About the album
Who is afraid of monsters?
Already Friedrich Nietzsche knew that a child is hidden in each of us – to transform him into our time – a child who wants to play. In hardly any other activity does this childlike pleasure in playing manifest itself in adults as genuinely as it does when they play music. In particular, improvisation should be about nothing more than playing with all available and imaginable components of a given context. This is also how the Swiss-Norwegian alliance, based on the pianist Christoph Stiefel and saxophonist Karl Seglem, sees it. When children build castles in the sand, it is easy to see that their entire architecture is based on improvisation. Who would imply that the child does not work with the utmost seriousness? Painters such as Paul Klee and Joan Miró, but also the poet Ernst Jandl, have transferred this playful seriousness or serious playfulness into high culture. Even Seglem and Stiefel fall back on the same intuitive handling of the spontaneously feasible, but they not only incorporate the childlike and all-too-childlike, but turn to children from 5 to 99 and call the whole thing Hopp (and smile!) and Monsterjazz.
Optimally tested – live in front of small and large or young and old children – the band went into the studio in 2016 and is now releasing a brightly colored double CD with short collective improvisation and melodic threads that run throughout the entire album. The album consists of two separate parts, each of which belong together in content and aesthetics, but stand for different angles of the musical process. The length of both CDs together corresponds to that of a single CD, but already when you listen to them fleetingly, you hear revealed a different narrative attitude.
The first CD is entitled Hopp (and smile!). Although it is based on how children experience music, it is explicitly aimed at the experienced listener, one who knows how to consciously focus his or her spontaneous perceptions. Here, the clarity of the playful sequence is at least as important as the immediate expressive impulse. The second CD, Monsterjazz - An Interactive Jazz Journey For All Ages, contains the Monsterjazz program for children. This shrill, playful program makes you feel like you're digging in a huge old wooden box with colorful marbles. What could be hidden under the visible? The familiar triggers the unknown, and when the unknown transforms into something known, a new unknown waits beneath the surface. Maybe a monster. Improvisation as a mystery play of the elements. The protagonists do not hide behind a sugared Pippi Longstocking aesthetic, but take the child in the child as seriously as the child in the adult. Children, no matter their age, are radical, and so is this music.
Stiefel and Seglem spent a lot of time thinking about how they can disentangle the two ideas so they can and should get into each other’s way, but do not have to. They then opted for a double album of two separate CDs. The dreadful times in which it was obligatory to cram full a CD with 75 minutes of music are, thank God, over. “On Monsterjazz we emphasize, more than on the other CD, the childlike in ourselves, which allows us to paint with the big brush,” explains Christoph Stiefel. “Depending on your personal preference, the listener can first focus on one or the other mood and discover the other world from there.”
In the process, the music should not give the impression, however, that one wants to separate the world of children from the standards of adults. Indeed, the smoking area is not separated from the crawling area, but rather it is about one and the same access to music. There are two projects in one, only CD 1 is for people who consciously grasp the music, and CD 2 is more for young listeners who unconsciously engage in it out of curiosity like from a shoe box full of crayons, a toy highway or a wrestling match in the high grass. But only together do they make a whole.
Perhaps it can also be compared to a two-act play in which each act is directed to a specific audience, but which invites the other audience at the same time. This is how Seglem and Stiefel – together with singer Jullie Hjetland Jensen, bassist Trygve Waldemar Fiske and drummer Kåre Opheim – succeed in making the performance character audible in an exemplary way on their double CD. The five musicians not only represent themselves and the community of the group, they also create the space in which their scenario unrolls. With their 3D project, Christoph Stiefel and Karl Seglem succeed in no less than in opening jazz up to new listeners and perspectives. And last but not least, they give their monsters back to jazz.
Wolf Kampmann, June 2018 – translated by Bruce Carnevale
Die schweizerisch-norwegische Allianz um den Pianisten Christoph Stiefel und den Saxofonisten Karl Seglem weckt auf sehr individuelle das kindlich Verspielte in der Musik. Sie greift auf den intuitiven Umgang mit dem spontan Machbaren zurück, verleibt sich aber das Kindliche und Allzukindliche nicht nur ein, sondern wendet sich an Kinder von 5 bis 90 und nennen das Ganze „Hopp (and smile!)“ und „Monsterjazz“.
Live schon bestens vor kleinen und großen bzw. jungen und alten Kindern erprobt, geht die Band jetzt ins Studio und veröffentlicht eine knallbunte Doppel-CD mit kurzen Kollektivimprovisationen und melodischen Fäden, die sich durch das ganze Album ziehen. Das Album besteht aus zwei separaten Teilen, die inhaltlich und ästhetisch zusammengehören, aber für unterschiedliche Einfallswinkel des musikalischen Prozesses stehen. Die Länge beider CDs zusammen entspricht der einer einzelnen CD, doch schon beim flüchtigen Hören offenbart sich eine jeweils andere Erzählhaltung.
Die erste CD „Hopp (and smile!)“ basiert zwar auf der Erfahrung von Musik für Kinder, richtet sich aber explizit an den erfahrenen Hörer, der die spontane Empfindung bewusst zu fokussieren weiß. Die Klarheit des spielerischen Verlaufs ist ebenso wichtig wie der unmittelbare expressive Impuls. Die zweite CD „Monsterjazz – An Interactive Jazz Journey For All Ages“ enthält das Monsterjazz-Programm für Kinder. Das Bekannte triggert das Unbekannte, und wenn sich das Unbekannte in Bekanntes transformiert, wartet unter der Oberfläche ein neues Unbekanntes. Die beiden Protagonisten verstecken sich nicht hinter einer überzuckerten Pippi-Langstrumpf-Ästhetik, sondern nehmen das Kind im Kinde genauso ernst wie das Kind im Erwachsenen. Kinder, egal welchen Alters, sind radikal, und so ist diese Musik. Erst gemeinsam ergeben beide CDs ein Ganzes. Mit ihrem 3D-Projekt gelingt Christoph Stiefel und Karl Seglem nicht weniger, als dem Jazz neue Hörer und Perspektiven zu erschließen. Und nicht zuletzt geben sie dem Jazz seine Monster zurück.
CHRISTOPH STIEFEL Born in Zurich, Switzerland in 1961, the pianist became a permanent band member of Andreas Vollenweider & Friends at the age of 23. He toured with the band from 1984 to 1989 through Europe, Australia, Japan and the USA. Around the same time he decided to drop out of law school, he began to work on his own projects, with which he has already produced and published 16 CDs internationally. After his earlier musical interests inspired him to create projects in world music, Nujazz, Fusion and even to compose a “classical” concert for piano, two percussionists and string orchestra (world premiere in 1998), he has turned intensively to jazz piano music and composition in the last 15 years. He became well known internationally in the last few years, in particular, for his own compositional style, through which he has created a contemporary type of jazz by using a compositional technique from the Middle Ages (isorhythm) – his music oscillates between intensive grooves and tonal color painting in a fascinating manner. For years, he has fostered this compositional style, mostly in his “Inner Language Trio”, which manages the balancing act between precise conceptual work and unleashed improvisation with such aplomb as few other formations in the current jazz scene. Stiefel’s extraordinary compositions as well as his special way of playing the piano have opened the doors to interesting new projects, among others, a duo performance with the Japanese dancer Hideto Heshiki, a duo with the vocalist Lisette Spinnler, the foundation of the septet “Christoph Stiefel Septet” along with several of the best Swiss and German jazz musicians, as well as a new band, the “Karl Seglem & Christoph Stiefel Group” with excellent musicians from Norway and Denmark (CD release “Waves” on Challenge Records 2015). His newest CD “Christoph Stiefel Piano Solo – Sofienberg Spirits” was recorded november 2016 in Oslo in the wonderful Sofienberg church, and will be released by nWog Records in february 2018, followed by several Solo concerts in Germany and Switzerland. Since 2000, Christoph Stiefel has been an instructor for piano and keyboards in the Jazz Department at the Lucerne University of Applied Sciences and Arts. In 2012, he received a cultural award – a one-year working grant – from the City of Zurich, called “Werkjahr Jazz.”The CD Christoph Stiefel Septet "RHYTHM-A-TIZED" (Challenge/NewArts 2016) has been nominated for the prestigious GERMAN RECORD CRITICS AWARD!
The Norwegian saxophonist / geithornist Karl Seglem and the Swiss pianist Christoph Stiefel Group release the child in every person with the double album Hopp (And Smile) / Monster Jazz.
... It is improvised full of relish, melodies always get new twists, rhythms change, the serious has a humorous and sometimes childlike undertone in this music. ...
A Swiss-Norwegian team around the pianist Christoph Stiefel and the saxophonist Karl Sehlem deals with the childlike playfulness of jazz - intended for an audience of young and old...