Frøy Aagre: melodic traveller

Frøy Aagre is breaking through. The young Norwegian saxophone player and composer is just back from Australia where she played some of the most important jazz festivals.

Frøy Aagre, 2007

Her two records to date, Katalyze (2004) and Countryside (2007) have received brilliant reviews across the line of international jazz media, and critics from around the world make a point of her special gift for blending the beautiful and haunting with the unexpected and complex. A leader of several bands, Aagre has been working hard with music her entire adult life. The reward is a newly signed deal with the illustrious label ACT. With such backing, her upcoming record Cycle of Silence might just catapult her to the very top international league of young jazz performers.

-I was just in Hong Kong, relates Aagre. It was only a short stopover going to Australia, but I still found the place spectacular and overwhelming. The experience I had there may serve as an indication of how I work: All the impressions, the richness and perceptive dynamism of the place, left me in a state of passive, jubilant observation. I just wanted to see and sense and observe everything. Simply soaking up Hong Kong turned the very composite experience into a kind of cohesive personal impression; my own feeling of Hong Kong. Letting such a feeling manifest while I am in a particular place makes it possible for me to go back, to think hard and conjure up that emotional state. And that is very often when melodies come into my mind; it is like finding words in retrospect for something you have witnessed very attentively.

We started by asking Frøy Aagre how she composes; what kind of processes that lie behind her celebrated ability to create melodies that grab hold of the listener. For a jazz composer and saxophone player she has a rare way with the enopening and image-evoking elements of music. –Those that make the sky high and the listener travel. -Private travels, she hopes, but in a landscape that invites journeying; that is Frøy Aagre’s music.

-Sometimes when I fly over beautiful landscapes I translate the images into music; melodies appear and they become translations of what I saw. Naturally, no listener will have the same images invoked by the music as was my initial perception; music is not semantic in that way. However, I believe there is a different, more diffuse but also more magical kind of semantic at work, viz. that music inspired by travels and views from airplanes will perhaps allow the listener to experience something of the same space, lightness and perspective. There is a double sense of freedom involved here: the freedom of space itself, and then the freedom to travel wherever you like. That kind of open musical architecture is important to me, especially on my latest record.

The record in question is entitled Cycle of Silence. To be released early next year it is Frøy Aagre’s third, and though unmistakable in the unique melodic vein that characterises all Aagre’s music, it is still quite different form the two preceding ones. In fact all three stand apart, expressing different phases and modes in her life says Aagre:

-My debut Katalyze was a saxophone player’s record, she says. I have been focused on melody my whole life, but during that period I was deep into my technical studies on the sax, and immersed in the rather complex and dense music I was being exposed to studying in the UK. So on Katalyze there is a lot of emphasis on beats and off-beats, and complexity woven into the melodic veins. Countryside, which came in 2007, was a more of a composer’s record. I had been studying composition at the Norwegian Academy of music, and I had received a composers’ grant. So it became more of a consistent and composed record, different from the first, which was made up of tunes from my whole life up until its release. Countryside also has an affinity with baroque music and especially Bach, which I was listening to a lot at the time. There is a lot of polyphony and layers on it. The upcoming record is a combination of the two former ones, but also a step into something new. Most of all I have focused on space and quiet passages in the tunes, hence the name Cycle of Silence. Nature has been a chief source of inspiration, along with travelling and the images that come with it. Nature and travelling are aspects of the same in a way: the notion of space through movement, cinematic sweeps and stillness.

For all her work Aagre has been especially hailed for her sense of melody, critics venturing to say that strong haunting melodic lines seem to come to Aagre “at the drop of a hat.” Whence this ability to create captivating tonal sequences? Is the sense of narratives and cohesive lines a trait of her personality beyond music we wonder?

-Perhaps it is true that I tend towards some kind of structures and narratives in the way I experience things and process them. In art and music I enjoy a form of consistency; a line that runs through it. When I write music the melody itself comes fairly quickly; every tune is inspired by something specific, like little condensed blocks of experience. So most of the actual musical work, or craft, is in making the best use of the basic melody; bringing it to full fruition in the overall arrangement. I want my music to display a basic idea, so that a tune comes across as a development of that idea and a consistent kind of structure. I keep a notion of two musical layers in the back of my head: the melodic and immediate and the background, which can be more complex, giving depth. I believe this contrast is what makes my music welcoming to the listeners and accessible without being predictable.

Cycle of Silence was recorded directly after the UK tour Aagre and her band undertook last year, the tour for which most of the music was written.

-It was a very efficient way of doing it, says Aagre. Instead of rehearsing we played the material live, which is a much better way of perfecting the songs prior to a recording session.
At that time I was looking for a new label, and I decided to send the recordings as a demo to the Midem Festival. Based on it my band and I were selected as one of six acts from the whole world to perform at the special showcase Midem Talent Jazz. It worked just the way I had hoped, earning us offers from three labels. I opted for the German one, ACT, which I had kind of set my eyes on. However they needed more music than we had already recorded so we booked another couple of days in a studio and recorded some more tunes. The other thing about ACT is that they will sign no final contract before the boss Siegfried Loch has seen the artist live. So he came up to see us play at a tiny venue in the Norwegian countryside. It was quite bizarre, but it testifies to the seriousness of the label.

Signed to ACT Frøy Aagre’s career is in the best of hands. The company is renowned for its thoroughness and its strong promotional apparatus.

-It is just a great feeling to be able to sit back and have other people –professionals- work for you. Now I can concentrate on the music, says Aagre. There is no way I could have continued to handle all aspects of this on my own, it has just become too much, which is a good thing of course. It is really taking off now this musical venture of mine, which is very rewarding after all the work and all the years I have put into it.

Cycle of Silence will be released January 22nd in select countries including Germany.

-I have never played in Germany before, relates Aagre, so the release tour there in March will be my debut. But I trust that the people at ACT are capable of assessing their own home market, so I’m very hopeful regarding Germany.

In the UK Aagre is already something of a hit on the jazz circuit, perhaps because she communicates well with the Brits after years of study there. Other budding markets for Aagre are Australia and Japan, where she has been touring this year. At home in Norway and Scandinavia the demand for Aagre is reaching ever new heights, with brilliant reviews, prestigious commissions and more performance requests than she can accept. It is the way it goes when true talent is matched with hard work.

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