In the year 2003 an envelope with an album of the then still unknown guitarist Samo Salamon landed on my deskto my great surprise, because I had never heard before of a jazz scene in Maribor, Slovenia. The music turned out to be as colorful as the stamps on said letter. Today, ten years later, Samo Salamon counts among the important young European jazz guitarists...
As a guitarist, Samo Salamon can rightly claim to have learned from the greats (including John Scofield) and he regularly unites superstars like Michel Godard or Josh Roseman on his albums and in his bands. His latest work presents his European and his U.S. quartet in action side by side on the double CD titled "Stretching Out".…
Carina Prange talked to Samo Salamon for Jazzdimensions
Carina: From a classical guitarist in Maribor to one of the most interesting jazz guitar players in Europe and the USA must have been a long and hard journey. What were the most important stages of this journey? Did it look like a "mission impossible" in the beginning?
Samo: Oh, I have never thought about this in such a way! It's always been just practicing, playing music and composing, from one project to another. I mean, I never considered this as a mission, but as an ongoing path, so I'm really happy that things are opening throughout the way.
If this was a mission for success, I would never play such music that I do play, which is combining improvisation with composition, some sort of modern jazz. Of course, there were several important stages—meeting John Scofield, going to New York and recording there with Dave Binney, Mark Helias, Tony Malaby, Josh Roseman, Gerald Cleaver, Tom Rainey and others, releasing records with "Fresh Sound New Talent", "Splasc(h)" and lately "Steeplechase", in 2013 making a project with a symphonic orchestra.
Carina: For about a month you took intense lessons with John Scofield in New York. Did that turn your approach to the guitar upside down? There are many good guitarists and also many excellent teachers—what has a master like Scofield to offer that others don't?
Samo: Yeah, absolutely, he is the man regarding jazz guitar. The wider audience knows him a lot through his more funky oriented projects like Uberjam and MMW collaborations, but he is an excellent jazz guitarist—of course, he has proven this with the numerous records under his name he has done with Joe Lovano, Bill Stewart and others!
His influence can be of course heard in my playing, but he has primarily influenced me motivation-wise. When I stayed at this place for a month, it was just such a huge motivation for me, so that ever since I have practiced guitar every day for at least two years
Carina: You worked with countless musicians from all over Europe and the USA and succeeded in getting them into your bands and projects. What's the trick to persuade hard-boiled international artists about one's music? What kind of networking do you have to do from Slovenia?
Samo: The jazz community is not really that bigeveryone knows everyone. So, basically when you play with someone and he likes your music, he will spread the word and discuss about it with other musicians. In other words, even if you haven't played with someone yet, they have probably heard of you because you played with some musicians they know.
But yeah, I'm really happy I got to play, tour and record with musicians like Tim Berne, Paul McCandless, with Dave Binney, Donny McCaslin, Dominique Pifarely, Michel Godard, Bruno Chevillon and many others.
Carina: There's a great variety in line-ups and musical instruments in your bands. What happens more often—inspiration by the sound of a certain musical constellation or a certain musical idea that drives the forming of a special ensemble? Can such things be planned anyway?
Samo: I'm a quite an organised person in this regard. I really plan ahead the bands and lineups. So, in the beginning I try to imagine a band with specific musicians in my mind, then I contact them and ask them if they are availabkle in a certain period. Following, I try to organise a tour for this project, write compositions with these specific players in my mind, make the tour, record the project and release it. That's it. Sounds simple, right? Not really!!
Carina: Was there a moment that you felt as the transit from being a guitarist to becoming a band leader? And what are the things that characterize a good band leader in general?
Samo: I was never really "only a guitarist" if there is such a thing. Already when I started with jazz, I have taken the role of the organizer—getting people together, making phone calls to promoters, writing music, organizing things I think a good band leader has to know what he wants, but he also has to keep to creative free space to musicians he is playing with - he has to know their characteristics and where they are good at
Carina: Your new album "Stretching Out" is a double CD featuring two groups—both quartets, one with musicians from the US, the other from Europe. What was the main idea behind that - to show contrasts and to confront two different musical views? Or was it about bridges and common grounds? Why was it important to put it all into one cover?
Samo: In the last few years I've been constantly changing groups—from US bands to European bands, which I really like doing. Yes, this double CD is just trying to show two aspects of my playing and composing. The US Quartet with Donny McCaslin, John Hebert and Gerald Cleaver is quite groovy actually and burnin', while the European Quartet with Dominique Pifarely, Bruno Chevillon and Roberto Dani is really more open and exploring.
So, these two aspects have been part of my musical world for the last 15 years—combining free improvisation with composed and complex sections, rhythmical textures, really melodic things and so on.
Carina: Is there really a general difference between musicians from both sides of the Atlantic, when it comes to the approach to music—maybe caused by different tradition or other facts? What did you find out about this?
Samo: Nowadays, jazz musicians from all over the world are just amazing, technically and improvisation-wise, so there aren't any differences with regard to quality. But, of course, there are some differenced with regard to approaches and improvisation.
Maybe the European musicians are more connected to some sort of European foklore, each depending to their own country, and free improvisation. But again this would be some sort of a generalisation. So, I don't think there are any huge differences really...
Carina: It was not the first project of this kind—already in 2011 you published an album with US and European musicians. Then, it was two trio settings, both without a bass instrument. What does the absence of the bass mean for the music? More freedom and more space? Or is it less rooted? Do you sometimes look back at older projects while doing a new one?
Samo: Yeah, I really like this bassless approach, it leaves a lot more space and also the guitar functions in a different way. I have to play the guitar in a totally different way and also compose the music in a totally different manner, which is of course great.
So, I have been doing the bassless trio primarily out of musical reasons, but sadly these days also due to economic reasons; namely, it's really hard to get bigger projects on tour. But out of every bad thing, something good comes out…otherwise, when doing new projects sometimes I really like picking out some older tunes and rearrange them for the new lineup.
Carina: Do you have something like a philosophy for life?
Samo: Basically just follow your heart, be friendly and honest and work hard. I hope that's the right way.
CD: Samo Salamon - "Stretching Out" (Samo Records)
Samo Salamon im Internet: www.samosalamon.com