Ivo Neame is an award-winning pianist and composer. In addition to leading his own bands, he has featured in several of European jazz’s most forward-looking groups including Phronesis and the Marius Neset Quintet. He regularly performs at jazz festivals worldwide, collaborating with ensembles as diverse as the Frankfurt Radio Big Band and the London Sinfonietta. Ivo studied at the Royal Academy of Music, and since leaving in 2003 he has performed and recorded with highly esteemed musicians at home and abroad such as Hermeto Pascoal, David Binney and Kenny Wheeler. His eighth album under his own name ‘Glimpses of Truth’ was released on Whirlwind Recordings in November 2021.
RADAR Festival Beyond Music has the primary goal to present musical projects dealing with a wide spectrum of artistic forms. When did you become aware of the limitedness of your own artistic form, or, to put it in other words, when did your radar detect the need for multidisciplinary expression?
We wanted to explore working with a musician who was comfortable with being involved in jazz and rhythmically sophisticated music but also fluent in other styles with a keen interest in music production. It was Jim’s suggestion to involve Matt Calvert, a producer and guitarist who has an eclectic musical outlook. He has been involved with musicians and bands as diverse as Three Trapped Tigers, Squarepusher and Goldie. It was a revelation to send Matt the tracks we recorded – it turned the music into something we couldn’t have imagined ourselves as Matt used synths and different processing techniques to create something truly collaborative.
Which three words describe the motivation behind your project?
Improvisation, self-expression, collaboration.
How much of your artistic devotion is inevitable?
We both have committed to improvising and composing new music – anyone involved with art knows the amount of effort this takes. The goal is to create a unique sound – to create music that references our heroes without copying them. This process has required us both to spend a lot of time with the music studying the masters. A lot of people say it takes a lifetime’s work to create an artistic identity – I agree with this. For me it’s having the honesty to discard compositions that are pastiches and to continue to hone one’s original language and ideas. For me this involves writing pieces that can be understood two ways rhythmically. I also enjoy committing to using cells of notes to create musical motifs within a piece. I feel that the pieces I’ve written that contain these concepts have a clear identity.
If you could create a project in another artistic field or form, what would it be?
I would be interested in being involved in film in some way – something that had a narrative element. I still feel most drawn to art that draws people in in that way.
2023 is your personal year for…?
For me it seems 2023 is the year I do most performances with large ensembles – this includes the CCJO in Cologne and my own 12-piece group Dodeka. We are playing at the Canterbury Festival and the Scarborough Jazz Festival – all of which is exciting.
When is music beyond?
Music is beyond when it transports you from your day-to-day existence – when you lose track of time listening to a piece of music. It can resonate so deeply if what you are listening to is powerful and beautiful. I’m also continually amazed by music’s ability to enable us to time travel within our own lives – I can listen to albums that I listened to when I was 16 years old and I can have an insight into the person that I was at that age as opposed to who I am now. I suppose all great art has a quality of timelessness – not just music. Perhaps it manages to both represent and transcend the zeitgeist of whatever is being produced at that moment in history.
Which is your personal radar?
My radar is wide-ranging – I feel it’s important to experience new things in order to keep inspired and to continue to create interesting work. This can include discovering new places in the world – I’ve never been to Sofia before but I know I will be inspired by meeting new people and seeing different traditions and customs. I try not to close myself off to new music – however it’s important to own your own thoughts and emotional reactions to art. If I pay too much attention to everything that comes up in my social media feed I’ll feel overwhelmed and lose sight of my own thoughts and responses. I need solitude in order to experience the things that I choose rather than floating helplessly down the digital river. There is an unbelievable amount of new music out there and it’s impossible to keep tabs on all of it.
The format of RADAR Festival Beyond Music takes into consideration the artistic potential of new technologies and their supplementary functions. What is the significance of technologies in your own work?
I use computer programs all the time to realise my ideas and to produce work. This includes the ‘Metronomics’ app – a brilliant tool for rhythm. You can program any polyrhythm you can think of into it and start to become familiar with the sound of it. The same for long cycles for improvising – I must have made more than 50 metronomes all of which have enabled me to perform the music I and others have written more accurately. I also use Sibelius every day of my life! I think it is an invaluable composing tool – again I think it allows musicians to improve their musicianship and understanding of musical concepts. It’s quite incredible what is possible. I’m also researching different guitar pedals for use with my synths – this is another area which is always developing. It’s quite incredible how lucky we are to have all these tools at our disposal.
We often have resident projects at our festival that are spontaneous or dependent on variables, which makes them resistant to reenactment or repetition in the same way. In a sense, these projects remain here and now. What is your reflection upon here? And upon now?
This approach is at the core of what I do when I play. I feel I’m cursed 🙂 – I get bored doing things the same way every time. Luckily if you put some thought into it it’s possible to breathe new life into existing pieces or arrangements. You have to have that attitude though – some people are content to play pieces exactly the same way every time. Unfortunately I can’t approach music in that way. It’s supposed to be playful – if it becomes a rigid routine where is the fun? In that sense when I play is it very much ‘now’ – the mood and the emotions of that particular day are part of what I will play when I improvise.
What can we expect from you in Sofia Live Club on 26.03?
I have been playing with Jim Hart for 20 years now. We have recorded a number of records together both in our own bands and for other bandleaders and have played countless gigs over the last two decades. We have an innate understanding of each other’s music and improvising – I think this comes from knowing a lot of the same music and developing as musicians at the same time. I’m often shocked by the quasi-telepathic moments when we play – I think this is another area where music goes ‘beyond’. It’s actually possible for two musicians to improvise the same thing without agreeing it beforehand. For me this goes beyond conventional understanding of human behaviour – perhaps a neuroscientist could explain it in terms of neutrinos interacting. It’s not my area though!. The thing I love about playing with Jim is that he always gives 100% – his commitment to music and improvising is absolute. We will be playing a mixture of acoustic and electronic music – there will be vibes and piano pieces and high energy pieces for drums and synths. In addition to our own tunes we will also be playing arrangements of Serie de Arco by Hermeto Pascoal and Duke Ellington’s Sound of Love by Charles Mingus. We will approach all of the material with a spirit of improvised playfulness.