Meet The Artist: Julian Argüelles

Esteemed British saxophonist Julian Argüelles brings his working quartet, Tetra, to the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama tonight. This follows the release of his the album Tetra which also features Kit Downes (piano), Sam Lasserson (bass) and James Maddren (drums).

Known widely as an original member of seminal big band Loose Tubes, as well as for his outstanding compositional and performing involvement with the Frankfurt Radio Big Band, smaller creative ensembles have always been close to Argüelles’ heart, previously recording with suchluminaries as Mike Walker, Dave Holland, Martin France and the late John Taylor. In this new release, his respect for, and collaboration with, today’s eclectic strain of younger jazz musicians kindles a mutually imaginative spark with an equal emphasis on composition and freedom of improvisation, often melodically or texturally blurring those divisions.

Having already worked successfully with Downes and Maddren, Argüelles knew that they would possess an innate ability to connect with the complexities of his writing, as well as the spirit to soar extemporarily – and bassist Lasserson was discovered as the perfect rounder of this creative circle. Tetra have toured variously over the last three years, developing and shaping their alliance into this vibrant debut recording which ripples and sings with unpredictability and consummate musicianship.

Andy Howells recently put questions to Julian Argüelles about his forthcoming Cardiff show.

What inspired you to become a musician, were you from a musical background?
Well, the journey has been a long one, as it is for everyone. At first my motivation was just to have a good time playing music, as much as a social thing as a musical one. Then music became a way of expressing myself and making sense of important issues regarding life.
My parents weren’t especially musical, but my brother, who is a couple of years older, had a great drum teach which led him to become interested in Jazz and he joined a local big band. I basically followed his path a couple of years behind him.

What drew you to the saxophone?
An amazing set of circumstances. I seem to remember putting my hand up in class, I guess I was about 8 or 9, when the teacher was organising who was going to play musical instruments. I hadn’t thought about it before, but I suddenly fancied a go. My hand shot up somewhere between double bass (too big) and trombone (not cool), sax wasn’t an option, clarinet and I became connected Once my brother became interested in jazz, it was only a short, and a very welcome, hop to the alto saxophone. Luckily the schools i went to seemed to have good peripatetic music teachers.

Did you have a driving influence or music hero who inspired you?
Thousands: people from countries I have never been to; musicians who i have never met; musicians from other genres; people who have never recorded anything; and many musicians I have been very fortunate to play with. But three musicians stand out because I became obsessed by their music at a formative and important stage of my development – Charlie Parker, John Coltrane and Keith Jarrett.

You are probably well known for your work within the big band Loose Tubes but with tetra you are working within a quartet, what are the major differences you find when performing within a smaller group?
I don’t have a preference, I enjoy both hugely. But I would say as a performer I prefer the intimacy and the solo and group improvisation possibilities of a small group. As a composer/writer I enjoy larger groups because you have more possibilities in terms of musical colour, orchestration, more individual voices, and there is nothing quite like the sound of a big band all ‘breathing’ as one, it can be very powerful.

Can you give us a bit of background about Tetra the album?
I met Kit and James through a bass player called Euan Burton, we did some gigs together in Scotland, I was surprised that they knew some of my tunes. Sam, I found after a bit of research after getting some recommendations of younger bass players I didn’t know. I love the band, it seems that anything is possible with these guys. We’ve been doing quite a lot of playing over the last 3 years and after one of the tours we recorded this music. Originally it was conceived as a long suite with improvised interludes, we now play the music as stand-alone pieces. Recently the band has done several gigs as a septet with the addition of another sax player, trombone and trumpet.

What can people expect from the performance and the masterclass at your forthcoming show?
We’ll be playing music from the CD of course as well as some new and not so new music. Of course the live experience will be very different to the CD, more risks and playfulness. I’m not sure what will happen in the workshop, there are several ways it can go, we’ll certain play a bit, show examples of some of our ideas, lots of talking, and discussing things I feel are important about being a musician and writer. Hopefully it’ll be very interactive, they are the most fun.

Do you get a good cross range of ages at your shows and do you feel there’s a lot of appeal for jazz with younger music lovers?
Yes, I think so – and a fairly good percentage of women in the audience too, which is important I think. The colleges and schools are making lots of young people interested in jazz, and thats an amazing if you consider the TV coverage of jazz in the UK is shocking, and the jazz ‘infrastructure’ has been having a tough time for years.

What have you got planned for the future?
I have this 2 week tour coming up. Trips to Germany, Ireland and Copenhagen are coming up in the next month. I have to finish a set of arrangements of Phronesis music for a concert at the London Jazz festival with the Frankfurt Radio big Band. And I have just relocated to Austria and started a teaching position there.
Oh dear, I think I am busier than I thought.

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  • A version of this Q&A by Andy Howells was published in The South Wales Argus entertainment supplement The Guide on October 30, 2015.

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