Chris Beckers Navigation Review and Interview
From the Netherlands, guitarist Chris Beckers is versatile and many-sided within the music industry. The guitarist has been playing for several decades, is the founder of his own record label CrisCrazz, and has invested into his own studio Beau Garage. Beckers’ most recent release Navigation marks his thirteenth album, a beautiful continuation from his last album Seven Frames Of Mind. The extension features a list of incredible musicians including Jimmy Haslip on bass and Gary Novak on drums. The seven-song album was crafted with great care and focus. Each guest musician was consciously chosen for the part during Beckers’ preproduction. This attention to detail shines through in his original compositions, his choice of musicians, his own personal playing, and the production and mixing of the album.
These qualities gleam through in the opening track Shining. Beckers shares the opening melody with Eric Vloeimans on trumpet, followed by tastefully sharing space, trading licks and exchanging solos. Navigation’s is in no way a guitar driven album, and elegantly demonstrates the talents of each musician. The album as a whole has a distinct atmosphere but weaves through tempos and styles. Following the laid back opening track comes Skyryder, a track that immediately blasts off, continually picking up intensity and instrumentation. The tunes begins very open with guitar, drums, bass, and keys before it picks up instruments like Latin percussion. It instantly leads in to the next track Stars, continuing the sonic journey with percussion solo breaks and passionate playing by every musician involved. The album slows down again with Lost, a track that reveals some of his early blues influences but is complimented with the powerful backing of the Red Limo String Quartet, a beautiful melody and solo on the bass, and the inclusion of Hermine Deurloo on harmonica. The composition is powerful and certainly played from the heart.
The unique instrumentation sonically keeps the album entertaining and fresh. Every musician is allowed an opportunity to speak and contribute to Navigation’s overall expression. Navigation is a great example of an album that is created by someone who truly cares for and loves the ability to express himself through music, and has work hard to refine and strength his art in every possible way. From the ability to sonically control the tone of the album behind the mixing board, to allowing himself artistic freedom by creating his own label to release his own compositions, or, of course, his skill with the guitar, Navigations demonstrates the decades of hard work Beckers has put into his musical career.
Below Chris Beckers talks briefly with Abstract Logix regarding his new album Navigation, and his journey as a musician.
Abstract Logix: You began your music career as a blues musician but soon switched your music focus to jazz and fusion. Was there a specific album or musician that sparked this change in interest?
Chris Beckers: I think it was about 1970 when I discovered the albums of John McLaughlin and Chick Corea’s Return to Forever. Before that I listened to Frank Zappa and English progressive blues groups.
ABLX: You have your own studio named Beau Garage. Do you think your experience with recording and production gives you an artistic advantage in recording your own albums?
CB: Yes. After I had signed a major artist contract with Polydor KK in Japan in 1983 I invested an advance payment in a 24 analogue track recorder and a mixing console. That made me independent from record companies, recording studios, their time schedules and (high) prices. During that period I also started my own label (CrisCrazz) and publishing. I like the studio work and being able to create the sound of a recording. On the other side you have to learn how to use the studio technology and there is not much time left to develop your playing.
ABLX: Several musicians including Jimmy Haslip and Gary Novak helped in creating Navigation. What went into the selection process for choosing musicians for the album? Navigation also has a wonderful array of instrumentation from Rhodes, flute, trumpet, harmonica, sax, trombone, and string quartet. What inspired you to reach for those harmonic textures for the album?
CB: While working on a song, I often think of sharing a theme or a solo part with another instrumentalist. I am not really a fan of ‘all guitar albums’ (although there are some I really like), but for my albums as I have them in mind, there are often other instruments involved. It is not before the work on the preproduction that I decide which instrument or player could help to interpreted a song. I never approach a musician before having the song composed. For the ‘Navigation’ album, I asked (bassist) Jimmy Haslip, who has already played on several of my albums, if he could try to get Gary Novak for some tunes. Jimmy is always ready to help me out and I am honored that he again produced some of the drum and bass tracks for this album. All other players are from the Netherlands and I know them and their talent for many years. So I knew that it would work out for my music.
ABLX: Navigation and Seven Frames of Mind share a similar style of cover art. Could you discuss the meaning and significance of your covers in relation to your music?
CB: I used paintings of Volker Altenhof for my last album ‘Seven Frames Of Mind’ because I like his art. I see ‘Navigation’ as an extension of its predecessor and Volker – who is a German professor of art – allowed me to again use some of his paintings. The theme’s of the paintings I used for both albums are ‘balance’ and ‘navigation’.
Those expressions are echoing the way I try to live and survive as a musician.
ABLX: What approach do you take in composing your music? Does it start on the guitar or in the computer as MIDI?
CB: My composing starts on the guitar. Often I have concrete ideas but it also happens that I just start playing on the guitar and record it. I work on ProTools to keep my ideas, using it pretty much as a recording machine. A lot of my studio gear is analogue. I own some basses and keyboards, which I am using to develop a composition. Of course I am also working with the digital stuff, using plugins for sounds, drum loops and effects. At the end I come up with a preproduction that’s very close to how I think a song should sound on the album. That is the time to invite other musicians for recording sessions to share the music with me.
ABLX: With you career in music and guitar reaching several decades, how have you evolved as a guitarist and musician?
CB: I learned my first chords on a borrowed Spanish guitar in the late 60’s. Highest goal was to own a real electric guitar, be in a band, make my own music and have a demo tape on cassette to get gigs.Years later the destination was to have a record, get more gigs and to make a living from it as a musician. I choose to live and work in the world of music and I resumed to that down to the present day.
Like all musicians of my age I experienced the analogue decade and from the mid 80’s we had to deal with the upcoming digital area. As a composer and label owner things got more difficult. It went from vinyl to cd and I am afraid that younger people will not buy any hard copies in the near future. It will be downloading and preferably without paying for music. The present time is not the best climate to survive as a musician, but the dedicated and addicted ones will go on and spread the art. That’s what I try to do.