I first became aware of the New Focus sound when listening to the Jazz House on Radio Scotland and decided that I should see this band live. Their sound stood out from the other tunes on the show as I felt there was a definite Scottish feel woven into the tunes. Luckily the chance arose on 30 April 2014 at the Old Fruitmarket in Glasgow for Unesco’s International day of Jazz. They appeared as part of the Stars of the Future billing playing work from their along with the Glasgow String Quartet, Andrew Sharkey on double bass and Alina Bzhezhinska on harp. It was a truly beautiful night. The Old Fruitmarket was perfectly lit, the music was amazing I bought their CD (also titled New Focus) and I decided I would follow this New Focus project avidly to see what else they would do.
New Focus have just released a CD called New Focus On Song and I was so happy to hear that they will be playing live at the Tolbooth in Stirling (my local venue). Even better the CD has a tune on which I heard the New Focus Quartet (Euan Stevenson, Konrad Wiszniewski, Andrew Robb, Alyn Cosker) play live in March 2015 at one of the late night jazz sessions at Glasgow’s Royal Concert Hall and it got stuck in my head. The tune is called Sophia’s Song and it features Konrad playing the Celtic whistle as well as the sax. It is a beautiful track.
New Focus On Song has a good mix of tunes which showcase beautiful melodies such as Green park and Flora, tunes with jazzier elements such as Corea Change and Fourths Ostinato. Fourths Ostinato also has an amazing drum solo by Alyn Cosker on it. Braeside has a filmic feel to it and some tracks such as Ascension and its Reprise have a more classical feel to them. The recording is beautifully clear and most of the tracks have really strong endings to them . The combination of instruments used in this project compliment each other and it is beautiful to hear the celtic whistle used on a couple of tunes.
Konrad let me ask him a few questions for WalkingBassBuzz recently:
How do you and Euan work together on New Focus? How does a track typically come together?
We have been playing together since 2005, so a lot of the time we will come in with a tune and start gigging it straight away. Then over time it tends to get refined, little bits added here and there. Euan contributed the majority of tracks to this album and his arrangements for strings are top class.
What is it like working with Whirlwind recordings?
Whirlwind is a very exciting new label with a lot of very creative music going at the moment, so its great to be part of it once again. Mike Janisch the founder and bassist on our first album is a powerhouse who is always pushing us forward and we’ve expanded out of Scotland, launching at the Pizza Express in London and also at the new concert hall King’s Place.
Can you tell us a little bit about the inspiration behind Sophia’s Song?
Sophia’s song is written for my daughter Sophia. I’ve always loved the sound of the Celtic whistle, we bought one on our honeymoon up in Skye five years ago. I always wanted to incorporate this into a piece, and the melody came when I was babysitting Sophia one day, she loves music and always wants a shot on the whistle!
Some of the instruments used in New Focus such as the Celtic whistle and the harp lend a definite Scottish sound to the music. Do you think New Focus has an identifiable Scottish sound and is this achieved in ways other than instrumentation?
Our sound has evolved over the years reflecting our roots and influences. We are both extremely proud of our heritage, the landscape of Scotland is breathtaking and it always influences you artistically. Norwegian Jazz has a very identifiable nod to the countries beauty, we’re the same but perhaps with a bit more of the Scottish party vibe!
There is so much good Jazz out there so rather than compete with it we just wanted to write honestly and where our hearts are. A big theme of the album is family . Euan’s piece Flora for his daughter always brings a tear to the audiences eye at gigs.
What do you get out of collaborating with musicians from different genres of music?
Working with the Glasgow string quartet is always a great experience. They bring such finesse and musicianship to the project making you think about music in a different way. They can play anything you put in front of them but are always open to ideas and offering helpful advice. The sound of the harp really sets things off as well, such a beautiful sound and very evocative.
The New Focus project started in 2012, do you see this collaboration continuing into the future? Are there any plans?
Definitely, we’ve been working together on a regular basis for the last 10 years in many formats. Its great to just keep putting music out there and hopefully moving forward at the same time. We’ve got quite a few tour dates already and looking into next year as well.
You studied at Berklee College of Music in Boston, Massachsetts. How did that experience shape you as a musician?
It was a great experience to study and just absorb as much as possible. I’m still in touch with people I met and its great to see everyone’s careers going so well.
I miss Brass Jaw! Will you be working on anything with them in the future?
Yes, our next date is in October but not in Scotland unfortunately. We’re down at the Wakefield Jazz Club near Leeds.
We’ve all been working on different projects at the moment, Paul with his Duo with Steve Hamilton, Mikey on his new album and Allon with his dance project. That’s been going for over ten years now which is brilliant. Some fresh ideas and a new album!
What is on your ipod/phone/turntable/playlist currently?
I just got a new turntable recently so I’ve been digging out a lot of Vinyl that I’ve collected over the years. I’m always looking for new music as well, so I make it a priority to listen to at least one new album every week. I’ll check stuff out on spotify and make sure I buy it. There are some fabulous Scottish releases out there which are on my playlist: Paul Towndrow/ Steve Hamilton Duo “We Shine The Sun’, Ben MacDonald Animus Quartet, Mikey Ower’s “Take A Moment Apart”, Tommy Smith’s “Modern Jacobite”, Ryan Quigley’s “ What Doesn’t Kill You”. All great music that I’ve been listening to and show’s the wealth of Scotland’s musical talent.
3rd November, The Blue Lamp, Aberdeen (Quartet)
26 May 2017, The Tolbooth, Stirling (Quartet) (orignally November 4th 2016 but has been rescheduled)
You can check out New Focus and their music here.