«Keski-Uusimaa»
Kerava/Helsinki, Finland, June 1999

Moscow-Petushki brings
John Wolf Brennan to Kerava


This years edition of the “Kerava Jazz Happening” is going to be absolutely outstanding. The repertoire of the free-formed cradle of contemporary jazz is composed of the best in the jazzfields. Musicians like Peter Brötzmann, James Blood Ulmer and Ivo Perelman are most likely to give a sincere interpretation of free compositions and improvisation.

One of the highlights of the festival, Mr. John Wolf Brennan, outlines an impressive and exciting cavalcade of feelings. His works «The Well-Prepared Clavier» and «Moscow-Petushki» make people open up their ears. As a matter of fact, Moscow-Petushki makes Brennan's fingers itchy, since this Saturday is going to be the world premiere of the live performance of this theatrical music.

Originally, this composition was made for a theatre group formed both by Swiss and Russian actors. However, on Sunday the group will be replaced by famous Finnish actor Ilkka Heiskanen. In fact Brennan arrived in Finland mainly because of Moscow-Petushki. The vicechairman of the Kerava Jazz association, Mr. Markku Salo, happened to hear the Leo-CD of Brennan's version of Mr. Wenedikt Jerofejew's play. He was taken to invite Brennan to the Festival. “I had to be persuaded to release this piece on record. My first concern was, that this music might not work without the play,” Brennan says.

John Wolf Brennan has gained eminence and his work was honoured with all sorts of trophys and awards, but mostly in Central and South Europe. Unfortunately, the skills of this prolific composer are still mostly unknown here in the North. In spite of that, Brennan has been able to find out quite a lot about Finland. According to the Swiss-Irish composer, the Finnish audience is surprisingly similar to the Irish, and he is looking forward to the coming concerts. “I think people in Finland can really concentrate on the music. They won't just hear some noise, they have very sensitive ears for all the shades between the lines. So I can't wait to play.”

Well-respected and diligent musician

Among musicians, Brennan is a long-distance runner. His output numbers more than 30 albums, and surprisingly they all sound different! They differ from each other clearly and he can't be blamed of stagnating. Every tune he picks out on the piano doesn't end up in CD, though. Pieces of music too familiar of old or just too easy are used as an amusement on birthday parties, not as fillers.
Composer hates the idea oftaking the easiest way out. It is his responsibility as a self-respective musician to create some startling music. “Laziness is the biggest sin of all among the musicians of my field. For instance, Derek Bailey often plays the same minimalistic notes all over again. I don‘t want to be predictable – that's my duty to audience.

The recurrence demands incessantly good and feasible notions. Brennan has a lot of uncomposed material in his head just waiting to be polished and written up. But as a family man he has to run race against time. There's no normal hours of work and sometimes it riles. “Many people finish their work at 5 pm, and that's it. I can‘t do that. The inner compulsion to compose is a gift and a curse in the same bag.”

Brennan draws ideas and strenght from everyday life, which is often far away from jazz. In his first afternoon in Finland, Brennan roamed in Hietalahti and took a fancy to the landscape of the graveyard, ocean and powerlines. Various works of modern- and theatremusic, etnojazz in addition to free improvisation have been borned in same kinds of observations.

Brennan may compose the biggest surge of emotions during one afternoon, just like he did whit some parts of Das Wohlpräpierte Klavier. “In the end I like to work fast, if possible. All the “vulgar rhythms” and melodic sources in my head are getting ready to burst out any minute. Every composer dreams that the work would compose itself. My head simply is a place for the composition to happen”, says Brennan humbly.

beautiful melody
As a jack-of-all-trades -musician Brennan acts in several line-ups, like Pago Libre and Trio Aurealis. The collaboration with remarkable musicians is nearly daily. For example Julie Tippetts and Evan Parker play in his sextet called HeXtet. HeXtet interpretes Brennan's compositions to the poems of William Shakespeare and Seamus Heaney and improvises from that basis.

Luckily the admiration for his work has increased in recent years. In accordance with Brennan's words the classification ot music is absurd. All kinds of pigeonholes are pointless and made for music stores only. A good example of the prejudices caused by the classification is when a Belgian pop-radiostation powerplayed Brennan's Aldgate East (mend the gap under ground). The voice-collage of an ordinary underground trip became a success. Young people found the mechanical rhythm of Aldgate East. But in record stores the album is sorted out in a way average young thing wouldn't tumble it.

The main concern of Brennan's compositions is melody. He fixed his attention on it at his very first piano lesson aged 11 and it still enthrals him. Even though Brennan sheds his skin every now and then he always tries to capture a breathtaking melody. “To me, music is most of all a beautiful melos. That's what it's all about.”

Interview: JENNI UOTINEN

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