Tim Kliphuis - From Grappelli to Vivaldi via Mahavishnu
It doesn’t say “made in Scotland” on the Tim Kliphuis Trio’s latest album, Reflecting the Seasons but there would be some justification for doing so. A recording of his personalised account of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons featuring his group with string ensemble the Stellenbosch University Camerata, the album marks the Dutch violinist’s elevation into the big time classical music industry with the mighty multinational Sony.
“I’m not sure this would have happened without me meeting Roy and Nigel and working together so closely, trying different things and basically giving me a touring unit that’s gone all over the world,” says Kliphuis down the line from his first home in Hilversum as he prepares to return to what has become his second home, Scotland.
Roy and Nigel are bassist Roy Percy, whom Kliphuis met in Edinburgh in 2005 on his first visit here, and Glaswegian guitarist Nigel Clark, who was chosen for the first Tim Kliphuis Trio tour precisely because he didn’t play in the gypsy jazz style of Django Reinhardt, although he was playing gypsy folk music with the Russian-Scottish group Koshka at the time.
Kliphuis’s engagement with jazz and improvising had come through playing a tribute to Reinhardt’s partner in swing, violinist Stephane Grappelli. This served him well as it opened doors, not least to working with established players in the style including Belgian guitarist Fapy Lafertin, but by 2007 he was looking to open new doors. He couldn’t have imagined just how many new doors he, Percy and Clark were about to open and keep opening.
“That first tour was organised by Duncan MacInnes through the PAN promoting group across the Highlands and Islands and it turned out to be incredibly helpful because we were able to link into the Enterprise Music Scotland network of chamber music societies and do a lot of gigs for them as well,” says Kliphuis. “From a business point of view, these societies have been invaluable but right from the start we were able to try new ideas as a group. I remember Nigel suggested we play a Scottish tune during the first tour and people reacted so strongly and so positively to it. Then I suggested a classical piece and it got a similar response. These were baby steps but ten years later we’re playing with orchestras and doing all kinds of stuff, whatever we like, really.”
All kinds of stuff includes the two tracks on 2015’s The Hilversum Sessions by the Tim Kliphuis Sextet (the trio augmented by violin, viola and cello) that were originally recorded by the Mahavishnu Orchestra on the jazz-rock giants’ debut album, The Inner Mountain Flame. Kliphuis chuckles at the thought of the 2005 version of Roy Percy, a bassist schooled in the New Orleans and swing jazz styles, playing in 11/16 time as he did on Mahavishnu’s The Dance of Maya. Percy, he says, would have chuckled himself back then if anyone had suggested that he’d one day be swimming in such shark infested waters.
“It’s indicative of how we’ve all grown, really,” says Kliphuis. “I couldn’t have predicted that we’d have lasted beyond those first concerts we did in the Highlands, let alone be celebrating ten years together as we are now. I’d played a few times with Roy and done one concert with Nigel, who had in fact been inspired to play the guitar by John McLaughlin on that Mahavishnu album, and I felt we had a good rapport. I also loved the combination of the three string instruments. We just had to find our own niche and we did that by being willing to go outside our individual and collective comfort zones. You always learn more that way.”
While not claiming to be in quite the same league, Kliphuis likens his trio’s development to the great Oscar Peterson Trio when on tour. Peterson’s bassist and guitarist, Ray Brown and Herb Ellis, would regularly spend the time they had in their hotel rooms working out together how they were going to shift gears behind the pianist while he was improvising onstage to keep the music moving forward. Meanwhile, Peterson would be relaxing in the hotel swimming pool.
The difference between the two groups’ approaches is that, with the Kliphuis trio now living in three different countries – Clark has been based in Dublin for the past few years - all three musicians get together in the hotel to use the time they have together as profitably as possible.
It was during one of these on-the-road rehearsals that the violinist suggested adding part of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons to the trio’s concert repertoire. The Netherlands Chamber Orchestra got to hear about this and in 2012 Kliphuis was commissioned to complete and orchestrate his interpretation and the trio was invited to perform with the orchestra in a festival of Vivaldi’s music in Amsterdam. This then came to the attention of Sony Music who felt that, despite the Four Seasons having been recorded by many ensembles in many forms, Kliphuis had managed to give the work an entirely new perspective that warranted a worldwide release.
“With our own quite small label it’s possible, just about, to finance, record and release an album like The Hilversum Sessions with six musicians,” says Kliphuis. “But to bring in a twenty-three or twenty-four-piece string ensemble is much more complicated. Sony has the budget to produce a high quality sound recording and more importantly in some ways, it has the marketing network to get the music to the prospective audience’s attention. We’d never have been able to get on television in Holland, for example, by ourselves or tour with the orchestra but having Sony on board makes us much more visible.”
Reflecting the Seasons was released last year and having signed the trio on a three album deal the record company is already planning two further large scale projects featuring Kliphuis and the trio’s takes on Bach and Tchaikovsky.
More immediately, Kliphuis, Percy and Clark have gigs in Scotland coming up to celebrate their tenth anniversary as a group before flying out to South Africa for a series of concerts. Two of their Scottish gigs will feature the trio but because the group has such strong connections with Glasgow and Edinburgh (and the Queen’s Hall in the capital in particular for the violinist) Kliphuis wanted to present a programme the group hadn’t played in these cities before.
So for Glasgow and Edinburgh they will expand to a sextet, adding Seonaid Aitken on violin, Su-a Lee on cello and Francesa Hunt on viola, and play the music from The Hilversum Sessions.
“These are all classical players who also move in non-classical circles,” he says. “Seonaid plays with the Orchestra of Scottish Opera but also plays swing jazz with Rose Room and much else besides. Su-a has played all sorts of different music with Mr McFall’s Chamber, as well as with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, and they recommended Francesca, so I knew we’d be getting a top violist. We can’t play The Dance of Maya, for example, as a trio because we need more string power to put that across convincingly, so with the added violin, viola and cello we can really rock.”
The Tim Kliphuis Trio plays Eden Court, Inverness on Wednesday, February 15 and Hospitalfield House, Arbroath on Saturday, February 18. The Tim Kliphuis Sextet plays Cottiers, Glasgow on Thursday, February 16 and Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh on Friday, February 17.
From The Herald, February 11, 2017