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In 2020, I was probably at only two concerts – Silent Fires in February, and Pericopes in October – both of which are bands with pianist Alessandro Sgobbio, who graduated at music academies in Parma and Oslo, and that is why many of his projects have been taking place between Norway and Italy. The striking Silent Fires album, Forests, was one of my top Nordic releases 0f 2019, available through the enthusiastic (predominantly) jazz label AMP Music and Records, founded in 2014 and managed solely by Oslo-based jazz drummer Anders Thorén. To this date, AMP has released more than 70 albums, among them such highly recommended favourites of mine as Ayumi Tanaka’s debut trio album, Memento, the original project Modes for all Eternity by WAKO & Oslo Strings, or the highly inspired trio Ground 71 from Northern Italy. Just recently, AMP changed the logo and design approach, and Alessandro is back on the label with the debut album of his project Hitra, Transparence, described as a genre-fluid journey into imaginary, lost and hidden places.


I see that you wrote all the music and are mentioned as producer. So is Hitra rather a project based on your ideas or more like a full-band project of four equals?


Yes, I produced the album and wrote the music, but I think that the best way to describe this project is an open musical encountering of four musicians and their own personal voices. It’s nice for me to see and hear how this polyphonic dialogue could well re-shape the compositions (and the improvisations, of course) with a deeper level of a creativity and meaning. Also, some of them are quite structured, some other are wide open, but overall there is «zen» freedom in the way we can approach, interpret, dismantle or improvise in between our repertoire.


That „zen“ approach of the music is something I feel is very strong on this album. Interestingly, it reminds me of another recent Italian-Norwegian project: Michele Rabbia, Eivind Aarset and Gianluca Petrella released an album called “Lost River”. There’s no piano on that album, though. You mixed the music with Stefano Amerio in Udine, who also recorded and mixed the “Lost River” album. In any case, your album is a beautifully unique one, stylistically, and also quite different from lots of other albums in the contemporary jazz section, on AMP as well as in general. Which references did you have in mind when you developed the music? 


During that period I was mainly working on my own self-perception and development of my musical ideas. The challenging situation of moving every six months (!) to a new city, music academy, apartment and spoken language (Norwegian, Swedish and Danish languages are so similar and yet so very different!), has played an important role in  pushing me towards that direction. That being said, the music on this album has a quite strong connections with my busy daily book-reading activity of that period. I remember that, for many days, I was deliberately stretching my days between silence and reflection, with a book in my hands or a grand piano in front of me, with paper and pencils ready for writing down ideas. But – of course – I was listening to a lot of music during that process, mainly checking out artists who have been developing a clear, energetically strong and personal voice. And it was definitively a wide range of intense listenings – from Arvo Pärt to Robert Glasper, with PJ Morton and J. S Bach in between – and multiple inspirations from specific works from Misha Alperin, Jon Balke, Anouar Brahem, Joni Mitchell, Christian Wallumrød, Kaja Draksler, Kayhan Kalhor and Vijay Iyer, among others.


What was the initial inspiration for the album?


A few years before moving to Oslo, I was reading a book by French writer Georges Perec and I noticed his curious mention to the lost city of Lebtit: such a fascinating story that resonated in my mind for a while. After that, other related references and readings surfaced and made that first inspiration more solid and valuable. The hidden, abandoned, demolished or imaginary places became the leitmotiv of the album, and I feel that the music included in Transparence organically matches this vision.


So how did Hitra as a band start? 


It took me some time to find the «right» musicians, but today I can say that I like a lot this line up! [Drummer] Øyvind Skarbø and I shortly played together a mini trio set (with trumpeter Hilde Marie Holsen) at my master admission at the Norges Musikkhøgskole in early 2016. In 2017, a few months after my arrival in Norway, I met [bassist] Jo Berger Myhre and asked him to be part of this project. We started rehearsing a bit in that first trio format, pretty much improvising, with no composed material at all. We just set up the instruments and started jamming for some hours. When the Norwegian Music Academy offered me a «concert + daily recording session» combo, I felt that could be a good opportunity to work on more composed material. Øyvind, Jo and I agreed on adding a fourth member to the band, and the choice immediately came to [guitarist] Hilmar Jensson, who was teaching at the Academy. I asked him if he would have been interested in joining this project – as you know, he said yes!


When you first told me about this project about a year ago, I was surprised to encounter the island Hitra again. It’s a fairly big Norwegian island, but it’s located in a region that not a lot of people outside Norway know much about. What is your connection with Hitra — or why did you choose that name for the band?


I have never been to Hitra, but I was immediately and enormously inspired by the sound of the word Hitra itself: such an enigmatic perfect word for our metaphoric island of foggy lights, hidden places and sunken cathedrals.


I very much like the concept of the multilingual track titles. How come you have two German titles among them?


Those two titles carry a special weight in the imaginary journey painted in this album. That’s actually due to my admiration for the work of poet Rainer Maria Rilke. The term “Künftiges” (future things) has a quite eschatological message, and “Lebenslauf” suggests a “life path” that can be physical and spiritual at the same time.


We spoke about your ideas for a cover image last autumn, when you were in Berlin to perform your previous album. I remember the title “Transparence” had been there already. The photo on the cover connects pretty smoothly with another AMP album released around the same time, by Pål Nyberg. When and how did you come across Anita Soukizy’s work in the first place? 


We had a first connection more than a year ago, during the promotional tour of my previous album Forests. Anita has a particular predilection for the Scandinavian music scene, so we were already in touch regarding that specific topic. Last February — after some concerts in Oslo, Berlin, Paris and Porto — with Silent Fires we finally landed in Milan for our last tour gig, but on that same day our concert got canceled (and the first official Italian lockdown started). Since the gig was not happening, we took the opportunity to make a long band interview with Anita, and also a mini video shooting. That was the beginning of our collaboration.

The first album cover reference I had in mind for Transparence was a foggy, undefined night cityscape. I asked to a few photographers for options in that direction, including Anita Soukizy (and yourself). What happened is that Anita sent me also an extra selection of more-abstract shots. While I was sharing these options with Anders Thorén, we both agreed that, among all options, there was one image in particular that felt quite accurate in visually delivering Transparence’s liquid atmospheres, so we went for it. I agree with you — its style matches the Pål Nyberg album cover, but it is only a (very good) coincidence.


What’s the idea behind the video teaser for the album?  


The idea of a night cityscape reference came back only after the album artwork was finalized. I was starting to think about an album EPK video, but then I remembered that Anita Soukizy mentioned, during a phone call, the existence of some unreleased night video shots she took in Milan. That footage has been included in the video teaser (where you can hear the opening track, “Lebtit”, played in its entirety), and I am happy I could finally materialize my very first visual intuition for this album.


Der Alphazustand ist bekannt als introspektiv und kreativitätsfördernd. Lebt man eine Woche lang direkt am Atlantik, völlig abgelegen im südwestlichen Irland, in einem riesigen Haus voller Geschichten, so kann dies einiges bewirken, sagte Denise. Ist Achim Musiker?, fragte ich, denn ich hatte in seinem Plattenschrank eine CD mit eigenen Liedern entdeckt, die stammten allerdings noch aus dem vorigen Jahrtausend. Er ist Fotograf, sagte Denise, sie holte einen großformatigen Band aus einem Bücherregal und blätterte ihn auf. Die Fotografien sehen aus wie Bilder, in ihrer Düsternis und in ihrem Interpretationsspielraum würden sie sich hervorragend als Cover für die Alben von Scott Walker eignen, dachte ich sofort. Ich erinnere mich an einen angedeuteten männlichen Oberkörper, hell, sonst alles schwarz. War da ein Kopf? Ich weiß es nicht mehr. Entfernt die Erinnerung an ein Bild von Edward Munch, das ich in meiner Postkartenssammlung habe. Madonna oder so.

Der Höhepunkt aus Achims Plattenschrank ist die Sammlung an Alben aus dem Hause ECM. Ich habe fast nur Pat Metheny aufgelegt, von denen es ungefähr ein Dutzend gab. Eine ruhige, entspannte Sommermusik (auch wenn die Sonne nicht die irische Insel fand), Endlosschleifen, die sich manchmal unbemerkt verändern, weil ich zwischendurch abgedriftet bin in meinen Gedanken, gut gelaunt und leicht, aber dennoch nicht oberflächlich, wenn ich mir auch ein paar manchmal mehr Kratzer, Kippmomente oder Sprünge in dieser schwebenden Perfektion gewünscht hätte. Dafür ist es eine Musik, die ich Gästen zum Abendessen zumuten kann, die ich mit „Bécs“ von Fennesz (immer noch meiner No. 1 dieses Jahres, leider außerhalb von Achims Plattenschrank) verjagen würde.

Auch sehr überzeugend: „mystic jazz“ von Paolo Rusticelli.

Eine ganz andere Musik: das Tuckern der Motoren der Fähre, direkt unter meinem Kopf, als ich die ganze Nacht schlaflos quer liegend auf zwei abgewetzten Ledersesseln lag, zugedeckt von meiner Winterjacke.

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