guitarist Marnix Busstra is one of the finest guitarists on
the 21st century Euro-jazz scene. In 2013 Marnix released his critically
acclaimed CD Sync Dreams and in 2015 he followed back up with
an album of all new jazzy, fusion instrumentals called Firm
Fragile Fun. The same band Marnix recorded with on
Sync Dreams returns for his new one which finds Marnix backed
up in the studio by Arnold Dooyeweerd
(bass), Pieter Bast (drums) and Rembrandt Frerichs (piano).
Since he was a kid, Marnix has had jazz running through his blood
and you can also tell he has an extensive classical music background,
especially modern masters like Bartok. Marnix has worked with American
jazz great Mike Maineri and you can hear that vivid, syncopated jazz
sound throughout the entire Firm Fragile Fun CD. Asked about
trying to put a defining characteristic on his diverse approach to
jazz and jazz-fusion, Marnix tells mwe3.com, "To be honest,
I dont really care what anyone wants to call it. I believe the
main identity of music is made by the musicians who are playing it.
But you could call it free rock, moody bop jazz with a hint
of ethnic flavors, or funky neoclassical world jazz
or whatever. I think jazz always absorbed all kind of influences,
and nowadays, a good jazz musician can deal with and improvise in
all kinds of styles, without losing his own identity. That gives a
lot of freedom and possibilities!" Marnix has cited guitar
greats like Scofield and Santana as being influences, yet theres
also a range of innovative and original jazzy sounds pulsing through
Firm Fragile Fun. Backed up by a solid band of like-minded
musicians, on Firm Fragile Fun Marnix Busstra delivers another
winning album of uptempo, jazz guitar-based fusion instrumentals.
an interview with
Tell us about Firm Fragile Fun and what were your musical goals
this time? Where and when was the album written and recorded?
Marnix Busstra: Firm, Fragile, Fun is the second album
of the Marnix Busstra Band, with the same musicians as on our debut
album Sync Dreams - Rembrandt Frerichs piano, Arnold
Dooyeweerd bass and Pieter Bast drums. After the release
of that album we played a lot of concerts with the band, and I came
to realize that these musicians are not just jazz-musicians
they are capable of playing a lot of different styles, without
losing their unique personalities. So with Firm, Fragile, Fun
I wanted the repertoire to be as varied as possible, to use all the
possibilities of these fine musicians.
I wrote the music for this album in the first half of 2014, we recorded
in October/November 2014, in Sandlane Studio in Rijen in The Netherlands.
Its a great studio for this kind of recordings, with very good
natural acoustics, especially for the drum sound.
mwe3: You actually have another recently released album as
well called Best Of Both Worlds? Tell us about that album and
some of the things your did with other Dutch artists on the album.
Marnix Busstra: This year on the 30th of August 2015,
I had my 50th birthday. The album Best Of Both Worlds was released
on that date, with an overview of my work as a guitarist and composer
from the last 20 years (1995-2015). Its a double-album, with
the first CD featuring instrumental jazz of the different bands I
played in and wrote music for. The second CD is filled with vocal
music I wrote, mainly for my wife Karin Bloemen, who is a very well-known
singer in The Netherlands we work a lot together. Theres
also one song, Tale Of Two Angels, with singer Dianne Reeves,
which Im very proud of; its definitely a good composition
and she sings it absolutely beautifully!
This album is only released in The Netherlands, because most of the
vocal compositions are in the Dutch language.
mwe3: Some of the tracks on Firm Fragile Fun are very
jazzy and then some have neoclassical and even progressive rock ideas
in the mix. Is that how you would describe the sound of Firm Fragile
Fun? Progressive bop jazz?
Busstra: To be honest, I dont really care what anyone wants
to call it. I believe the main identity of music is made by the musicians
who are playing it. But you could call it free rock, moody bop
jazz with a hint of ethnic flavors, or funky neoclassical
world jazz or whatever. I think jazz always absorbed all kind
of influences, and nowadays a good jazz musician can deal with and
improvise in all kind of styles, without losing his own identity.
That gives a lot of freedom and possibilities!
mwe3: The cover art and CD booklet has some interesting twists
of word play on the Firm Fragile Fun title like Moody Fragile
Gone? What does the title signify and how does it apply to the
album cover art as it appears?
Marnix Busstra: Im very happy with the artwork of this
album. I worked for years now with the same designer, Rob Becker,
but this is one of his finest work! The idea of the one word
titles came up because the different tracks all have a very
strong identity, in composition and in the way the band plays it.
For example the first one, Stress, is indeed a
very stressful song, and the second one, Fun, indeed has
got a very funny mood in it. So I chose to underline this by giving
the songs these one word titles.
I chose Firm, Fragile, Fun to be the album title, because these
three words captures pretty much the all around mood of
the album. And what I like about the cover art is that you see in
the background all other characters floating around. Overall, it gives
the impression as if the chosen words are floating on a sea of words,
as if these chosen moods are indeed part of life itself.
Whats the reaction like to Firm Fragile Fun album in
Holland and in the neighboring countries? Firm Fragile Fun has
a kind of Euro-centric sound to it even though you have said it has
that American jazz effect too. Its a unique jazz mixture with
the Dutch vibe, and I might add a Ackerman-esque guitar sound?
Marnix Busstra: Nice to bring up Jan Akkerman, a great Dutch
guitarist musician of course! His sound was definitely an inspiration
for me when I was young, so maybe you can still hear echoes of that
influence in my sound and music.
In Holland I got some very positive reviews, especially because they
like the diversity and intractability of the music. Problem for me
is, that I started as a fusion-guitarist when I was young, and sometimes
they still see me as that fusion-guitarist. And fusion
has never been very popular in Holland, so that haunted me through
mwe3: What is your working relationship like with Norbert Sollewijn
Gelpke and how did it influence the sound of Firm Fragile Fun?
Compare the new album and working with Norbert on the Sync Dreams
CD from 2013. Is there a secret to getting a great studio sound?
Marnix Busstra: I know Norbert now for 45 years! We met in
kindergarten and have been close friends since. So we are like brothers
to each other
he knows exactly what Im looking for in
music. He is a great electric bass player. We just started a new band,
The Old School Band and we will record in January. And hes a
fantastic engineer too. He has his own mixing-studio, with all kinds
of great analog equipment. He is a master of capturing the music in
a great, warm, analog sound, so he is definitely very important in
the whole process.
So in the end, the secret of a great studio sound that
youre asking for, is not a specific trick he uses
in the studio, or something like that, but its the whole process,
from recording with the right mics to the final mastering. And hes
you can hear that for sure!
The sound of Sync dreams is a little different from Firm,
fragile, fun, I agree. Main difference is that we used analog
tape as a mastering-tool for Sync dreams - we didnt do that
this time, because we liked the sound already without using that final
Have there been any recent developments in your gear and guitars?
Did you use the Howard Roberts jazz guitar solely on Firm Fragile
Fun and were any other guitars used? What else can you tell us
about that custom electric sitar you play from the builder Gunter
Eyb? Is that the electric sitar on Deep? What a cool track,
of spacey bop jazz played on sitar! When did you get the idea to use
the electric sitar? You dont hear that sound a lot on jazz albums
Marnix Busstra: Yes, I used the Howard Roberts for almost all
the tracks. I used an Irish bouzouki in Joy and indeed
the Günter Eyb electric sitar in Deep. I played the
melody in octaves, and thats what gives it the special, spacey
atmosphere. But on all the other tracks I used the Howard Roberts.
I just love that guitar!
But I dont have any important developments in my gear these
last years. I still use the same guitars, amps and pedals. Im
just happy with it.
mwe3: Are you still using the same guitar effects from Sync
Dreams on the new album or and what effects and amps did you record
the Firm Fragile Fun album with and what amps and other essentials
do you use in live shows?
Marnix Busstra: I indeed use the same effects: Ibanez Hand
Wired Tube Screamer, a T-Rex Replica delay, a TC-electronic chorus,
to make it stereo and two T-Rex Room Mate reverbs. And the amps I
use are two Bogner Duende 112.
If possible, I use the Bogner Duendes live also, but when its
not possible to bring them I just use whats on stage. But the
combination of my guitar and effects is enough to keep my own personal
sound, even with other amps.
mwe3: Are you still defining your guitar and compositional
sound? How do you improve as a guitarist and a composer? How about
practicing and staying in shape as a player?
Busstra: I think thats an ongoing process, with periods
of development altered by periods of consolidation. And you cant
its just what it is, every period having its
own value. For example, in composing, some periods Im very inspired,
then I write a lot of pieces in a short period of time. Other periods
I dont write at all. And I know I can force myself to still
write in a period like that
sometimes thats necessary
but I very much like it when the process is as natural as possible.
So for me the main thing is that you listen to yourself and feel where
the inspiration is on that particular moment in time. Sometimes its
studying, sometimes its composing, sometimes its watching
TV and doing nothing at all. Those periods can be frightening, because
you might think; Its over for me, I cant do it anymore!
But until now, those periods always appeared to be just necessary
to restart the engine.
mwe3: The internet hasnt really been exploited very well
by the artists so far or has it? Are there live concerts on line yet?
Have you done any live broadcasts over the internet via cams or something?
What do you make of the internet? Is the internet still too fascinating
to make some serious statement with it?
Busstra: Indeed, the internet is not my best friend. To be honest,
I kind of hate Facebook and those kind of platforms, its just
not my cup of tea. But we did a multi-camera recording of a live show
recently, it will be online in a few months. And on my website you
can find some live-recordings as well.
mwe3: What are your live shows like? Whats the chemistry
like with your band? Do you like doing live shows or recording and
producing music in the studio more?
Marnix Busstra: Playing live and recording/producing in the
studio are two totally different things, but I both like them equally!
On the other hand, I do think jazz, more than non-improvised music,
is meant to be live. So when I make a jazz-record, I like it to be
as live as possible, with a lot of freedom for the players
to interact and be spontaneous in their playing.
When we play live, its a big adventure. Especially our pianist
Rembrandt and our bass player Arnold can be very unpredictable in
their playing, so we all have to be very concentrated and loose at
the same time, to make it happen. I love that state of mind
its very addictive in a way
mwe3: What else is new in Holland musically? How about socially?
How do you compare Holland with the rest of Europe socially or in
the EU scheme of things?
Marnix Busstra: In Holland there are a lot of young jazz musicians,
because we have a lot of conservatories here, much more then for example
in Germany. So there are, besides loads of Dutch kids, also a lot
of foreign students in Holland all trying to find their way. So the
situation is not easy for them when they graduate. A lot of them,
also Dutch players, leave the country after their music studies.
dont think there is a very specific Dutch way of playing jazz
or a Dutch musical identity. For example a country like Norway does
have that identity, and they use that as an export product.
So its easier for a new Norwegian band to be invited abroad,
because of that positive identity of their music, which is great of
the past, the identity of Dutch jazz was mainly based on musicians
like Misha Mengelberg and Willem Breuker, who played a kind of theatrical
free jazz. But that way of playing is not very common anymore here.
its interesting to think about these things; sometimes its
difficult to see certain developments when youre in the middle
of it. Maybe its easier for someone abroad to define whats
happening here in Holland
mwe3: Have you come much closer towards your dream of playing
a concert in the US and even Canada? Your sound is too good to not
come to North America! But the U.S. including Canada too is such a
huge country, so youd probably just want to play a few choice
places! Whats your dream show to put on here? Where would you
like to play?
Marnix Busstra: Thanks for the compliment! And Id love
to come to the US or Canada, also because I do believe theyd
like our music and way of playing a lot. But its very difficult
nowadays to arrange that maybe this interview is just the thing
I needed to accomplish that! (lol)
But I dont have a specific dream of playing the
Blue Note in NY or something like that. Just to play somewhere and
reach people with my music, thats the only dream I have.
mwe3: What are you looking forward to musically? Is it too
soon to think about new music composing and even another album in
Busstra: As I mentioned before, Im going to record a first
album with this new band, The Old School Band. I wrote all new material
for that group, which has a totally different musical identity compared
to the Marnix Busstra Band, much more funky and groovy. Im looking
forward to that to recording, its going to be a lot of fun,
thats for sure! After that Im going to write music for
a new theatre-show for my wife, singer Karin Bloemen. And after that
I will watch TV for a while and think about new plans