all these young guys were making
already then. They have all, of course, continued to grow and have all cre-
ated a lot of great music.
CADENCE: You continued your studies at the New England Conservatory of Music to
pursue a master’s degree. Why is receiving higher education now appar-
ently so necessary in Jazz? And why was it necessary for your own needs?
FRANK CARLBERG: Well, I actually applied to New England Conservatory because I needed a visa. My visa had expired but I wanted to stay in the U.S. I was frequently
going over to Europe to play but in order to re-enter the country I needed
to have a valid visa. Going to school would get me a visa. So my initial rea-
son for pursuing my master’s was not really all that noble. However, once
I got to NEC I came in close contact with people like Jimmy Giuffre, Ran
Blake, Geri Allen, and Paul Bley and they all made quite an impression on
me. Especially Jimmy was just an enormous influence. He lived in western
Mass but would stay over in Boston on Monday nights. We ended up having
dinner together quite often on Mondays and, after, he felt like playing. We
would play duets. I had listened quite a bit, both live and recordings, to the
trio he had with Bley and Swallow (sometimes with Peacock subbing) and
felt that I kind of understood what was going on and thought I’d be com-
fortable in that environment. However, the first time we played duo, Jimmy
started out playing this amazingly beautiful and crystal clear melody which
was completely Free yet so exquisitely sculpted, and I had no idea what to
do! I suddenly really realized how heavy the trio with Bley and Swallow was.
They made it sound so easy … and natural, and it seemed like Paul always
knew exactly what to do—bastard! But Jimmy was extremely generous. We
kept on playing and he never showed any signs of frustration although I kept
on scuffling and stepping all over his stuff. Jimmy was just a beautiful human
being. Always honest and very giving … musically and otherwise. Man, just
talking about this I realize how much I miss him.
What really impressed me with Jimmy, Ran, Geri, and Paul was their
musical integrity and commitment. It wasn’t about a pedagogical system
(whether they had one, I’m not sure) but rather about personal expression
and beautiful, powerful music. I understood later that my experience at
Berklee was primarily about my fellow students while my NEC experience
was mostly formed by some of the faculty … I am glad I needed a visa ….
CADENCE: Was there any difference in the level of instruction between both institutions?
FRANK CARLBERG: The two schools have quite different philosophies. Berklee was more about a system of organizing information that is fairly consistently followed
throughout the curriculum with its set terminology, notation, etc., while NEC
was about embracing the diversity in creative improvised music and with
emphasis on searching for your own voice. It was more about these differ-
ences rather than a question about levels per se.
CADENCE: While you were pursuing your education, did you have a chance to perform
either as a sideman or leading your own bands?
FRANK CARLBERG:I had started performing in Europe already, before I started my “formal”Jazz education. During my Boston studies I played a fair amount in the U.S.
as well as in Europe. Much of the work was as a sideman but gradually I
had more gigs as a leader. As I kept writing music I felt the need to organize
my own groups.
CADENCE: In 1992 you released your recording debut, Blind Drive (Accurate Records).
Did this help establish you as a working artist?
FRANK CARLBERG: After the release of Blind Drive I did receive some of my first reviews in major publications such as Down Beat, Billboard, Jazz Times, etc., but
I can’t really say that it established me in any significant way. I had really
wanted to have a trio for quite a while but after Blind Drive (a trio record-
ing) I was completely broke and unable to generate enough work to keep a
band together, so whatever potential momentum there could have been after
the CD fizzled quickly. I was also getting increasingly interested in (for me)
new instrumental combinations. However, with no money and no label inter-
ested in sponsoring another project, I had to wait for a bit.
CADENCE: When and how did you get to a place that your music and life were on bet-
ter economic footing?
FRANK CARLBERG: During the ‘90s things gradually changed. I received some grants and prizes, the number of concerts increased (and some of them better paid), I was
getting more commissions, and in ‘98 or ‘99 I started teaching on a regular
basis, which meant there was some steady income for the first time in my life.
CADENCE:More and more of the artists I speak with say that, at least in America,
teaching is an absolute necessity since most musicians could not survive
solely by performing.
FRANK CARLBERG: The structure in Jazz and improvised music has changed in terms of the professional picture. There are fewer steady working groups now than in the
past. There used to be more mentoring type relationships in those bands,
originally with big bands and later with many smaller groups such as the
bands led by Miles, Art Blakey, Horace Silver, and numerous lesser-known
leaders. These changes have meant that more musicians have had to look
for alternatives to solely performance-based work. The proliferation of Jazz
programs at colleges and universities has served a two-fold purpose. On
one hand they have filled the need for young musicians and students to find
guidance and mentors previously supplied by working groups. On the other
hand these programs have presented professional musicians with opportuni-
ties to supplement their income. The schools do provide an opportunity for
musicians of different generations to interact and share information and
The lack of subsidies and public support for arts in America makes
it very difficult for most artists to survive without teaching in some way or
form. It is unfortunate that most arts in the U.S. need to cater to the mar-
ketplace in some way. The colleges and universities can sometimes provide
an exception to this rule. I remember, for instance, some years back at NEC
that George Russell was able to create a piece, “Time Line,” that featured an
orchestra, a big band, a chorus, a klezmer group, small Jazz groups, and
many soloists for the school’s centennial celebration. It was a glorious event
in Jordan Hall with performers nearly outnumbering the audience of the
packed hall. Something like that would be completely impossible to pull off
if only market forces and profitability were considered.
The situation in Europe is a bit different. It seems that European societ-
ies accept much more willingly the use of public resources for arts. Cultural
events, including experimental projects, are seen as a natural part of society.
I think the educational system over there also places more emphasis on the
value of experiences through art. In the U.S. we tend to consider art more
based on whether we “like” something or not rather than as an experience
with an inherent value. This all starts from how we guide our young people.
It also seems to me that there is a certain dominance by some institu-
tions in Jazz in the U.S. For instance, The Lincoln Jazz Center, which in and
of itself might be a good thing, has to a large extent become the public face
of Jazz. It receives a large part of whatever funding there might be for Jazz.
At the same time it certainly only represents a small part of the actual range
of the music.
CADENCE: In some ways the overriding theme of some of your work seems to deal
with the American experience.
FRANK CARLBERG: The move to the U.S. years ago turned out to be a significant event in my life. After going through the different stages of “culture shock,” such as from
idealizing the new culture to resenting it, one tends to develop a more rela-
tive view of both the new and the old. I am still constantly intrigued by the
differences and similarities of American and European cultures. There also
seems to be an incredible amount of delusional self-views of the cultures
on both sides of the Atlantic. Many of these issues are highly ironic. The
early immigrants to America came looking for a new order without class
distinctions yet the U.S. seems increasingly mired in a society characterized
by class divisions while Europe might be a bit less so … certainly if one
considers education the great equalizer.
It is also shocking to note the complete lack of moral outrage that we
exhibit in cases such as Guantanamo, where people are kept without due
process in open-ended incarceration. Where are the protests? Where is the
America was also built on the idea of free speech but what happens
now is that anyone can step on their little soapbox but no one is actually
listening. This seems so strange to me, partially maybe because, growing up
in the shadow of the Soviet Union, many opinions or thoughts could not be
expressed publicly. The American political arena has been greatly homog-
enized. A while back, when I was visiting Finland, they were preparing for
parliamentary elections and had a television debate with representatives
from 13 different parties. The smaller parties would raise issues that the
more powerful parties would never had addressed voluntarily. Here the
debate is basically between two very powerful political forces … one of
which at any given moment has a bit more power than the other … at least
until the next election when they trade places. There is no real political
On the other hand, Europeans have been fond of pointing to America’s
problems regarding race and religion while being quite blind to their own
glaring problems of social injustice and racial prejudice. With the election
of Obama there was a brief moment of reflection in some European coun-
tries whether what happened in the U.S. could actually happen there …
the conclusion drawn by most that the time is not yet for a French/Algerian
president … or German/Turkish chancellor …
When I came to the U.S. I have to admit that except for Jazz and cinema,
I was fairly ignorant of American culture. Having discovered the richness of
the artistic range here, be it in music or literature or visual arts or archi-
tecture and design, I feel continually nurtured by the creative energy in the
U.S., which happens against all odds with scant public support.
CADENCE: Your second recording, Ugly Beauty (Northeastern Records, 1994) in duet
with vocalist Christine Correa, marks your love of using vocalists. In other
instances you have created voluminous texts for everything from songs
based on 20th Century poets to “song cycles” based on the work of Robert
Creeley. What is it about the human voice (both in the voice of the poet
and actual singing) that so intrigues you?
FRANK CARLBERG: The human voice is one of the very fundamental musical instruments (along-
side drums/percussion) that always seems to have existed. Many dream of
becoming singers but only a few of us have the gift … the sound … the
control … the physical attributes that make a voice possible. I sure didn’t.
Nothing compares to the impact of the voice of, say, a Billie Holiday, Abbey
Lincoln, Edith Piaf, or Stevie Wonder. It is something direct, something
non-intellectual yet very complex. It is something universal yet each voice is
unique. It is something completely human yet otherworldly at the same time.
So the human voice was something very fascinating to me already early on
and this fascination continues to this day. I remember hearing Abbey Lincoln
live for the first time. I was way in the back of a packed club with compro-
mised sight lines and poor sound yet I was completely mesmerized by her
singing, convinced of every word she sang. Then, years later, I was lucky
when I had a chance to work with Christine Correa as she was able to sing
the kind of music that I was interested in. This work continues to this day
and I do not expect it to stop anytime soon.
Working with poetry is related to these vocal fascinations, yet different
as well. As I said before I wasn’t exactly looking for poems to set to music,
but, as I was reading, one thing led to another. There were also some Jazz
musicians and recordings that helped show me the way. Charles Mingus had
written some lyrics and music that made for compelling songs. The Abbey
Lincoln recording Straight Ahead, with music and texts by various writers,
was quite powerful as was Max Roach’s work with Abbey, mainly Freedom
Now Suite. These were songs with powerful messages, not just the “I’ll
scratch your back if you scratch mine”-type of stuff that was prevalent in the
older show tunes. Duke and Strayhorn, of course, also wrote great songs.
Strayhorn’s “Lush Life” is really kind of a miracle. It is a love song but with
such richness in the music as well as in the words and their sounds—and
Strayhorn wrote it when he was 16 or 17! Unbelievable!
However, for me the most influential composer of Jazz songs (or art-
songs as he preferred to call them) was Steve Lacy. He created an organic
fusion combining poetry and Jazz. Steve’s music just blew my mind—and
still does. It is a music where melody is central. Lacy’s work can teach you
many things yet never in a pedantic way. The texts he uses are powerful,
illuminating, playful, funny, serious, whimsical, etc. Just like life itself. On
the other hand, many poets have been deeply inspirational, such as Anselm
Hollo, Robert Creeley, Gertrude Stein, The Beats, etc. And this all leads to
the foundation of the work. Poets speak, musicians play, and together they
Brooklyn, New York
April 12, 2009