Already described as extremely cinematic, ‘Blue Bolero’ by Chris Standring has already become one of the most talked about releases of 2010. The compositions, arrangements and choice of instruments all show off a different side to his musical persona so when recently I talked to this talented guitarist from his studio in Los Angeles, I was particularly eager to ascertain how this amazing project had come about.
"I started putting the album together in late 2008" Chris told me. "The way it developed was mainly a result of how I was feeling at the time about the contemporary jazz genre. I was becoming a little disillusioned with the lack of variety and wanted to dig a little deeper, to take the music in new and challenging directions.
The way in which he has done this has been nothing short of a revelation yet I wondered if he had considered the risk that might be involved in moving his music beyond what might be considered as the recognised mainstream. "It was a huge risk" Chris immediately confirmed "but it was something I really needed to do. I thought about it and concluded hey, what’s the worst that can happen?"
I asked Chris what to him had been the most important. Was it the way he wanted to blend contemporary jazz with classical influences or was it more about creating what, in part, is clearly an autobiographical commentary on his formative years in the United Kingdom? "Yes" Chris told me "many of the song titles are very autobiographical but, in terms of the creative process, that came later. Basically, on the album, I decided to sequence the compositions according to the order in which they were conceived. For example the first two tracks (‘Overture’ and the title cut ‘Blue Bolero’) were all about me experimenting with the sound that I wanted to create. It was only after that, when the project began to take on a flow, that the autobiographical elements began to emerge. The one exception to the way in which ‘Blue Bolero’ came together was the tune ‘Lost In Angels’. I thought the CD was totally done then I got this idea for a song. We recorded it as a very late addition and I am very pleased we did."
I singled out the tracks ‘Regarding Tetchwick’ and ‘Fast Train To Anywhere’ as my own favorites and commented how noticeable it is that the former seems to lead directly to the latter. I queried if this had been deliberate. "Absolutely" Chris confirmed. "That is exactly the way I envisaged it. ‘Tetchwick’ was always meant as a musical interlude, a bridge to the next song. If, for the listener, that worked out then I’m glad."
Going back to the orchestral element of ‘Blue Bolero’, one of its most powerful facets is the playing of Barbra Porter on violin. I asked Chris how he had become acquainted with her. "Barbra has played with the likes of Streisand and Michael Jackson but she also happens to be my sister’s next door neighbour in LA. I talked to my sister about her but as she is not really musical wasn’t really able to give me an informed opinion. I went with it anyway and I think what you can hear on the recording speaks for itself. Not only that, she was also able to introduce me to a whole network of string players. I used some of them on ‘Blue Bolero’ and others I am able to call upon whenever I perform live."
I questioned if taking a string quartet on the road brought with it some logistical problems? "These guys are of the highest musical standard imaginable and can ‘sight read’ my charts without too much rehearsal" he explained. "Consequently, when I was in London to play at the Pizza Express I was able to utilize local players and I do just the same thing wherever I happen to be."
‘Blue Bolero’ has clearly moved Standring to another musical level and I was interested to discover what was coming next. "I am currently working on a new ‘festive’ collection" he confided. "I intend it to be very different from the routine reworking of traditional tunes that often categorizes projects of this kind. It should be ready for Christmas 2011. As for ‘Blue Bolero’, although the 2010 touring season is pretty much at an end, we will be going back on the road with it in 2011. Because I will be making use of the same string quartet format, the choice of venue is quite important. The show isn’t really geared to big open-air festival settings. We get our best results when playing indoor concerts so that’s where I will be positioning it."
If my own experience of Standring’s live performances is anything to go by then these will be shows that must not be missed. Visit his website often for full details of up-coming tour dates and be sure to check out ‘Blue Bolero’. You will not be disappointed.