More than any instrument, the piano is the constant conductor of musical memoirs. The emotion of any one keystroke ignites the mood by maintaining equilibrium with its ivory expressions. Pianists are plentiful, however, few have the charismatic flair and compositional manifestation as does Alex Clements, to attain such a task. From studio performances to the silver screen, Alex demonstrates the fine art of innovative artistry and feel with his craft.
With the 2007 release of "Waiting for You," the talents of Alex are showcased in a diverse selection of cuts. While spending a great deal of his time composing, educating and performing live, Alex felt the need to get behind the scenes in studio and take his craft back to its roots. The outcome was an extraordinary arrangement of his talents, flowing from his passion and love affair with jazz.
What seems to be a constant in understanding Clements artistry, whether it’s a spin with "Emily’s Song" or "Waiting for You," Alex understands and ignites the pulse of the emotional side of jazz. Alex can, without question, take the ivory methodology and marry the elements with the style required.
With the time spent with Alex, one can appreciate the several levels of his brilliance and vision. Alex’s insight into the world of jazz is diverse. As we talked, he touched on not only the technical side, but human side of this dramatic genre. Alex also touched on his personal side so with that said, lets enjoy the journey between sets with pianist Alex Clements.
JazzReview: Alex, while many scribes have attempted to describe you, here is your chance to be open and honest. How would you describe the following entities that make up Alex Clements?
Alex Clements: "Alex the performer" - is an educated and versatile performer dedicated to artistic growth always looking for new ways to challenge himself. Although he has studied and performed the music of many important jazz musicians, his music is most influenced by Bill Evans, Keith Jarrett and Scandinavian jazz music.
"Alex the versatile composer and arranger" - who enjoys composing in a variety of idioms and styles whether it is solo piano or big band, his three albums exemplify that, with his first one, Suite No. 3 The Cycle of Life concentrating on large more thematic works for 10-piece jazz ensemble, followed by Emily's Song which is entirely solo piano, and then his most recent quartet album Waiting for you... Alex draws upon life experiences, people, and family for his compositions.
"Alex Himself" - is a motivated hard working but easygoing person. He is married with two children. He loves to travel, especially to cultural places such as Boston, Montreal and Europe. He also loves a good conversation over a nice glass of wine or cup of coffee.
JazzReview: Of all your accomplishments, which one stands alone in your mind and why?
Alex Clements: It's my latest release Waiting for You... which sticks in my mind because it was one of the first times the music was performed in a way where everyone put the music first, and no one had any thing to prove. It was all about the music, and the result was much more than I ever expected. It is also the completion of one of my goals, which was to perform and record my music with Danny Gottlieb.
JazzReview: How much of your influence comes from your Canadian heritage?
Alex Clements: Probably more than I'm aware of. Canada is such a beautiful country and although I don't live there, it is always a part of me. I'm always very proud to be a Canadian, but at the same time I'm modest about it. I'm a true believer that we are a result of our own environment, especially where I grew up.
I was born in a small town 600 miles North of Winnipeg called Gillam. The winters were cold, but we had so much fun, snow-mobiling, skating, hiking, snow-sledding, and lots of family parties. I'm sure all these things influence my writing and performing. I'm always trying to strive for a balance between the notes, and the spaces/silence between the notes. Maybe that's the influence of the wide open spaces of the North. I guess if I was raised in a city, my playing and writing would reflect something else.
JazzReview: You enjoy the venue of festivals it seems. Which one do you enjoy most as not only a performer but more so as a fan?
Alex Clements: The one I enjoyed the most was the Montreal Jazz Festival, so many excited people there that just wanted to have fun and were taking it all in. Montreal to me is one of the most diverse cultural centers in North America. It is extremely difficult to get a spot in that festival and I was on the main stage. As a fan, I've seen many jazz greats there such as the Keith Jarrett Trio, McCoy Tyner, Elvin Jones, Ron Carter, J.J. Johnson, Shirley Horn, and Herbie Hancock.
JazzReview: Is there a festival you have not performed at that you would like to in the near future?
Alex Clements: I love France and I've performed there twice in two piano competitions in Paris, the Martial Solal International Jazz Piano Competition. I would like to perform at the jazz festivals there especially the Antibes, as well as other European Jazz festivals such as the North Sea and Molde jazz festivals.
JazzReview: Waiting for You is such a genuine piece of jazz artwork. One can experience numerous vibes within the spin. Was this your intent? If not, what was your goal in producing this project?
Alex Clements: The project was originally called Soliloquy, but then I changed it after my friend Zara wrote lyrics to the title track while working on another project, so I renamed it Waiting for You. This is a better name anyway as McCoy Tyner already has an album of that title.
Yes, the album has many moods, but throughout, there is an underlying optimism, part of who I am, that prevails. All of the music, my compositions that is, were written between 1999 and 2005 and each piece reflects certain moments in my life. "Emily's Song" was inspired by the birth of my daughter. "New Horizons" is about moving across country to Las Vegas, and so on.
The title track "Waiting for You" has a lyrical, but melancholic nature. The tune wrote itself one night when I was just in a state wondering what I'm doing in my life and where I'm going. It's one of the first tunes I wrote where I just let it happen--nothing was forced, no logical manipulation of the motives, just a release. All the techniques and approaches to composing and performing learned at graduate school are highly useful, but for me took numerous years to 'digest' and get past over analyzing what I'm doing. Now, I try to do everything more intuitively. I'm not writing music for an assignment like I used to, it's just for the music. This is not to say what I learned wasn't useful, actually it's the opposite. It is what brought me where I am now.
Anyway, that piece was played in around 10 minutes of free improvisation and then I wrote it down. However, after I wrote it, I put it away for some years as I couldn't find the right musicians who could have that heightened sensibility that I was looking for. Danny Gottlieb was the drummer that would make this piece shine. He created the bed for the melody to flourish. His brush work is incredible on this and compliments the lyrical melody well.
JazzReview: Your piano massages the listener's imagination in a number of cuts such as the title cut "Waiting for You." You even address some of your thoughts on each of the cuts you perform. Was it important to express your feelings on this project?
Alex Clements: My objective wasn't to explain the tunes to the listener, but to just give them an idea how they came about, what moments inspired these. Not everyone likes to have liner notes and descriptions of the music; they don't like to be dictated on how to listen. I took great care to not make them come across in this fashion. The liner notes were written in a way so that they weren’t just aimed musicians. For me, I always enjoy getting to know the person I'm listening to, I always enjoy when they tell me something about themselves and the music.
JazzReview: How was it performing with this current quartet of Alain Bradette (Saxophone), Chris Queenan (Bass), and Danny Gottlieb (Drums)?
Alex Clements: It was a dream working with these guys. In short, it was all about the music and integrity. Each person played an equal roll, each part equally important as the other. This is certainly a European approach, which I strive for. This music is not about the rhythm section just laying it down; it is about interaction, action-reaction, strong communication and intensive listening.
JazzReview: What impact or influence did each have on this project?
Alex Clements: Danny Gottlieb was an integral part of the ECM sound with Pat Metheny and this is what I was looking for--an open expansive medium in which to improvise. Bassist Chris Queenan is a solid yet responsive player and complimented Danny well. Saxophonist Alain Bradette has the technique and fire of Michael Brecker and the European sensibility of Jan Garbarek, a combination which is vital to my music.
JazzReview: You call Waiting for You your soliloquy? You touch on it briefly as a description of the moment. Can you expand that in relation to this piece?
Alex Clements: As I mentioned earlier, Waiting for You was originally entitled Soliloquy. I think of a soliloquy in musical terms as having a melody in your head while you're alone. Think of Shakespeare and his soliloquies. This 'soliloquy" represents the thoughts, emotions and feelings I had after finishing a jazz gig late at night...alone. It's a way of releasing the intense stimuli of a musical performance and just letting go...winding down.
JazzReview: I have to say the excitement from your piano in "New Horizons" is
nothing short of chilling. An extraordinary triumph offered in ivory. What was it like to perform this piece both live and in studio?
Alex Clements: This tune is a lot of fun to play and I was quite inspired on that session. The success of this performance was a result of the interaction of the rhythm section with my improvisation. Danny is a highly sensitive player who can read my mind very well. He has the ability to interact and react to what I'm playing without getting in the way. The result is bliss.
JazzReview: "Mist on the Water" brings such memories of my life by the lake and the times I experienced. I have to assume this was your goal with this piece. If so, what did it take for you arrange and write this exquisite expression of what I call the "Feel?" What was the moment that brought you to this exit cut?
Alex Clements: This song was actually written by Canadian saxophonist Alain Bradette and knowing I was going to use Danny Gottlieb on this recording, it suited his playing well. Both Alain and myself love the ECM sound and European musicians, especially Norwegian saxophonist Jan Garbarek. This song has a certain European sentimentality to it, spacious, open, heartwarming, soothing. It became obvious to me that this would be the perfect compliment to the album. Medical researchers say that smell triggers certain memories in the brain. I try to evoke these images with my music.
JazzReview: When can the public expect another disc from the piano of Alex Clements?
Alex Clements: Spring 2008. I'm currently collaborating on a recording project with Swedish singer Zara Tellander and American drummer John Abraham. The three of us are both performers and composers. John's music has a Brazilian and Afro-Cuban influence, Zara comes from the strong Swedish folk tradition and Scandinavian jazz music, and my music is influenced by European jazz music. I’m not a lyricist, so Zara added them to some of my tunes. What is fun about this project is that the three of us from different places on the planet gel together both as musicians and people, contributing to the unique sound.
JazzReview: All artists have an idiosyncrasy when they are about to work. Some have a drink of a specific wine while they work, some have a special type of dress or undress for that matter. What do you do, or is there a ritual before you begin the creative process?
Alex Clements: The creative process for me takes place in the morning when my head is clear. Whether it's practicing or composing, my best work tends to come early before being bombarded by outside stimuli. I need absolute silence and then I just sit at the piano and play without any forced direction or preconception of what I'm going to play. Simple, but effective! Someday I hope to have a separate building like an old barn converted into a practice studio.
JazzReview: As a film composer you have had great success with numerous projects. If you had a chance to compose a past film score for each of these film genres what would be the film?
Alex Clements: Comedy - The Secret to my Success...Action - Bourne Supremacy...Drama - The English Patient...Romance - The Horse Whisperer...Documentary - any World War II documentary