Oliver Fox, saxophonist from Berlin, has just released a new album, which has definite Indian influences.
Oliver Fox had given his friend's motorcycle a scrub. His bags were tied firmly on to it, his wife filling it with things she had forgotten. Every time Fox, the noted Berlin-based saxophonist, has been in India he has taken to the road on a motorcycle. For him this is the best way to get around, gives one the freedom, watching life go by, smelling the air, feeling the breeze.
On one of those bike trips, this time with his long-time musician friend Olaf Taranczewski, was born the first notes of Fox's new album ‘Speak Silence.' The album had a definite Indian influence, which Fox claims to have found its way into the music ‘unconsciously.'
“This friend of mine, a piano player, was there with me for one of those rides. We knew each other for more than 12 years. On this trip we went to concerts, pilgrim places, religious festivals where there was music and dance.
“We listened to whatever kind of music, folk or classical that often blared out of the speakers. All this unconsciously went in. After some time our souls seemed to be in sync, we didn't even need words to communicate. When we returned home we decided to do something. Let's do some music, record something. That's how this album began,” says Fox, who was in the city for a music workshop organised by Liquid School of Music.
Fox and Taranczewski recorded, picked some of them and made the album. But all the while they were not conscious of the Indian influence. “It was only when we cut for the final mix, when we re-listened to it that we said ‘hey this is Indian flavour.' By just being there, absorbing that much of music, it happened. That means the environment, the place where you stay, has such a huge influence on what you do, music included.”
Fox, who completed his jazz studies in saxophone, clarinet and flute in Graz, Austria, under a scholarship, went on to widen his musical horizons researching Carnatic music. “For my final year in the university I had to write a dissertation. There was a programme that you could do it in a foreign country and they would fund it. Till that moment I did not have the money to travel beyond Europe. I applied and it got through. India was my choice as I was fascinated by its music. I located this school, ‘Brihadwani', in Chennai. For three months I studied there, vocal lessons and soon went through the basics. It was my entry into Indian music. I understood the music better. That was how it started. Since then I listen to a lot of CDs and I never miss a chance to listen to a live concert in Berlin.”
The saxophone and clarinet that Fox plays has been adapted to Carnatic music. But he is not very enthused about the way it is being used in this genre. And he is quite forthcoming about his opinion.
“The way the saxophone is played in Carnatic music is totally different from the Western style. It is very much influenced by the nagaswaram, and I must say, that I don't like the sound of the Indian sax. So when I listen to Indian music it is mostly vocal, flute or the violin. I have not heard much of clarinet in Carnatic music.”
Fox spent almost three years in Shanghai. That was the time when the Chinese economy was in the take-off stage. The country was lapping up anything that was Western. Fox made use of this situation. Freelancing at jazz clubs, playing for fashion shows, music festivals in the nearby cities, for hotel bands, he soon became very busy. “I even started selling my own band, including the big piano and sounds. It became a bit too hectic; it felt almost like a job. I decided to take a break, came to India and then back to Berlin.”
Berlin always had a lot of musicians and music. Fox decided to make it for himself here. This was a challenge but his China and India experiences gave him the confidence. “Germany has always been big for classical music. Their orchestras are the best in the world. In terms of other genres I have felt a strong political influence. A huge chunk of money for culture here goes for classical music. In the case of jazz there's very little support, the musicians struggle. They need to teach to survive and this affects their creativity. I have never found classical my taste. I'm a big fan of improvised music and this is totally missing in western classical.”
Travelling extensively, Fox has performed and conducted workshops in various countries, played with big bands like the Berlin Youth Jazz Orchestra, performed for the President of the Federal Republic of Germany, collaborated and worked on various projects. He has been involved both as a performer and composer in numerous film and theatre productions, and is an integral member of the German/Indian fusion project, Karnatriix Global Ensemble.
“I have some big plans for Karnatriix in the new year. I could organise a few gigs in Germany and hopefully in November-December we want to do a series of concerts in Kerala.”
The motorcycle engine roared to life and Fox was off…