Christian Wallumrød - softly, softly does it
Christian Wallumrød is packing for a trip to Luxembourg when the Herald catches him at home in Norway. The pianist, who has developed a following across Europe and further afield through his ensemble’s recordings for the Munich-based jazz and contemporary music label ECM, has played in many and varied settings, literally from churches to jazz clubs, but his Luxembourg date presents a first: playing solo piano for a yoga session.
“It’s an unusual situation all round because I don’t often play solo piano recitals, once or twice a year, if that,” he says. “And to be honest, I’m not sure what these people are expecting; music for yoga practitioners after they’ve finished their yoga, I guess. But it’ll be interesting. I’m always fascinated by people gathering to hear music because I go to lots of concerts myself and while I always learn from them it’s also a beautiful feeling to have people together experiencing music and possibly responding to the same things, possibly responding to completely different aspects of what they’re hearing.”
If post-yoga activities are restful, then Wallumrød seems an ideal choice. His ensemble’s music is often very quiet and contemplative, although he’s quick to point out that he really enjoys cranking up the volume and making “a hell of a noise.”
“I’m not sure if making tranquil music was my aim when I formed the ensemble,” says Wallumrød whose six-piece group makes its Scottish debut in Edinburgh this weekend. “Over the years I’ve noticed that I’m naturally attracted to the softer part of the dynamic range of the instruments in the group. For some reason, I find it more interesting to work in that range and there’s also the combination of sounds you get from using the softer tones of trumpet, saxophone, cello, violin, piano, and percussion. You possibly have to listen more closely but I also like to combine these tones with strong harmonic and rhythmical ideas. So it’s not just about quiet sounds; there’s a pulse there, too.”
Wallumrød came to the piano after experimenting with one of the electronic keyboards that were popular in the 1970s. He remembers being quite enamoured of the rhythm box that came as standard with these instruments and learning a few chords as well as quite possibly making a hell of a noise, as a six year old budding organist. It was the piano in church, however, and the church pianist’s apparent virtuosity on it that made him beg his parents for piano lessons just as he was approaching his teens.
He had no problem keeping his side of the resultant “if we buy a piano, you have to practise” bargain and he was subsequently accepted into Trondheim Conservatory, where his class became almost a feeder group for the ECM label, which over the past forty years has developed into Europe’s, and one of the world’s, leading jazz imprints. Trumpeter Arve Henriksen, saxophonist Trygve Seim and Wallumrød’s drummer, Per Oddvar Johansen were all contemporaries of his and all went on to record for the German label.
“ECM was quite a big thing when I arrived at the conservatory,” he says. “I only knew a few albums on the label but other people had more knowledge and everyone had their favourites. The sound itself was quite influential but what was very exciting was that a lot of these great records were being made by musicians from Norway and not only were they getting recognition around the world, they were playing with these really interesting musicians. It was very inspiring although I’m not sure any of us thought at the time that we would be following Jan Garbarek, Arild Andersen and these guys into the ECM catalogue. Looking back, it was just such a fantastic opportunity to learn there and be part of really quite small classes. There were five or six students in each intake back then. We were like a band from the start.”
If Wallumrød wasn’t consciously developing music at Trondheim that would appeal to ECM boss, Manfred Eicher and the large audience Eicher has attracted to the label’s signature pristine sound, he was amassing its ingredients, not least the traditional music element. The Hardanger fiddle plays a significant role in his music and although he was aware of it through the radio broadcasts of traditional music that were part of the soundtrack when he was growing up, it was really at Trondheim that he began to appreciate its qualities.
“The instruments are important, of course, as are these musical elements – brass band, choral music, baroque, traditional music – that have informed what we play,” he says. “But ultimately it’s the musicians, their personalities and their individual relationships with these instruments that they bring to the music that really matter. I always write with these particular musicians in mind and I know I can trust them to bring the music alive.”
From The Herald, October 8, 2014.