Jonas Hellborg has appeared on Abstract Logix a few times in the past. It has been quite a while that we have had an in depth conversation with him. Probably the last time we spoke was when Shawn Lane was still alive. “Kali’s Son” is the new record from Jonas with V.Selvaganesh and progressive Sitarist Niladri Kumar. Hellborg is back with a power trio and another record is on the works.
AL: It’s hard to believe that more than two years have passed by since the death of Shawn Lane. How do you reflect back on your friendship, the musical relationship on stage and off stage and what are some of your experiences that make you move forward and make music in newer concepts?
JH: Shawn was my brother, it was more than friendship. The musical bit was just a small part of our bond. We had a huge influence on each other and developed ideas in between us that you finally would not know where it came from originally. It is a hard thing to define because it was at the same time very complex and simple and was of real direct benefit for only him and me. The music we made together, as a result, is there for everybody who wants to make it their own. that is our surface our contact with the world. The testimony of a great friendship.
AL: It’s unfortunate the some musicians don’t reach a wider commercial success until they die. Jaco was a prime example , and it seems that Shawn is such as well. What’s regrettable is that there are not enough recordings of Shawn available commercially. Do you think Bardo records might release some music of you and Shawn in the future. If so , what can we expect?
JH: I don’t really subscribe to commercial success as an important factor in life. (Pretty obvious). So I do not find it regrettable. The same could be said for Bach, Monk, Parker, Mozart and the list goes on. I have always maintained that what artists do is leave footprints in the sand. We don’t need to judge or evaluate. At best it is what it is. It will somehow tell about the generalities and specifics of one individuals existence. If it touches someone else, wonderful. If it touches a hundred thousand, equally wonderful, because it is still individual experiences. It exposes, touches, relates to, and deals with our common spirit. It is how we tap into the great unifying power. We all have our own back door.
Shawn left a lot of music floating around the planet, it does not matter if it is commercially available or not. He made his footprints. They are there and won’t go away for a long time. He touched the people he touched and some more will be added. What ever happens now won’t benefit him anymore. The people who did not experience him first hand will not. Those who did have sweet memories. He lived a beautiful life in a very compact span. He was a link, not the whole chain. He was one very powerful aspect of the Music(s) that he was part of. Let’s celebrate what he was and not regret what did not happen. I cherish the memories of Shawn but that moment has passed. He will always be present in my music because our cooperation was long and intense.
AL: It seems that after Shawn passed away, you have had some short lived musical experiences, performing with Paul Hanson, Jeff Sipe in a trio concept and a few others. Now your new trio has experimental hard edged axeman Mattias IA Eklundh and Hungarian kit man Zoltan Csörsz. Could you tell us about your new trio, what can fans expect musically and where would you like the new Jonas Hellborg trio to go?
JH: Jeff is the greatest drummer in the world. My personal opinion. We made a very unique statement with the trio with Shawn in it. I am very careful with that legacy. To play with a bassoon player seemed to me far enough removed from that legacy to be valid. And it still does. However it ended up too close for me to be comfortable. I will happily play with both Jeff and Paul separate or together but the music has to go somewhere else for it to be meaningful to me. Now with the new trio I feel possibilities of virgin territory to be explored. What it will be I can not tell you, not even after the fact, I can only go there, someone else has to give it a name. It will be different.
AL: You seem to be quite excited about your new drummer Zoltan Csörsz. In your musical career you have performed with Jeff Sipe, Tony Williams, Billy Cobham, Trilok Gurtu, Selvaganesh. How does Zoltan fit into your music?
JH: We blend well, just like with Jeff, it’s effortless. It just fits. Other than that it will speak for itself given time.
AL: You sound very excited about the new trio . I remember you making a statement after Shawn passed away I am probably not going to play with a guitar player again . It’s welcoming that Matthias is in the core of the new trio. Your thoughts and feelings on yet again how the fellow Swede made you change your mind ?
JH: I said the same thing after Johnny Mac. then I met Shawn, now its Mattias.
AL: With your new trio, you have been playing the tunes that you have written in the past. Are you planning on writing new material with Mattias ? Any chance of any recordings in the future ?
JH: We are currently writing and recording a new Album
AL: You have played with two of my favorite guitar players, John McLaughlin and Shawn Lane. They were both involved with playing Western compositions as well as Eastern Music. How do you look at both of them from a musical standpoint?
JH: Two very powerful and different musicians. I don’t know what to say on this one, music speaks for itself. For both these gentleman music took place in different rooms. It was found in different spaces occupied different social standing, spoke different language, created different priorities, yet there was a thread of similarity in the musical persona. To that mystery I don’t find the answer. But I guess I am not trying too hard. Both are very important to me and I have great affection for them.
AL: If I am not mistaken the first Hellborg trio had Kenwood Dennard on drums and the great pianist Aydin Esen. Has this trio ever been recorded professionally? We don’t seem to know much about the music from that period. Can you reflect back?
JH: That was a great trio that never really gelled. Probably my fault stemming from my inexperience as a bandleader and therefore not giving my 2 compadres enough space for input. Both are amazing, Kenwood – I can’t say enough great things about and Aydin, I would rate as the greatest Piano player in the world next to Keith JARRETT. I just wish he would do some straight up acoustic piano records, any format. His understanding of Jazz, European art music i.e. classical contemporary whatever you want to call it is rivaled by no one and if he would just get the format of his music matured and presented right he would be the greatest hands down.
AL: “Kali’s Son” was your new recording in 2005, featuring some refreshing new music from progressive sitarist Niladri Kumar and Selvaganesh . How did the music and the record happen?
JH: Everybody in India was talking about Niladri, so I wanted to check him out. My way of doing that is to play music together…and we did. For me, Selva is musical water…without him I will not survive.
AL: “Kali’s Son” is an indirect reference to Shri Ramakrishna, the Indian Saint from West Bengal. I know John McLaughlin is a follower of his as well. How did his teachings impact you spiritually and musically?
JH: I am not a follower of any one guru in particular. I think there is a massive fog out there, intelligently explaining the human condition and experience, Shri Ramakrishna is part of that. There are many angles and many languages to explain the great collective / individual / non-ego journey that we travel through in life. The more perspectives you collect, the freer you become. Shri Ramakrishna was very free.
AL: Jonas, it almost seems that you are running parallel musical lives. You have been experimenting Indo-West sounds with “Kali’s Son” and now your new trio features European musicians who musically are probably unaware of Eastern Music. Where do you want to go musically? Are your parallel musical directions a reflection of who you are?
JH: No, it is all the same. My new buddies are aware and becoming more aware. When I met Shawn he did not know too much about Indian Music. I turned him on to some and then he exploded and bought every cassette in every Indian food mart in Memphis. But personally I don’t really care where it’s from or what it’s called. In India you have people like Zakir, Vikku, Selva, Shrinivas, Bismillah Khan, greats and then you have musicians who don’t need to be mentioned. It’s the same everywhere.
In the modern world we are mixing more and more and that fuels the race to the moon. The first time I went to India it was unfamiliar, now it’s home. Everywhere on this planet is home, one just has to get used to it. And music is the same. I can not tell things apart anymore.
AL: I recently saw you perform with Hindustani Slide guitarist Debashish Bhattacharya and tabla maestro Tanmoy Bose. Is that something musically you want to pursue as a recording endeavor or a touring unit?
JH: It will be continued, I like both of them very much. We are still finding the unique identity this cooperation deserves. Soon.
AL: Jonas I have seen you perform many times. It occurs to me that you have a very strong musical presence. Do you ever feel inclined to perform material where the music is written by someone else and you sit back and fill in the spaces; more of a supporting bass act?
JH: That is a very multilayered question. I do play music composed by others. I played Bach, Bartok, Stravinsky, Sweelink. Sometimes, actually – a lot of the time, I sit back and fill in the spaces. And the trio with Jeff and Shawn was all about a supporting bass role. I might have a strong presence but a lot of what I do in life and in music is to support others to help them be themselves.
AL: It seems that too many records are being released today, since recording and releasing records are relatively easy things to do today. Do you think that it is inadvertently hurting music?
JH: Reflection of the times we live in. Music is not holy. We live a life of human interaction. The form it takes need not to be controlled by prejudice. I can not say that this form is good that is bad. I can say I don’t like this, and that would largely be colored by my cultural background. If someone is doing something, I would like to believe it comes from some kind of passion and that is what matters. What I, or someone else, may think of it does not really matter. It’s about the passion, remember Joseph Campbell, Follow you bliss.
AL: You mentioned to me a while ago that you are interested in a much more accessible type of music , in the lines of what Talvin Singh or other Asian underground musicians are trying to attempt. The music could be serious yet exciting for someone who might want to hear it in a rave or a disco. Have you given any more thought to this lately?
JH: Well I say a lot of things, sometimes too much. I guess that made sense to me when I said it. It sure doesn’t right now. Maybe tomorrow.
AL: Jonas, you have been achieved quite a bit musically, where do you see yourself in the future?
JH: I am not really focused on where I am going. All my energy is going in to experiencing what happens now. That is why I might be a bit disorganized about concerts and outputs of recorded material and all. The way I look at it is…… Lots of wills are influencing the progress of the world. I don’t want to lock myself INTO some kind of plan or structure that would stop me from doing what seems to be right when it happens. So future telling………not my forte.
Photos: Jonas Hellborg, www.jonashellborg.com, www.bardorecords.com