Chris Robinson @crmusicwriter

mostly music, sometimes books


Jacob Young’s Multiple Sides and the Danger of Pigeonholing

There aren’t too many professional musicians I know who can only do one thing. In fact there might not be any. To make it playing music one has to be able to take a bunch of gigs which requires playing in a bunch of styles – weddings, swing dances, funk bands, latin, messed up country, whatever.  So why is it that when I heard a new album featuring Norwegian-American guitarist Jacob Young I was surprised?

The only times I’ve heard Young was on his albums with ECM. Regardless of where one might stand on the existence of the ECM sound, one has a pretty good idea as to the universe the label’s albums occupy. For example, his new album on ECM that’s a few months old–entitled Forever Young and featuring saxophonist Trygve Seim, pianist Marcin Wasilewski, bassist Slawomir Kurkiewicz, and drummer Michal Miskiewicz– ended up having the mood and vibe I expected. Not that the album was predictable by any means, but that the lineup pretty much told me what I could expect to hear: pretty melodies, an understated yet tight rhythm section, and relaxed and tuneful saxophone and guitar work. And Forever Young more or less matched up with what I thought I’d hear conceptually. It’s a gorgeous and eminently enjoyable album that’s perfect to curl up with.

So it was a bit of a shock when I popped Interstatic’s new album Arise into my player. I didn’t read the one sheet beforehand, and the cover doesn’t list the personnel. As soon as I read who was in the band I was surprised, almost to the point of “This can’t be the same Jacob Young.” But it was, and more than that, the group’s drummer is Jarle Vespestad, who has worked with pianist Tord Gustavsen, who has put out several gorgeous and austere albums on ECM. The trio is rounded out by Roy Powell on organ (he’s the guy behind the Mumpbeak progish album I just reviewed on this blog). Interstatic isn’t your prototypical B3 trio in the Jimmy Smith vein, as these guys get their rock on. On Forever Young, Young plays acoustic on a few tracks and when he picks up the electric it has a very clean sound. But on Arise – which is on Rare Noise Records – he nasties things up with large heaps of overdrive, wah wah and other distortion effects. It’s a whole other side to Jacob Young that I didn’t know existed, and why would I, all I knew of him prior to hearing Arise is the side that shows up on ECM.

I know that I shouldn’t have been surprised when I heard Arise, but I was, and still kind of am. As a musician who likes to play in different styles, and who has lots of friends who play professionally with tons of different bands, this shouldn’t be a shock. His presence on each album simultaneously does and does not make sense to me. If anything, my momentary cognitive dissonance serves as a healthy reminder that musicians are not just the sum of what you hear on your speakers. They are complex folks, with complex interests, who in order to get to where they are have more than likely had to learn several different approaches and musical languages. Any statement like “Oh, I know that musician’s stuff, s/he does x” – while easy to make, especially if all you have heard of a particular player is one style, ends up pigeonholing that musician and what s/he does. It’s a statement and a mindset that limits not only our own thinking, but the way in which we perceive and structure the world. It hems in musicians as well, just like genre names and boundaries.

I submit: “But she’s a jazz player, what is she doing, this doesn’t make sense?” In cases like this, the listener needs to come to the musician, not judge the musician based on preconceptions on what the musician should be or only does. I remember getting an album by Robert Hurst, and I was so confused because it didn’t meet my expectations of what a Robert Hurst album should sound like I almost dismissed the album. But I forced myself to figure out what he was doing, and I’m glad I did, because I ended up really enjoying the album and getting a lot out of it. I still hold on to that lesson.

I’m glad I discovered this other side to Jacob Young, and it has reminded me that I need to keep an open mind, remember that musicians do many things, and that if I can, I should try and remove all preconceptions of an artist or label or personnel lineup before hitting the start button. Doing so better serves the musician and my appreciation for them.

And now to give you a little taste of two of the sides of Jacob Young (noticed I didn’t say THE two sides, cause there’s probably a whole lot more to him than I will ever know):

For a sample of Forever Young, head to the website ECM put together for the album.

And now a video of Interstatic in action…..


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