JON DURANT & ROBERT JÜRJENDAL
Splitting his time between both coasts these days, musical conceptualist Jon Durant has been quite a busy man these past couple years. First was the release of his greatest ambient album, the 2019 CD releases of Alternate Landscapes and then shortly thereafter, his foray into ethnic vocal prog-rock with Colin Edwin and Inna Kovtun on the Edwin Durant Kovtun album. Now in 2020, Jon strikes ambient prog-rock gold with Across The Evening. A joint sonic venture with Estonian guitar favorite Robert Jürjendal, the nine-track Across The Evening provides a new view into Jon’s expertise as both a composer as well as a collaborator willing to break sonic boundaries with like-minded musical contemporaries. In other words, electric guitar fans should expect the musically unexpected on Across The Evening. Pairing a range of ambient electronica with progressive musical moves, this album will please fans of both genres. Defining the scope of his collaboration with Robert Jürjendal, Jon explains that “We are both very interested in the textural possibilities with the guitar but approach it differently, both in terms of tools and techniques.” Truly a well-rounded sonic experience, Across The Evening is complete with both Robert and Jon, who are joined by a cast of musicians including Colin Edwin (fretless bass), Andi Pupato (percussion) and Aleksei Saks (trumpet). Ukrainian vocalist Inna Kovtun appears on the CD closer, which is also the only track to feature vocals. Another excellent international-flavored album in Jon Durant’s catalog of music magic, Across The Evening was recorded in the USA, England, and Switzerland, with the final two tracks recorded live in Estonia. Equally grounded in ambient, electronic music and progressive instrumental sounds, Across The Evening, is yet another groundbreaking musical masterpiece from the ever-expanding sonic vision of ambient guitarist and composer extraordinaire Jon Durant. jondurant.rocks
mwe3.com presents a new interview with
mwe3: How did you you and Robert Jürjendal meet? You’ve become a modern-day guitar ambassador to the European nations, having musically gravitated to that most exotic of all areas of Europe, Estonia and Ukraine by way of Portland and England. Do you feel you are breaking ground as a transcontinental sound traveler blending musical cultures?
Jon Durant: Thanks! Robert and I met online a couple years ago when he had made a wonderful record with Colin Edwin called Another World and Colin asked me to do the cover layout for them. I’d known Robert’s work for several years between his work with with Aleksei Saks in UMA - I love their album Meeting Unknown - and Slow Electric with Tim Bowness and Peter Chilvers. It was kind of a funny thing as we’d known about each other for a while, but for some reason we both were shocked to discover that despite all our mutual friends on Facebook we weren’t actually connected there. So, we quickly fixed that and started chatting regularly.
Robert suggested trying to do something together and I was very enthusiastic about the idea. Shortly after we started sending files back and forth we realized we needed to find a way to get in the same room together and so I booked a trip in June of 2019 to Tallinn, and we had a wonderful couple days rehearsing and played a really inspiring concert. When I returned from there I began to picture how the whole album would work and we got Aleksei to play, then Colin and Andi also were very happy to join in.
I don’t know about breaking ground, but I am always fascinated by music from different cultures combining in new and interesting ways and I’m sure that comes through from my music.
mwe3: How has the era of the Pandemic affected your life and your music? On one hand, being isolated tends to give people more time to listen to music yet it’s been bad for musicians looking to perform, record and even press music. One artist told me they couldn’t press CD because the plant they contracted with was closed. Some artists have panicked and have move their releases to a later time but the pandemic and the hopeful fix doesn’t seem to be resolving itself, yet.
Jon Durant: Well, it’s been challenging for sure. We had plans for live shows with this ensemble for this summer that we had to scrap. We’re hoping that 2021 will work out, everyone involved is very much on board with wanting to bring this music out. The one upside to the pandemic was that thanks to timing, my wife and I got stuck together here in Portland for a few months and if she hadn’t been here the week everything shut down, we’d have been apart for all that time. Musically, it’s been fascinating in that several projects have emerged for me that I wasn’t expecting at all but are very cool. And all very different from each other. But because I’m in the very fortunate position of having a wife with a good job, the disaster that has befallen so many musicians hasn’t impacted me in the same way. I cannot imagine how many of my fellow musicians will recover from this.
mwe3: Is Across The Evening a continuation, outgrowth or expansion of the Edwin Durant Kovtun album? It seems to encompass and even envelope and surpass that same adventurous spirit. It’s a most fitting release on Alchemy as it retains much of the spirit of Alternate Landscapes and the Edwin Durant Kovtun album as well. Did you try to make an album that contained that style on the new album and also break new ground?
Jon Durant: One of the things I always aim for with a new album is to make sure that it doesn’t sound like the last one. Edwin Durant Kovtun was a really wonderful experience for me, and an opportunity to explore a really unique balance of traditional folk with rock, and ambient elements. It was a much more composed record. Across the Evening is much more on the ambient side and also much more improvisational, with an eye towards blending Robert’s and my very different but complimentary approaches to textural guitar. Inna Kovtun came up to Tallinn while I was there and joined us with a very different approach—in this case she was improvising alongside us instead of presenting Colin or I with a traditional folk song that we would translate into something very new and different. If I were to put this album close to any of my solo albums, it might be Dance of the Shadow Planets.
mwe3: Some may call Across The Evening a New Age album, and it does work well as that kind of music indeed, yet there’s also plenty of experimental and even jazzy concepts flowing through the grooves. How would you describe the music on the Across The Evening album?
Jon Durant: As always, I’m very unconcerned with how music is categorized or labeled. Given its improvisational nature, it’s definitely got some jazz elements, very much related to the ECM world. And there’s definitely world music elements, especially on tracks like “Beguiling Eyes” and “Mirage” that utilize middle eastern musical modes.
mwe3: I always wonder how these, as you call it, “multi-dimensional, trans-continental albums actually get made. Being as the music was co-written between Jon and Robert, can you fill us in on your writing and recording processes of Across The Evening? Did you do the mixing as well? Now with the pandemic at least people can stay home and make recordings! lol
Jon Durant: The album began with either Robert or I starting with a compelling loop or musical idea which we would send to the other. Frequently, if Robert was working more texturally that opened up space for me to be more melodic. For example, on “Distance Groove”, Robert did a very cool groove on his Touch Guitar, and had lovely textures around that. I then added my fretless over the top of him. Similarly, if I had started a more textural piece, it offered Robert the chance to take the lead. “Early Evening Colors” began as a 12-string loop in a weird tuning, and I had some textures around that. Robert then added some melodic guitar. I had added some bass to fill it out and decided to ask Colin to do his thing instead and he suggested adding percussion. So, I came up with some ideas there, and sent it to Andi to flush it out—and he really brought something very cool to the piece.
The last two tracks were recorded live in Tallinn. “Return To Russia” was a largely improvised piece Robert and Aleksei had from UMA which involved Robert building a loop and playing around that in a minimalist sort of way. I found some spaces to add my fretless guitar and create a big bass part with that for a second section that builds. On “Balkan Blue”, Robert had a loop and a couple melodic lines that we played together on cue. And on this piece Inna improvised a lovely melodic vocal line over the top.
I did do the mix as well, and I’m really happy with how it came out—there’s a lot of information in there that needs space, but also needs to be within a space. So, it was challenging in some ways but rewarding. I did, of course, make sure that everyone was happy before letting it go!
mwe3: The entire Across The Evening album is a magical listening experience. Do you have a favorite track or a track that encompasses the idea you had in mind for the album? For example, track five “Leading Indicator” is great and it also features Colin Edwin too. As an example, can you tell us how that track was written and recorded as it features Jon, Robert and Colin Edwin as well. Also, the live tracks recorded in Tallin Estonia are very interesting. What are your reflections of that concert and the two tracks featured as the last two tracks on the album? Is there film footage of the concert and were there other tracks recorded at the concert too?
Jon Durant: “Leading Indicator” is a really cool piece with a couple things I really like about it. I started with a chord sequence that was just swelled chords with no rhythmic element to them. Then I sliced them with a tremolo and sent that through a rhythmic delay to create the basic rhythm part and harmonic movement. I sent that to Robert who created the basic melodic part and the lovely cyclical guitar parts that are underneath the leads. I then added my distorted lead guitar to add to the melody and we each got to have a little solo space. There’s a wonderful moment under my solo where Robert echoes one of the lines I play.
I really love “Reflective Sea”—the textures are all me, and I had Robert and Aleksei improvise sparse melodic lines on acoustic guitar and trumpet. Then I massaged their parts to make it feel a bit more composed. The result is a stunningly beautiful piece that just shimmers and gently stretches across the sea.
There’s a video of “Return to Russia” here. It was called back to Russia but I liked the alliteration… It was shot from an iPhone from the front row, but it works okay. It’s not the final mix, but good enough to get the point across.
mwe3: How many guitars are featured on Across The Evening? What were the challenges in making the guitars sound balanced properly and then placed in the mix? As you say it’s not your typical guitar album!
Jon Durant: Hmmm… Different songs, different requirements. From both of us! Lots of my Koll Fretless, and my Koll electric 12 string also had a lot of use. My PRS guitars got used along the way too. But, yes, none of it is obviously guitar. Robert too has so many things he does texturally that it’s frequently hard to guess who’s doing what. He also uses a guitar synth for some of his textures so that’s yet another component. Mixing did become a challenge because neither of us was looking to be a “star” or sit out in front with what we’re doing, it was all about blending our parts and making sure that we didn’t get in the way of each other.
mwe3: Tell us about working with Aleksei Saks on trumpet, Andi Pupato on percussion and Colin Edwin on fretless bass. They both add a lot to the sound of Across The Evening. Tell us about the track “Beguiling Eyes”. That’s a great studio track that has all the musicians on it. It’s brilliant really. How were the tracks laid down for that track and what was the creative impetus behind that track?
Jon Durant: “Beguiling Eyes” began as a group improv in the concert based on a rhythmic loop I had and utilizing a middle eastern mode. I recorded the whole show, and when I got back I listened to it and thought it would be amazing to recreate it with specific elements from the gig, and add Colin and Andi to it. So, I then started a track that we could all lock into, made guide tracks for Colin and Andi has they hadn’t played in the concert. I had specific bits that we all needed to land on and everyone could do their thing from there. I think the piece worked out really well in the end.
Aleksei Saks is such an incredibly wonderful trumpeter. When I heard the Slow Electric and UMA records I fell in love with his playing. Colin had asked him to play on our second Burnt Belief album (Etymology) but he was taking a break from playing for a few years and started a business. He’s only been back to it for the last year after he sold the business, and I was really excited that he could join us. We’ll be doing lots more, I’m sure. I know that UMA has a new record in the works which I’m really excited to hear.
As for Andi Pupato—I’ve known his playing for years, between his work with Nik Bärtsch’s Ronin and Stephan Thelen, as well as with UMA. When Robert and I were taking a break from rehearsals in Tallinn and took a walk we were discussing how amazing it would be to add him and Colin to this music, and so we decided to go ahead and ask them. And, not only have they contributed greatly to the music, Andi was the first one to say to everyone in the group that we have to take this music out live. So, it’s a great honor that he’s so enthusiastic. With any luck we’ll make that happen in 2021! Stay tuned!
mwe3: What else can you tell us about the two live tracks “Return To Russia” and “Balkan Blues”, the latter featuring Inna Kovtun? Her vocals continue to amaze and delight! She’s the Ukrainian Yoko Ono.
Jon Durant: Gosh… Yoko Ono? I don’t know how to take that—she’s a pretty polarizing figure. Inna, meanwhile, is a fascinating singer and dear friend and she’s constantly looking to try new things, so the opportunity to come and hang with me for a few days and improvise together was one she jumped at.
mwe3: Will there be a Zoom concert to promote Across The Evening? What do you think the concerts of the future may look like? What are you hoping for musically and sociologically, and can you tell us about other plans, musical and otherwise, you have for the second half of 2020 and then moving forward from there?
Jon Durant: I don’t know about a Zoom concert—we’ve not discussed that. However, Aleksei’s 50th birthday will be in February and there are plans for a concert at the Arvo Part Center that I’m planning to attend and play. Unless we still can’t travel to Europe at that point. And we’re working on trying to line up some summer shows with the full ensemble.
Meanwhile, in October I have a solo album coming which is another radical departure for me. It’s based on piano… Then, later in the year or beginning next I have a duo album with the English pianist Peter Chilvers, who works for Eno. Start of next year, I have a major role in the next Fractal Guitar record by Stephan Thelen… I’m featured prominently on every track. And, we have a duo record that will come out in April. Here’s a track from that.
Also coming in November is an album by Darkroom, they’re the English ambient group with Michael Bearpark on guitar and Andrew Ostler on bass clarinet, modular synth and treatments that I played on. And I played on a very interesting pop record from Prague by RCH called Louder Silence that also features performances from Colin, Morgan Agren and Richard Barbieri.