Sean Foran and Stuart McCallum - Interview
Australian pianist Sean Foran (Trichotomy) and Manchester-based guitarist Stuart McCallum (The Breath, Slowly Rolling Camera, Cinematic Orchestra) have teamed up and crossed continents to record their debut album as a duo, Counterpart. Counterpart traverses from modern classical, to contemporary jazz and ambient music, and will be released via Naim Records on 21st June. Ally got the chance to ask the duo questions about the Counterpart, their influences and ambitions amongst other things.
You two come from opposite ends of the world, how did you come to meet each other and decide to make music? What was your music making process?
SF - I think it started when I heard Stuart’s DISTILLED album.. my group Trichtomoy had just signed to the Naim label and I was checking out some of the catalogue. I was quite taken with the album and got in touch with Stuart to guest with Trichotomy on some shows during one of our UK tours. That was quite fun, and I felt an instant connection with Stuart..I think we’re just quite similar people with musical concepts and ideas that align..… from there we kept in touch and I think it was me who suggested we get together and record some music. It was a loose process… we both came to the recording session with some songs that we thought would work, some new, some we’d had from other projects. It was quite spontaneous though, no firm plan of what material would really work, or how it would actually come together, and we’d not played together at all apart from one show on the Trichotomy tour. I flew to Manchester and we spent a week in the studio playing songs… playing all of them for the first time together.
SM - The record is a great example of when the music takes charge of musicians. The fact that we decided to make an album together when we live so far apart shows that there's an inherent connection between us. The arrangements of the pre-written music occurred very naturally, without any prior discussion.
Are there any particular themes that inspired Counterpart?
SF - Not for me… I was certainly inspired by the dark, still, cold Manchester January… that was a world away from my Australian summer. I think that really crept into the music, this kind of intense intimacy to it… but also, there’s an uplifting sound and melodic concept. So perhaps not a theme or themes, but certainly a sense of closeness and presence.
SM - Not for me either. There was an over-riding theme of openness and acceptance of each other's musicality in the way that we worked together.
There are clearly many minimalist elements on Counterpart, aside from composers such as Steve Reich or Philip Glass, were there any key figures who inspired this album?
SF - For sure. These are some musicians that I really admire, and are highly influential on my approach to music. Also, for me some of the great European jazz artists such as Bobo Stenson, John Taylor, Arild Andersen, Esbjorn Svensson, John Christensen are always key influences. The approach to space and melodic clarity that all of these artists have is something I try to channel.
SM - Quarteto Novo, a band from Brazil in the 60s with Hermeto Pascoal and Airto, was a key influence for me for this album. Using the piano to play the melody in octaves against the acoustic guitar was an idea we took from this ensemble.
Counterpart was recorded over five years ago, why is it being released now?
SF - Ha… well, sometimes things take a little longer than originally expected. It’s an interesting story… we finished the recording and thought, well… let's have a think about this. Then Stuart proposed we add some more parts.. so the bass, drums, extra guitars and keyboards all came later. This was great though as the music really transformed into something deeper and more textural. That all took some time… we were both busy with other projects and this album just clicked along in the background. It was kind of nice to not be in a rush, or not have a deadline to get it finished. Eventually we finished it, and gave it to the guys at Naim Label for a listen… they loved it, and I suppose it felt like a natural home for the album given that's how Stuart and I met all those years ago!
SM - We're both busy with our family and professional lives, so it took a little while longer than if we'd have lived down the road from each other!
[For Sean] Jazz Revelations grew out of our love of jazz, particularly from our experiences being part of the Leeds scene – What was your experience of jazz in Leeds when you studied there? Has it left a positive or lasting influence on your music making?
SF - Well it was a very significant part of my musical career. I moved there to study my Masters at the Leeds College of Music, and during that time I made some many wonderful connections with other musicians, plus learned so much about my own style and direction as a musician. Leeds is (and was at that time) a happening place for inventive music… I really felt that I was part of a progressive scene that was just as hip as London or anywhere else in the country. I’ve been back a heap of times since moving back to Australia, and always look forward to being back in town. People like Matthew Bourne, Chris Sharkey, David Kane and Joost Hendrickx are killer musicians, who’ve inspired me to keep pushing the boundaries.
[For Stuart] Manchester has a very strong jazz scene, how would you compare it to what else is happening stylistically in the UK? What parts of the scene have formed your compositions?
SM - To be honest I'm not hugely engaged with the jazz scene in Manchester or the UK any more. I think Manchester is less focused on technique and more on openness than the London scene - there's positive and negative points to that! My interest in writing music that is melodic and not overly complex harmonically and rhythmically is definitely an influence the Manchester scene has on me.
You have both played with some impressive names and groups. Are you able to name any stand-out moments whilst playing with your own outfits (or playing solo) as well as with another artist?
SF - Ah.. so tricky of course. Tokyo Jazz Festival in a double bill show with Tord Gustavsen Trio was quite special, and then just this week we played a gig with Bill Frisell in Brisbane. I’ve been lucky play with Julian Arguelles a few times now both in the UK and Australia, and that is always such fun… he’s a damn precise musician!
SM - I did a solo guitar support for Bill Frisell recently - that was a nice low pressure gig! Aside from that, playing festivals and gigs with my band, The Breath, has been a highlight over the past few years. Before that, playing Coachella, Royal Albert Hall and Montreal Jazz Festival with Cinematic Orchestra were highlights.
If you could name one venue you want to play, but haven’t yet, where would you choose?
SF - Tough call… Probably the Pit Inn Tokyo… because then I’m in Tokyo!
SM - I don't have a hit list! There's a jazz festival in the Alps which looks very beautiful, so maybe that one.
Are you able to describe Counterpart in three words?
Close, Melodic, Introspective.
Counterpart will be released via Naim Records on 21st June.
You can purchase Counterpart here: https://seanforanstuartmccallum.bandcamp.com/album/counterpart