Three musicians, three records. Tingvall Trio’s Vattensaga
closes the trilogy started with Skagerrak
(2006) and Norr (2008). The band, now grown up,
feels ready to conquer international stages. Swedish pianist
Martin Tingvall, leader and composer of the trio (completed
by Cuban upright bassist Omar Rodríguez Calvo and
German drummer Jürgen Spiegel), talked to Arturo Mora
on the phone regarding the group, the records, the compositional
process and their live playing.
ARTURO MORA: A funny question to begin: How
does a Swedish pianist meet a German drummer and a Cuban bassist?
MARTIN TINGVALL: A good question. Actually I
met the drummer, Jürgen Spiegel, in Holland. I was one
year at a scholarship, studying in Holland, and Jürgen
was a student at the school. We became good friends and we
already started the trio, it was in 1996, almost 15 years
ago. And Omar [the bassist], we met in Hamburg. He lives in
Hamburg, so we met in a jazz club, in a jam session, in 2003,
something like this.
ARTURO MORA: As far as I know, both Jürgen
and Omar live in Hamburg, but you live in Sweden, is it right?
MARTIN TINGVALL: Both right and not. At the
moment I’m in Sweden, which is where you’re calling
now, but tomorrow I will be in Hamburg as well. I go back
and forward, I have two homes: Sweden and Germany.
ARTURO MORA: Which language do you use to communicate
MARTIN TINGVALL: With my wife [who’s German]
I talk in both Swedish and German, which are very close languages.
So it’s OK.
ARTURO MORA: You’ve just released your
third record, Vattensaga, which is the end of a trilogy
that includes your two first records, Skagerrak and
Norr. What would you like to say about the music
in these three records?
MARTIN TINGVALL: It wasn’t planned as
a trilogy, but it’s come out like this. You can think
of these three records like three big chapters in a book.
But I think we had a development, I mean... The first record
has a lot of energy, I think, it was the first time. Actually
after this album I couldn’t almost be able to play the
piano for one year, because I did so much effort in the studio...
The whole band had so much energy, it was the first record.
And then the second record, Norr,
has a more advanced sound, everybody has more space, the bass
also starts to play the melodies, the drummer, Jürgen
Spiegel, starts to try different sounds in the songs.
And the last album now, well, it’s my
favorite, but I guess for every artist their latest album
is normally the favorite. I’m probably the worst one
to talk about it [laughs]. In terms of sound it’s the
best, Stefano Amerio [the sound engineer in Vattensaga]
is a master from Italy, he got a fantastic sound.
ARTURO MORA: He works for ECM records, right?
MARTIN TINGVALL: Yes. I think the band got an
own sound in the last album. It’s our third album, I
hope it’s only the beginning, at all levels. If I compare
the first record to the third one, I think the band sound
is more solid, everybody has their own place in the music,
and everything’s grown. I have to say I’m proud
of Vattensaga, I’m proud of the sound and I’m
proud of how we played together. Many things happening in
the studio went wrong, but we kept it, because it’s
alive, it’s kicking, it’s spontaneous, so we changed
the arrangements, we were open even in the studio.
ARTURO MORA: Great. Let’s talk a bit about
your compositions. When you compose, do you have the trio
in mind or you just write the music and arrange it for the
MARTIN TINGVALL: It’s a good question,
also. It’s different, not normally I think about the
trio in my mind. I have some ideas for arrangements, as what
kind of beat drummer Jürgen Spiegel could play, what
bassist Omar Rodríguez Calvo could do... But I try
to give freedom to Omar and Jürgen in the music, for
them to make their own sound. If I tell them exactly what
to play, it wouldn’t be alive. So that’s the most
important difference between the first, second and third albums.
The first album is more traditional, because Omar and Jürgen
are accompanying me. In the last album we’re playing
things more together, everybody takes his place, it’s
more like one body, like a band thing, so I try to let much
freedom in the songs. We arrange all the songs together when
You can’t replace anybody in the band,
we tried it one time, Omar couldn’t play, so we tried
another bassist for a concert, and it was a disaster [laughs].
There are many fantastic bass players, but you can’t
replace Omar in the band. We’re also very good friends,
and it’s like you’re going on holidays with your
best friend, you just can’t change the day before: “No,
I go with another pal” [laughs], it wouldn’t be
a good trip.
ARTURO MORA: Do you have a determined, set up
way of composing, do you always start with a melody, or a
harmony, or a groove?
MARTIN TINGVALL: It’s different. Most
of the time I think in the traditional way, I sit at the grand
piano and make my practice, and in the middle of practice
I start to play something freely, and from improvisation sometimes
a good melody comes out, and then I continue working on these
things. But sometimes it could be a couple of harmonies which
came out, and I work on these couple of harmonies and then
put a melody on them.
I also write for different artists in Germany,
I wrote for Melanie C., ex-Spice Girl, I work on the computer,
write some beat, and sometimes I do this for the trio as well,
I just sit and play along some beats, making a loop of it,
and it could develop into a Tingvall Trio song. But most of
the time it’s on the piano.
ARTURO MORA: I’ve noticed an intense folk
flavor in your melodies, but some part of this stuff, instead
of Scandinavian, sounds like Eastern European folklore to
me, is it right?
MARTIN TINGVALL: It’s funny you say that,
I’ll use it as a compliment. I have nothing to do with
it, I’m from Sweden and I should play folk music from
the North. I don’t know where it comes from, it’s
strange, they’re sounds I find very attractive, this
kind of scales, like on “Hajskraj”... I have no
answer where it comes from, I never lived in that kind of
It’s again a mix, Omar plays the songs
with different colors, different attitudes, so I think it’s
a mix: Cuba, Sweden and Germany come together, there is something
special in it. The old Swedish folk music is also in the ground,
and the band mixes it with Cuba and Germany. Maybe it comes
out as Eastern European, it could be [laughs].
ARTURO MORA: Bass lines have a latin flavor
sometimes. Is it Omar’s idea or is it yours?
MARTIN TINGVALL: It’s different, I mean...
In some songs the bass plays the melody, so it’s my
idea, but it’s different from song to song. For example,
in “Hajskraj”, number 6 in Vattensaga,
Omar is playing something special, and that came from when
we rehearsed it. In “Valsang”, number 3 on the
CD, I can’t say if it’s my idea or Omar’s:
Omar was tuning his bass in the rehearsal and I liked the
sound of it, and I said: “Omar, play that again”,
and he went on and on and on, and I thought that could be
the sound of whales.
ARTURO MORA: It sounds like.
MARTIN TINGVALL: Actually that’s how this
song was created, was it my idea or Omar’s? Maybe Omar
did the sound and I put it in the right place, or I don’t
know if in the right place, but I put it in a place [laughs].
ARTURO MORA: Would you call your music jazz?
MARTIN TINGVALL: I would call it “Jazz
2009” [laughs]. The core of what we play has a lot of
improvisation, and the music which has the highest improvised
percentage is jazz music. People think of jazz in the traditional
way, as in be-bop from the 40’s and 50’s. Of course,
you can play be-bop, many people do it, especially in America,
because it’s where it comes from, but for us it’s
more interesting to play with what we have. I grew up with
AC/DC, I grew up with Beethoven and Mozart and Bach, and also
with Swedish pop music. Omar grew up in Cuba with latin music
and different kinds of music, and also Jürgen grew up
with a lot of rock’n roll, but he also played a lot
of African music. Everybody says Jürgen is a rock drummer...
that’s actually wrong, Jürgen has worked a lot
with African music and African rhythms.
We take all of our interests, what we like,
and put them together, and this is what makes Tingvall Trio,
I think. “Vattensaga”, the title song from our
new records, starts off as a Swedish romantic folk song, then
there’s a break and... we’re in Cuba, or in Spain
[laughs], we have a totally different feel; and then we go
to the solos and it’s more traditional, like bass and
drums accompanying the piano solo and so on. To me it’s
purely jazz, but there’s always gonna be people saying:
“no, it’s not jazz because the drums are loud...”.
But for us it’s jazz, it’s more like “jazz
2009”: you take what you want and you mix it together.
ARTURO MORA: Tell us a bit about the Tingvall
Trio playing live. How do you feel playing live against the
studio recording experience?
MARTIN TINGVALL: Two different worlds. I think
we’re clearly stronger live. This CD I think is very
good, but we’re much better live, because we rely on
each other, or even if I have a bad day, they’re going
to put me up, because they never let me down. If I lose a
beat Jürgen and Omar they’re gonna put me up at
once, so that nobody notices it. If somebody loses the form
we go on, so it’s a new form. Great.
That’s the thing also when we started
the band. Many people think: “OK, we’re gonna
start a band: who’s the best bass player in town? Who’s
the best piano player? Who’s the best bla, bla, bla?”,
and then they put the band together. But you don’t know
if it’s going to work. You can have Keith Jarret on
the piano, and maybe Peter Erskine on drums, and maybe it
won’t work because it doesn’t fit.
ARTURO MORA: It’s like an all-star, it
doesn’t have to work.
MARTIN TINGVALL: It doesn’t have to work!
Music in a band is like football. You can’t have ten
Maradonas in the field. It’s the same with jazz music.
If everybody talks at the same time, nothing’s gonna
be said. Music must be built on friendship and trust. Live
we always have a lot of fun, and that’s why I think
we’re stronger live, we like to play live all the time,
we want to do it more in the future.
ARTURO MORA: What music do you listen to just
MARTIN TINGVALL: Just for pleasure? Wow, I have
to admit I really listen very little to music, because I write
a lot of music, also for fun, just ideas and stuff. I listen
a reggae artist, Sizzla, from Jamaica, I don’t even
smoke a joint... [laughs]. It’s very dark in Sweden,
almost at two o’clock it starts to be dark, and this
is very happy music that puts you in a good mood, I like that
a lot. Of course I also listen a lot to John Taylor and Peter
Erskine and Bobo Stenson, Kenny Kirkland, Bill Evans Trio...
Of course I like the big sound of ECM and all that kind of
things... So many... And I still like AC/DC [laughs], Back
In Black, a lot of energy.
ARTURO MORA: Are you afraid of being compared
to Esbjörn Svensson?
MARTIN TINGVALL: I take it as a big compliment.
It was a tragedy he’s not among us anymore. I didn’t
know him so well, I only met him a couple of times. E.S.T.
was a fantastic band, it still is on the records. They really
had a lot of things we talked about today: I think they were
really good friends as well. They played maybe ten years more
that we did so far, and you can hear it. They’re one
body. But we’re different, to me there’s more
disagreement than similarities. He’s from Sweden, I’m
from Sweden, both bands are a trio... and that’s it
I think. We’re totally acoustic, the compositions are
quite different, I think you can hear it.
But what a fantastic band! They had that fantastic
band sound, which is a good goal, to try to have a band sound
like that. But we try to do it our own way. I think there
are bands that are more familiar to Tingvall Trio than E.S.T.
ARTURO MORA: In an interview for JazzDimensions.com
you spoke about doing something with strings or a whole orchestra
at some time. Have you been consciously working on this?
MARTIN TINGVALL: It’s in my mind, I talked
about it with Omar and Jürgen, we have many pieces very
suitable to be played in a big orchestra. It’s a future
project I would really like to do, I don’t know if it
will be the next project, or if it will be a live album by
the Tingvall Trio or... But for sure I would like to work
with a big orchestra... or, well, it doesn’t have to
be a big symphonic orchestra, it could be a string quartet
or something... a female vocalist. Many songs are interesting
to have lyrics on. There are many options to continue.
ARTURO MORA: Just to finish, which are the plans
for the Tingvall Trio in the short term?
MARTIN TINGVALL: In the short term it’s
just to play live as much as we can. We really would like
to play more in Spain, we only did this one show last summer
in San Javier and it was fantastic to us. We’re going
to play on the 30th of January in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria,
and on March 13th in San Javier, and we have booking agents
in Spain now, so...
I would also like to go to Japan. We’ve
started to play more internationally lately. A couple weeks
ago we played in Moscow, in an international jazz festival,
which was very special for us, we sold 100 CD’s, it
was fantastic. We also played in a festival in Amsterdam before
The Manhattan Transfer. We played in Oslo, in Norway. In the
future I hope we’ll play and more and more internationally,
that would be my goal.