JON DURANT
Parting Is
(Alchemy Records)

 

Guitar conceptualist Jon Durant has always been unique and thus in a sonic class all his own. Tempered by his attack on New Age and his love of progressive rock and jazz guitar sounds in the spirit of Terje Rypdal and more recent icons like David Torn, Jon has released a number of incredible guitar instrumental albums in recent years, including his 2016 album with the band Burnt Belief. Jon’s 2018 album, Parting Is will do wonders for his many fans. Ostensibly a solo album, the 9 track Parting Is is brimming with electric guitar soundscapes that transcends genres. Perhaps it’s the way he records or maybe it’s his myriad of influences, but the jaw-dropping effect of the album is staggering. Jon’s trademark is his cloud guitar sound, which is just that: an ethereal effect that makes his electric guitar sound appear weightless as if it’s transpondered by mere thought inspired by invisible kinetic energy. Anyway, it’s nearly impossible with mere words to describe the magic Jon Durant brings to the entire 21st century concept of just what the electric guitar means in the now century. There’s no sweet sorrow here as Jon’s credits at the end are most telling and, although Parting Is remains a solo album in the best sense of the term, in doing so he tips his hat to his musical associates and peers, Colin Edwin, Tony Levin, David Torn, Stephan Thelan of Sonar, Michael Bearpark and others. So if any of those names ring a bell or a chord, by all means find a way to hear the magical guitar movements in play on Jon Durant’s 2018 album Parting Is. www.jondurant.com / www.alchemyrecords.com




mwe3.com presents an interview with
JON DURANT



mwe3
: After the third Burnt Belief album Emergent it was surprising to see another solo album. Was Parting Is inspired by the Burnt Belief era or are you moving into fresh sonic waters with Parting Is? It’s very much a guitar-centric solo album. What was your frame of mind during the Parting Is writing and recording sessions?

Jon Durant: In many ways, Parting Is is a look into my most personal self as a musician. I had no intention of doing another record, solo or otherwise, but I’d had a conversation with a friend in Turkey who was asking about what I do on a daily basis when I don’t have a specific project that I’m working on. So I shot a couple quick videos on my phone and sent them off. Her response was to ask why I wasn’t recording these pieces for real. And my first thought was that these are not done with the intention of being recordings, or songs, or anything; they simply exist in the moment. But I promised I’d try to record some things, and very quickly I had assembled some really interesting pieces.

Of course, my first thought was that it was too personal and no one would want to hear it. It turns out that it’s precisely that personal sense that people have been responding to! Another interesting aspect of Parting Is is that I didn’t use any synths on it. On the Burnt Belief albums, I’d used MIDI guitar to do things like Middle Eastern wind instruments or mini moog bits. But I noticed a lot of reviews assumed that all the textural elements were synths, and decided this would be a good opportunity to correct that misconception!

mwe3: Tell us about your two recording studios on the east and west coasts. You mention that Parting Is is kind of a sad, introspective album. When did you relocate to the Pacific Northwest and how would you compare the influences and differences between the coasts as to how they appear in your music? Do you find Oregon inspires your music more than being on the East Coast?

Jon Durant: Our older son went to Reed College in Portland, Oregon, and we all fell in love with the Pacific Northwest. Our younger son stepped on Reed’s campus and declared that he wasn’t even going to look at schools in New England. He just graduated from Whitman College, in Walla Walla, Washington. We knew we needed a landing place, and found a condo that we loved, right on the river, which has become our second home. And it also has become very much a writer’s retreat for me.

The sad, introspective part comes from the fact that I’ve been doing so much back and forth that I constantly feel like I’m leaving something behind. When I travel west, leaving my wife, if she’s not coming on that trip, or after brief visits with the boys, or leaving the city I’ve come to love, Portland and all my friends there. But every bit of that constant parting is for good things, so there’s also an upside.

As for how the location influences the music, it’s hard to put a definitive stamp on it. Except to say that the bulk of the Burnt Belief albums and Parting Is were written there. So I definitely feel inspired when I’m there.

mwe3: How about the Parting Is CD cover art? Was it just a picture you selected with that color pattern or was there something more going on?

Jon Durant: The cover is a shot that I took in Iceland. It’s a definite nod and wink to ECM and the covers that have so inspired me over the years. But it’s also a reflection of an amazing week with one of my sons, exploring an absolutely amazing place that I long to return to.

mwe3: I was glad to see you pressed a CD on Parting Is because, do you think CD is becoming something of the past? Are your other CDs going to stay in print? Do you consider that Parting Is is your eleventh album including the two Burnt Belief albums?

Jon Durant: Yeah, CDs are indeed becoming dinosaurs, though that’s what everyone said about vinyl 20 years ago. Meanwhile, the older CDs are still around, until they run out. I won’t press more copies.

mwe3: Have you been spending more time on Facebook? You always post a live improv or tune live, which is great. How has the social media thing impacted your music? Seems to be quite different time from when we grew up and FM radio and print mags and zines was how we found and heard music much for the first time, also in physical stores.

Jon Durant: Yeah, the world of music has changed so much. It’s a very strange thing, once upon a time musicians were up on a unique plane, and it was a big thing to meet one of your favorites. Now, there’s very little division between facebook friends and fans. It’s not all bad, though… I have met some amazing people around the world that I would never have encountered before, and now cannot imagine not having them in my life. It’s also opened up some interesting dialogs with other musicians with whom I wouldn’t have had as much opportunity to communicate with.

My live videos are a fun little look at my daily way of operating, which as I mentioned earlier is how Parting Is began. They’re not meant to be anything more than a glimpse, but they seem to be getting a nice response.

mwe3: How is your brother Kingsley doing and are you planning to revive the Alchemy label with future releases? Also your son is a guitarist as well right? Great musicianship must run in the Durant family.

Jon Durant: Thanks, yes, Kingsley is doing very well. He has promised that he’s going to pull a new album together in the coming year. The material is there, he just needs to do it. My older son plays bass, though as a cancer researcher his playing time is limited these days and my younger son is a guitarist who is playing really well.

As for the label, it’s not really an ongoing concern at this point. After all the distributors either went belly up or disappeared owing me money I gave up on the idea entirely. I release my own work on the label, and if Kingsley wants to do another, I’ll definitely do that. But otherwise, there won’t be any recordings beyond us.

mwe3: How did you decide on the Koll guitars and how would you compare Koll with other guitars you’ve recorded with over the years? They must be right near you in Oregon too right? Was the Koll 12 string a custom guitar and which Koll guitars are you playing on Parting Is?

Jon Durant: I had known about Saul’s guitars for years as he’d built the Tornado model for David Torn. Kingsley had known him for a while, and when he was visiting me in Portland, we connected with Saul. The two of us quickly became good friends. It was also on that visit, that Kingsley brought his fretless guitar for me to check out (made by Scott Walker). I immediately called Saul and asked if he’d be interested in making one for me, and he loved the idea. We based it on the Tornado body, and I had him install a sustainiac pickup which brings the phrasing to life on that guitar.

Shortly after Emergent came out, the first recording with the fretless, Saul invited me to play at the winter NAMM show. He had a 12-string that he’d built for the show that I played for 5 minutes and told him I had to have it. Unfortunately, it was already sold so he had to build one for me. Shortly after that I also ordered a chambered Tornado for my son’s graduation present which is really amazing.

As for how they compare; it’s impossible to compare the fretless. Kingsley’s Scott Walker fretless doesn’t have the sustainiac, so it was a bit limiting for the phrasing I wanted to do. Also, Saul and I made a lot of decisions on the neck that made it much more comfortable for me. The ebony fingerboard really helps the notes sustain, even with the sustainiac off. The 12 string is an absolute joy to play, and it is sonically brilliant. I’d borrowed one of Kingsley’s PRS 12 strings, and used it on Parting Is but it isn’t even close in feel or sound.

mwe3: I’ve been amazed at how so many artists are going the route of VST’s in their music. What do you think of VST pluggins and how have you applied it in your music? One artist spoke about using VST pluggins that recreates the sound of human voices and even bagpipes!

Jon Durant: That’s an area I haven’t explored as much. I feel like I’m missing something, but every time I plug in to explore my own character disappears and the computer takes over. I know there are people doing amazing things, and I think I need to devote more time just to exploring it so that maybe I could find a way to incorporate it without losing my unique musical voice.

mwe3: Do you still follow other bands or recording artists as much as you did say ten or twenty years ago? Are there some current musical directions you like more than others? Kind of feels like we’re in an artistic holding pattern now. Maybe robots will replace musicians in the next century!

Jon Durant: We are in a really weird time. For starters, it’s virtually impossible for a creative recording artist to make a living. The idea that albums are no longer a viable thing is devastating to me. Fortunately for me, I am in a situation where I don’t have to make my living from music, but for anyone who does have to it has to be horrifying. What’s become clear is that most people simply don’t value music, and the arts in general. It’s very sad.

That said there still is some very creative music going on, and it’s great to see a band like Sonar getting the attention they have been getting lately. And there have been a few amazing things lately from the ECM catalog, including recent Anouar Brahem, Bjorn Meyer and Nik Bärtsch records. Oh and a lovely new Steve Tibbetts record. Also, the Rare Noise label has a lot of very cool stuff.

mwe3: With Parting Is out and getting some acclaim, are you buoyed by the solo album concept again or do you miss recording with great artists such as Tony Levin and Colin Edwin? I was reading about a possible album between you and a Ukrainian singer called Inna Kovtun. Do you have some early indications of future plans on your next musical move and would you consider a best of Jon Durant retrospective, possibly remixed to make the sound continuous?

Jon Durant: As I write this, I’m listening to the work in progress of the new material with Colin and Inna. It’s really exciting and interesting music, a great step from the Astarta / Edwin record we did a few years ago. We cover a lot of musical ground, and it features some of my most radical guitar alongside some of my most normal guitar. I think the music is really compelling, in some ways it reminds me of the Cocteau Twins.

Also, I’ve recently done some interesting sessions including a track for Stephan Thelan of Sonar, where I’m alongside David Torn and Marcus Reuter. Also, I played on a couple fusion-y things, one by keyboardist Michael Whalen, and one by drummer Jose Duque. Also, Jose has got me involved in an ambient project he’s doing. Best of? Never even imagined it. But I wonder if it might be an opportunity to do a vinyl release? Interesting idea.

mwe3: Where do you see the guitar going by mid century? Does it amaze you that we’re nearly one quarter into the 21st century? If you had one wish what would it be for? Another ten solo albums, fifty more years to live and record, to join King Crimson or YES? Where is the world going next?

Jon Durant: Oh, I really don’t know. I’ve been so blindsided by how technology has destroyed the music industry, I can’t even think about where the guitar is going. One wish: that the world, the US in particular, changes course with this nationalistic nonsense. People everywhere have something to offer, and closing ourselves off to people who don’t look like we do, or sound like we do, is no way to move the world forward. It’s regressive and will only lead to conflict.

For myself, if I never made another record I would be happy with what I’ve done. But there is more music out there for me to tap into, and there are collaborations in discussion that could be very interesting. All with people from other parts of the world, so stay tuned!





 

 
   
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