Gideon Van Gelder is back with the worldwide release of Lighthouse, his second album as a leader. Lighthouse made its debut in Japan on August 6th before it was released around the globe on September 8th. Van Gelder’s newest album also directly follows the release of its first single, “Victory Joy Dance,” which we premiered last month. Rocking with Van Gelder on Lighthouse are Jamire Williams (drums), Becca Stevens (vocals), Lucas Pino (reeds), and Rick Rosato (bass). Producer Brian Bender, whose credits include Takuya Kuroda’s Rising Son as well as José James’ No Beginning No End and While You Were Sleeping, is also lends his hands as Lighthouseproducer.


Photo Credit: Govert Driessen


Van Gelder recently spent time to talk to us about his newest album. Scroll down to read our convo.

Revive: You’ve mentioned that this album is shorter and that you feel like you’re saying more with less music. What is the main difference between this album and Perpetual in terms of your approach as a composer, musician, and bandleader?

Gideon Van Gelder: I think Lighthouse is even more about the songs themselves than on Perpetual. I’ve been playing a lot of Brazilian music over the years and all that stuff is 100% about the song [and] the melody. You can improvise, but really you don’t do justice to those songs if you approach them too abstractly. For me, it also tends to makes songs shorter when I’m not stretching out in every possible way. That aesthetic definitely influenced my writing.

I’ve also been listening to a lot of “non-jazz” music lately. From classical to electronica, but just not a lot of jazz per se. Going to different venues too, like electronic music festivals, helps me to keep an open mind. I’m even noticing that my whole frame of reference is shifting. I used to always listen to other music coming from the jazz thing. That changed. Jazz, and how to play it, is just one of many ways of making music now. It will always be in my ear though

As for band leading: with this band there’s not a whole lot of leading involved. There is really hardly any talking. I do start out with a clear idea of what I want with a song and what I want to put across with it. Then everything just kind of falls in to place, with everyone bringing in little things of their own that I hadn’t thought of yet. It was a pretty great process.

R: The listener can definitely hear the electronic influence on the album. What artists from that style of music are you listening to that influenced the overall shape of the album?

GVG: The first was Flying Lotus. I got to know him through his collab on Blackmagic. The stuff is so organic and rich in texture. Then there’s Dorian Concept… really cool and visionary music. I’ve been working quite a bit with a young dutch producer called Jameszoo; awesome producer in his own right who also turned me on to Thundercat. Recently, I’ve been listening to Knower and Darkside a lot. Darkside has a very strong live set too, it’s the full audio visual experience too, as with Flying Lotus.

R: Brian Bender has produced some of my favorite recent releases. I know we discussed his contributions to Lighthouse during the premiere of “Victory Joy Dance,” but could you tell us more about what makes Brian such a special producer?

GVG: What makes him special is his openness. Brian is an upright bassplayer turned engineer. He listens to all kinds of music and can mix any type of music. He doesn’t have a template. Every project will have a unique approach. What is tale-telling is [that] he invited us to do our last rehearsal in his loft/studio in Brooklyn so he could get a vibe for the music and decide how to record it best. Brian also has a thing for drums and vocals, which didn’t exactly hurt for this record. He had a lot of great input as far as Becca’s vocals were concerned. Panning, layering and stacking parts etc. I had a rough idea for that and the actual melodies were written but he and Becca took it to another level. He also got my idea of wanting to create this wall of sound from Becca all the way down to this big bottom. That’s another thing he does really well; low end. Aside from all that technical stuff he’s a super positive guy and brings that vibe into the studio and to the music. He made it very easy.

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R: One of the hardest classes and perhaps the most rewarding classes I’ve ever taken was Rhythm Analysis classes at New School taught by Rory Stuart. The album has a lot of crazy time signatures and it’s definitely rhythmically advanced. How much of that class still informs your day-to-day composition style?

GVG: Yep I took that class. But quite honestly I had already been getting into some of the stuff a while before that, so I’m not too sure how much the class – by itself – informed my writing. Other things were more influential, like karnatic music and studying with Vijay Iyer for half a year when I first moved to New York. I’ve also listened to a lot of of Craig Taborn over the years and had the opportunity to hang out with him, playing and talking about music. That taught me a lot.

R: It’s safe to assume that pianist like Herbie, Chick Corea, Mehldau, and Esbjorn Svensson are all good musical heroes to look up to when it comes to this blend of break-beat meets linear improv/electric-based music meets jazz instruments. Are there any specific pianists whose sound influence you when you’re playing in this idiom?

GVG: Of course all those guys are in the back of my mind somewhere. But again, it’s safe to say that the more recent influence came from Vijay and Taborn. That and Andrew Hill. Of course I never consciously try to emulate, but their music has become a large part of my thing. That’s the foundation. Then there’s all this other music on top of that, like the Charles Ives-album Kneebody did with Theo Bleckmann. That hit home right away.

R: You’ve mentioned that you have been listening to a lot of electronic music and it shows in the album. But I can also sense a bit of orchestral/chamber influences creeping in the music as well. Is this just because of Lucas Pino playing bass clarinet against Becca Steven’s voice or was this something conscious?

GVG: You’re onto something there for sure. I’ve always been a fan of the film music of John Williams and Danny Elfman. The song “As Night” had “Elfman” as the working title, so there you go. Come to think of it, it might actually be the biggest reason why I keep hearing voice on my music. It also explains the choice of the clarinet. It is less genre-specific than the saxophone somehow and with Lucas on clarinet, it becomes even more about the melody. Maybe it’s the purer tone? Together with Becca, you get this orchestral sound. I love that.

R: While Lucas Pino still plays saxophone in Lighthouse, he’s also playing bass clarinet. Were you hearing bass clarinet when you were composing for this album? What did you like about the timbre of a bass clarinet?

GVG: Yes I wrote parts specifically for bass-clarinet. It’s so close to the timbre of the human voice. It’s almost like having a male voice opposite Becca. And then, on some parts, like on “Visions,” it almost sounds like a synth. It’s such a versatile instrument, and Lucas plays the hell out of it.

R: How much did the band members contribute to the song outside of reading down the charts that you gave them? Did any of them offer their input about a particular passage that could work better?

GVG: There was a lot of input. Not in the way of re-writing parts, but adding on to them. Like in “Orbit” for instance: the melody was set, but Becca layered several improvised lines onto the melody, creating a voice/string-quartet sound almost. I gave Jamire the basic grooves I wanted and then he took that to another level too. Everyone in the band composes for their own groups, and musicians who write tend to play and interpret music as composers with an added sense of form and direction. In general, there was almost immediate consensus about what each tune needed.

R: Could you explain how Brazilian composers like Toninho Horta and Milton Nascimiento influence your own compositional voice?

GVG: I got to know  Toninho through a friend who spent time in Brazil. I was hooked instantly. His songs are like little Escher-paintings that loop around and get more interesting with every repeat, without ever feeling repetitious. He has the wordless vocal thing perfected. My favorite Toninho is his solo work with voice and guitar. Through his music I got familiar with Milton Nascimento. Milton has the same way of writing songs that as compositions are timeless, and almost genre-less. They work with and without a groove, with any instrumentation, with or without lyrics. The songs are just that strong. One of my most precious LP’s is Milton Nascimento with an orchestra live double LP called Milagre dos Peixes (Gravado Ao Vivo). It’s his music for orchestra and rhythm section. It sums up everything I love about music: it grooves, it’s expansive, dramatic at times, and small at other times. It’s about his melodies and their stories. You’d find it in the “Brazilian music” section, but honestly I wouldn’t know how to categorize it. It’s 100% his thing. If you want to talk inspiration that’s it for me.

Grab your copy of Gideon Van Gelder’s ‘Lighthouse’ via iTunes. Stay tuned for more news about Gideon Van Gelder. 


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