The jazz trombonist from Berlin has many facades.
Aged 20 he started recording with Nils Frahm. Since then, he was part of many projects such as ‘Regenmacher’ by Megaloh or Bonaparte’s latest album ‘The Return of Stravinsky Wellington’, establishing himself as a session and studio musician. At the same time, Andrej Ugoljew is a member of the Skazka Orchestra and, among others, played as a guest musician for the WDR Big Band, the renowned Moscow Art Trio, the Andromeda Mega Express and the Dirty Honkers. But now, finally, ‘it’s time to start out with my own name!’ And his debut album proves this decision was long overdue.
Groove and Spirit
‘I love making music that, at the same time, makes people dance and addresses their spirits’, Andrej Ugoljew sums up the mission of his first publication. The fascinating debut album ‘Atmosphere Ahead’ proves, that, with this definition of jazz, one can create tracks that don’t accept any boundaries. Andrej draws his inspiration from everything he likes – his influences are as numerous as his engagements: He was socialized in the 90s and listened to everything between hip hop, Green Day and trip hop – ‘but there was always jazz in my life’. His father was a huge jazz fan and played the drums for the ‘Jazz-Makers Berlin’, one of the most successful Dixieland jazz bands in the GDR. Even after the German reunification when the family moved to Moscow, Andrej attended many concerts: ‘Ray Charles, Joe Zawinul, Moscow Art Trio, Diana Krall, Christian Lindberg; all artists my sister and me liked and, thanks to our parents, were able to experience live when we were young.’ Aged 13, back in Berlin, Andrej began to play the trombone and just three months later became a member of the Stadtorchester Köpenick. ‘The director there was my teacher. So, from the beginning on, I was playing with people who knew how it works.’ Shortly after he became part of the funk/hip hop/soul band Tonkabinet. ‘Romano sometimes joined us in the rehearsal room’, Andrej remembers. ‘And me as a young guy in a real band – that really had me thrilled.’ So he decided to study the jazz trombone, first at the University of Music Franz Liszt Weimar, then at the Jazz Institute Berlin and at the moment he is one of the few selected master students in the European Jazz Master program, a collaboration of conservatories in Berlin, Paris, Copenhagen, Amsterdam and Trondheim. The time has come for Andrej to start out with his own projects – and for his first own publication.
From JazzBaltica to Fusion
On ‘Atmosphere Ahead’ he works together with Max Klaas on the percussions (‘I met him in the Bundesjazzorchester. A major talent.’), Johanna Bernhard on the violin and contributing vocals (‘I’m playing with her at Laura Winkler’s Wabi Sabi. She lives in London and Berlin and, along with her sensational violin playing, is adding a few synthesizer sounds and lyrics to my tracks. Very glad to have her on board.’ Simon Quinn playing the bass (‘We know each other from the Jazz Institute Berlin and Kati Brien’s Dreamband. He’s the constant in my projects and a gorgeous musician.’) and Hanno Stick on the drums (‘He has a jazz background but is a very popular drummer in the rock/pop department. He was playing the drums at a legendary party in my Berlin students’ shared apartment on Schönhauser Allee.’). The recording of the album was made possible by a crowd funding campaign. The money was spent on three days at the Trixx Studio in Kreuzberg, without having to adjust a lot after the session. ‘That’s the advantage of being a jazz band. We’re all experienced musicians; everything is recorded at the same time. I love this process.’ The tracks are, without exception, Andrejs compositions which he develops on the piano. ‘It’s about creating an atmosphere and a frame in which all of us are able to creatively contribute our share.’ This way the pieces are elaborate and at the same time originated from the moments of improvisation. Andrej finds his inspirations in all aspects of his life, e.g. ‘Pat in the Air’: ,On a flight from New York to Berlin I listened to a Pat Metheny piece. Afterwards, while composing, I realized just how much my trip to New York and the Metheny-piece affected me. More than I expected.’ Of course, all the bands Andrej formerly played in made an impact on his music as well. ‘On one weekend I was playing with Malte Schiller’s Red Balloon at JazzBaltica, right after being at Fusion with the Skazka Orchestra.’ He never planned to make music that functions in that many locations. But by being a part of so many musical worlds it comes naturally that Andrej’s music shows off the most different genres. ‘And when I’m home I practice Bach-inventions, a blues on the trombone and listen to an Ice Cube album’, he giggles.
The ritual: Convince
Of course the songs on ‘Atmosphere Ahead’ are clearly localized in the jazz department – not only as the red line guiding through the tracks. Their secret is to rely on the power of the rhythm. Sometimes it’s stringent and impelling, sometimes funky, fresh and fair, but never lost in easy patterns. With Hanno Stick on the drums and Max Klaas on the percussions, Andrej created a thrilling rhythm section. On top, he himself is playing the trombone, the piano or the Fender Rhodes, sometimes balanced out by a spherical violin, the voice of Johanna Bernhard or Simon Quinn virtuously playing the contrabass or the synthesizer. The sound varies from abstract like ‘Yps’ to melodic, soft and soulful in ‘Atmosphere’. ‘For me, jazz is not about the outcome’, Andrej explains his approach to making music as a quintet. ‘It’s about the music we collectively create and play. Jazz musicians are at the same time part of an ensemble and soloists. The most exciting music emerges from this interaction. I’m lucky to be able to implement my ideas in this tradition.’ Soon one can experience these words live as well. Andrej’s and his bands excitement for playing concerts, where their songs can be transformed into new and exciting variations, is immense. ‘Concerts in which we can melt with the audience. When the entire room feels the music, it’s a spiritual ritual for me. That is one of the most important reasons why I’m making music, why we want to play live as much as possible.’ Whether it is a gig with a breath-taking sound system or at a small club – every performance is going to be unique, they’re going to demand as much freedom on stage as jazz musicians do. ‘After all it is about making music that convinces’, Andrej brings it to a close. ‘And it is magnificent if that applies to friends as well as to music experts.’