Interview: Bassist Meinrad Kneer on Making Music with Sequoia, Drummer Bill Elgart, and Running a Record Label in the Age of the Internet

Double bass player Meinrad Kneer has been playing jazz for more than two decades, starting out in the Netherlands in 1995 where he formally studied music through 1999. The year before graduating, Kneer co-led the quartet and septet Dalgoo, together with reed player Tobias Klein, through 2005. In recent years, the active sideman has toured Europe, Asia, Africa, and North America.

Meinrad Kneer (photo by Lisa Haskins)
Meinrad Kneer (photo by Lisa Haskins)

He is currently involved as a co-leader in Dutch contemporary jazz piano trio Veenendaal, Kneer, Sun, the quartet Klare – Platz – Kneer – Elgart, the Meinrad Kneer Quintet, and Ensemble Phosphoros, in addition to the improv trio Baars – Kneer – Elgart. Although the Netherlands has remained a home base for nearly 20 years, Kneer is also active in his native Germany. Among recent releases by Meinrad Kneer is an album with the Berlin-based double bass quartet Sequoia.

Sequoia’s All-Bass Release Rotations in 2014

Blue Note: Was your album Rotations (2014), with Antonio Borghini, Klaus Kürvers, and Miles Perkins, the first time you worked exclusively with fellow bassists to record an album?

Meinrad Kneer: The Rotations album was indeed the first recording I did with other bass players. Actually it was recorded back in 2012, but sometimes it takes time to release a recording for many different reasons. I worked with fellow bass players before, sometimes even in larger bass ensembles (up to eleven double bass players), but those were single occasions, in live settings.

Sequoia – Rotations (2014) Evil Rabbit Records
Sequoia – Rotations (2014) Evil Rabbit Records

BN: How did the project come up?

MK: Klaus Kürvers started the bass quartet together with the other three of us, after having met each of us first in duo and trio sessions at his home. We discussed the possibilities of a bass quartet and started to work on improvised structures, which made the quartet sound so special. Klaus had wonderful – mostly visual – ideas for those compositions we perform and recorded on the Rotations album.

Sequoia's four bassists in concert
Sequoia’s four bassists in concert

Sequoia’s “Birdcages,” the second track on Rotations, is available on Meinrad Kneer’s personal website in the Discography section. A direct link to the audio file is here:

Two Albums with Bill Elgart in the 2010s

Among more than a dozen albums as a band leader or sideman by Meinrad Kneer are two with drummer Bill Elgart, one by the Baars – Kneer – Elgart trio and one by the Klare – Platz – Kneer – Elgart quartet.

Baars - Kneer - Elgart – Give No Quarter (2013) Evil Rabbit Records
Baars – Kneer – Elgart – Give No Quarter (2013) Evil Rabbit Records

Modern Primitive with saxophonist Jan Klare and guitarist Jeff Platz in was released in 2011, while Give No Quarter, with Kneer, Elgart, and reed player Ab Baars came out in 2013.

Bill Elgart, Meinrad Kneer, and Ab Baars (photo from Jeff Kaiser.com)
Bill Elgart, Meinrad Kneer, and Ab Baars (photo from Jeff Kaiser.com)

Both albums were released in CD and as digital downloads by Evil Rabbit Records.

The title track from Baars – Kneer – Elgart’s Give No Quarter is on YouTube:

BN: How did you first meet Bill Elgart?

MK: I grew up in a little town in the south of Germany and started to listen to jazz music around the age of 11. So, whenever I went to Ulm, the nearest city to listen to concerts, I often saw Bill who was involved in most activities since he lived there. He’s always been one of my favorite drummers, up there with the greats such as Paul Motian, Ed Blackwell, etc.

BN: When did you first perform together?

MK: Friends and colleagues of mine, including pianist Achim Kaufmann and reed player Michael Moore who had played with Bill before, encouraged me to ask him to come and play at an Evil Rabbit Records festival in the Bimhuis in Amsterdam and the SJU Jazzpodium in Utrecht (both in the Netherlands). So I dared to ask him to be our special featured guest and to play with other artists including Dutch pianist Albert van Veenendaal, Gianni Lenoci from Italy, and reed player Ab Baars from my duo … From that moment the duo was now a trio!

Klare - Platz - Kneer - Elgart - Modern Primitive (2011) Evil Rabbit Records
Klare – Platz – Kneer – Elgart – Modern Primitive (2011) Evil Rabbit Records

BN: Whose idea was the first album you made together, Modern Primitive?

MK: Jeff Platz and Jan Klare, who had worked together in the past, came to the Netherlands to perform with me in Utrecht. This was a few years back when I organized a free improv concert series at the SJU Jazzpodium (a club which doesn’t exist anymore, unfortunately). From that moment, we stayed in touch and planned further projects. Jan Klare invited me several times to come and perform with him in Münster and with Jeff Platz I did a little tour in the eastern part of Germany. When I started to play with Bill Elgart, the idea of coming together in this quartet was born.

Klare – Platz – Kneer – Elgart’s “Puppet Party” is on SoundCloud:

BN: Approximately how many times did the four of you play together, rehearsing and playing concerts, before making Modern Primitive?

MK: If I remember correctly, we had a series of three concerts set up and the third one was recorded live at a Bielefeld venue, Bunker Ulmenwall.

Meinrad Kneer (photo by Lisa Haskins)
Meinrad Kneer (photo by Lisa Haskins)

There was no rehearsing at all, because we wanted to keep the interaction and the improvisations as free, fresh and open as possible.

A video for Klare – Platz – Kneer – Elgart’s “Meat Dress,” featuring Jan Klare on alto saxophone, Jeff Platz on guitar, Meinrad Kneer on double bass, and Bill Elgart on drums, is online:

Co-Founded Evil Rabbit Records with Albert van Veenendaal

Evil Rabbit Records logo
Evil Rabbit Records logo

BN: Besides playing the bass, composing, and leading your own quintet, you co-founded Evil Rabbit Records with Dutch pianist Albert van Veenendaal in 2006. How is this going?

MK: Well, my friend and colleague Albert van Veenendaal and I started this venture in order to create a platform for ourselves and our fellow musicians, where our releases can be presented in a professional and unique design (by Lysander Le Coultre, strangelove creatives). I think we managed to reach this goal.

On the other hand, the CD market went down of course. There we would love to change things, but this is beyond our reach… We will definitely go on releasing music on this beautiful label.

Sequoia – Rotations (2014) Evil Rabbit Records
Sequoia – Rotations (2014) Evil Rabbit Records CD sleeve

BN: What is your sense about how the Internet is impacting the company, especially as compared to when you first started the label nearly a decade ago? May I ask, what percentage of your sales are CDs and what percentage are downloads?

MK: The Internet is now the most important distribution channel for us, as for most other independent labels. Most of our sales are going through the net, physical CD’s and digital downloads. I’d say that at the moment the division between CD and digital download sales is about 50/50.

Meinrad Kneer Quintet’s Oneirology Album in 2015

Meinrad Kneer Quintet (photo by Christian Betz)
Meinrad Kneer Quintet (photo by Christian Betz)

BN: What are you working on now?

MK: At the moment I’m busy with two new projects: first, I’m building up a quintet (trumpet, alto sax, trombone, bass and drums). I write all the material for this band, which is musically and stylistically something in between jazz, rock, improv and some influences from diverse backgrounds.

Meinrad Kneer Quintet - Oneirology (2015) JazzHausMuzik
Meinrad Kneer Quintet – Oneirology (2015) JazzHausMuzik

We already recorded our first album, Oneirology, which will be released in October on the Cologne-based label JazzHausMusik.

The third track from the album, “Open Book,” has been uploaded to SoundCloud.

The Meinrad Kneer Quintet’s “Open Book,” featuring Gerhard Gschlößl, Kneer, Peter Van Huffel, Andreas Pichler, and Sebastian Piskorz, is here:

Meinrad Kneer’s Phosphoros Ensemble Plays Christian Morgenstern

BN: What’s is the other musical project you are focused on?

MK: The second project I am dedicating much time to these days centers on the work of German writer Christian Morgenstern (1871-1914). This project is more chamber music like with a line-up of (bass-) clarinet, harp and bass, a soprano and a male reciting voice.

Ensemble Phosphoros (photo by Sara Ercoli)
Ensemble Phosphoros (photo by Sara Ercoli)

I wrote compositions for this, where I put some of the writer’s poems to music. The rest we improvised on the spot, inspired by recitations of specific passages of Morgenstern’s works.

Meinrad Kneer's Phosphoros Ensemble - Plays Christian Morgenstern (2015) Unit Records
Meinrad Kneer’s Phosphoros Ensemble – Plays Christian Morgenstern (2015) Unit Records

Our recording will be released on the Swiss label Unit Records in June.

Meinrad Kneer’s Phosphoros Ensemble’s “Das Mondschaf,” the third cut on the album, features Frank Gratkowski on clarinet, Meinrad Kneer on double bass, Almut Kühne on voice, Kathrin Pechlof on harp, and Uli Pleßmann narrating the text by Christian Morgenstern:

Rose – Kneer – Barrett’s Colophony in 2013

BN: What is the status of your improv trios these days?

MK: I’m still busy with both trios Baars – Kneer – Elgart and Rose – Kneer – Barrett. In fact, I performed a couple of concerts with each group within the last two months.

Jon Rose - Meinrad Kneer - Richard Barrett - Colophony (2013) Creative Sources
Jon Rose – Meinrad Kneer – Richard Barrett – Colophony (2013) Creative Sources

BN: Any chance you will make a third album with Bill Elgart?

MK: Yes, I hope to release an album on Evil Rabbit Records, a live recording from the Konfrontationen Festival in Nickelsdorf, Austria in 2012.

Bill is one of the drummers I love most to play with. The trio with Ab Baars is an ongoing group and in between Bill and I have been asked to become the new rhythm section by an Italian guitarist named Andrea Massaria. I really do hope, that Bill and I can play many, many more concerts in the future.

A video of Jon Rose, Meinrad Kneer, and Richard Barrett performing “Colophony” live at Ulrichsberger Kaleidophon, Austria in 2014 is on YouTube:

Select Meinrad Kneer Discography

  • Meinrad Kneer Quintet – Oneirology (2015) JazzHausMusik
  • Meinrad Kneer’s Phosphoros Ensemble – Plays Christian Morgenstern (2015) Unit Records
  • Sequoia – Rotations (2014) Evil Rabbit Records
  • Klangwelt Station – The Music Exhibition (2014) Listermusic
  • Rose – Kneer – Barrett – Colophony (2013) Creative Sources
  • Baars – Kneer – Elgart – Give No Quarter (2013) Evil Rabbit Records
  • Carrousel – Mallemolen (2012) LopLop Records
  • Willers – Kneer – Marien – Nulli Secundus (2012) Creative Sources
  • Klare – Platz – Kneer – Elgart – Modern Primitive (2011) Evil Rabbit Records
  • Lotz – Kneer  – U-Ex(perimental) (2011) Evil Rabbit Records
  • Bite the Gnatze – Peeling Off Slowly (2011) TryTone
  • Raj Mohan – Daayra (2011)
  • Baraná Quintet – Sarap (2010) Baykus Music
  • I Compani – Circusism (2008) Icdisc
  • Baars – Kneer – Windfall (2008) Evil Rabbit Records
  • Spoon 3 – Seductive Sabotage (2008) Evil Rabbit Records
  • Baraná Trio – Gülve Bülbül (2007) LopLop Records
  • Bite the Gnatze – Wals door het raam (2007) TryTone
  • van Veenendaal – Kneer – Sun – Predictable Point of Impact (2006) Evil Rabbit Records
  • Play Station 6 – #1 (2006) Evil Rabbit Records
  • Kneer – van Veenendaal – The Munderkingen Sessions Part 1 (2006) Evil Rabbit Records
  • I Compani – Museum of Emotions (2006) Icdisc
  • Gravitones and Strings – Live at the BIMhuis (2006) T 02
  • van Veenendaal – Kneer – Sun – Songs To Dance Strangely With (2005) TryTone
  • President of the Globe – President of the Globe (2005) TryTone
  • Music for Baby! (2004) Amorfon
  • Deep Fried Angel Fish – 1 (2004) Karnatic Lab Records
  • Dalgoo – New Anatomy (2003) TryTone
  • Bite the Gnatze – Wilde dans in een afgelegen berghut (2003) TryTone
  • Dalgoo – Dalgoo (2000) TryTone

References

Meinrad Kneer (photo by Lisa Haskins)
Meinrad Kneer (photo by Lisa Haskins)

Personal Website

Record Label

Meinrad Kneer Quintet

Ensemble Phosphoros

And one more track from Baars – Kneer – Elgart, “Specific Gravity” from their Give No Quarter album:

This interview initially appeared 15 May 2015 on http://hapsnowswhirlwinds.com, which spawned Bill’s Blue Note as well as sister site http://the6thdimension.com.

Author: Formosa Coweater

writer based in the Pacific Rim

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