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Manchester Jazz Festival celebrates its 17th edition with a unique mixture of local and international artists. It offers nine days of live music (13-21 July), with over 70 performances and 400 musicians. Michael Cretu Sextet is amongst them. Its blend of musical styles (contemporary, classical, folk and jazz) is a promising event for both jazz-lovers and neophytes. 

Interview with Michael Cretu – Manchester Jazz Festival 2012

He was born in a 500-year-old family of musicians from Transylvania (Romania). In fact, he can tell the story of his ancestors with astonishing ease. His grand-father was a double bass player; so were his father and his uncle. The latter, Johnny Raducano —this was his artistic name—, was considered the father of the Romanian jazz, “the Romanian Mr Jazz”.

With such incredible roots, it’s no wonder his interest in music and jazz grew so fast. He started studying music when he was 12, in Bucharest, and he moved to Manchester to complete his postgraduate studies with Duncan McTier in 1990. Now, music is both his passion and his profession.

On stage, Michael Cretu shares what he has learnt through his years of musical studies but also through his personal approach to composition.  He loves music because it is a creative process. He compares it with a melting pot where he can mix his Romanian and classical roots, with his eagerness to try new rhythms and sounds.  As a solo performer and with his trio he has performed at the Cité des Arts (Paris), the Grand National Radio Hall (Bucharest), and the Royal Academy of Music (London).  This time, he is playing at one of his regular venues in Manchester, Matt&Phreds. The 17th Manchester Jazz Festival is his occasion to present Michael Cretu Sextet.

I.B. You perform as a solo double bassist but you have been also working with your trio, with George King and Mikey Wilson, for the last years. Now it is a sextet. What is new with it?

Michael Cretu: I have written new pieces for the sextet and I am exploring this kind of new sound which is a combination between classical, contemporary, folk and jazz. The sound is the sound of Michael Cretu Trio, which is very energetic and has lots of folk and classical influences. But, with the addition of the string trio, we are exploring some new harmonies and sounds, and a kind of communication between this strong classical jazz trio and the softness and beauty of string.

I.B.: Classical, contemporary, folk, jazz… How do you blend so different styles?

M.C.: If you try to combine music as if you were to a shop and you bought a piece of classical music, a piece of jazz, a piece of folk, and a piece contemporary, and then you study them and you combine them, it sounds almost impossible to do. But if you come from an environment like my family, where the tradition is that you have to combine styles; if you are a musician who went to school and was very good and learnt all that classical elements of music, and you go into a situation where you play for a band with different kinds of music —that you have not necessarily learnt at the conservatory—, then you start mixing things by instinct and by practice. After a few years, you have in your head sounds which you can just put together. If the inspiration for a sound come from the classical world, or from the folk world, or from the contemporary world, and you express that in jazz all the other way round, then it comes natural, because all those music ideas you have are developed into a new sound. So you don’t consciously think, ‘Oh, I’m getting a piece of jazz, I am getting a piece of classical, and a piece of that, and I’ll make a mixture, and that’s the way it is’. It never works like that.

I.B.: With that desire to explore music, you end up getting involved in lots of different projects. One of them is a European initiative. What is “Invitation for Composers”?

M.C.: It is a project by a Romanian pianist who lives in London. I worked for her for a while, as a composer and double bassist in her chamber group and we applied for funding with our ideas to produce new music alongside with all great composers for chamber music. And we presented it to the European Union because it is very difficult to get audiences at big concert halls in Europe —and not only in Europe but everywhere in the world— with new music. When you go to concert halls, you find only big big names, or people who have a fantastic reputation, and, alongside that, they bring in some contemporary compositions, but it is always at the forefront. So the idea was to try to promote new composers from Europe and try to create new music.

I.B.: A challenge, of course…

M.C.: The project has been going for two years and it is a big challenge. It is very difficult to write new music, it is very difficult to get the audiences in, it is very difficult to perform… In this period we have accumulated new works. And now, all the work we have recorded has to be mastered, has to be produced. This is the part of the project where all the recordings have to be put in the market. All these new pieces are going to be available to buy online all over the world.

I.B.: This European project tries to support new artists. This week, you are playing at Manchester Jazz Festival, which focuses on contemporary jazz and aims to promote new musicians and encourage them to create their own repertoire.  You played at this event before, a few years ago. How do you feel being back?

M.C.: The Manchester Jazz Festival has traditionally been quite cosmopolitan. So it is for local musician but it allows lots of influences. It gives that push you need where you have to bring something new on the table. That’s very good for the festival and very good for the musicians as well. It is a very good window shop. You get the publicity, you get the exposure, you get the support, and then it is a very good opportunity to promote yourself and mainly new music, your new music.

I.B.: And you will be playing at Matt&Phreds, almost performing “at home”…

M.C.: It is quite good. I have performed here [at Matt&Phreds] regularly and it has been a very good place for me because I have had the opportunity to perform exactly what I have in my head. If I go and perform anywhere else, people may say ‘Well, I want you to sing, I want this kind of jazz, I want traditional, I want that and that’. Matt&Phreds is a place where you can do what you think. So that’s very very efficient for local musicians.

I.B.: We look forward to Michael Cretu Sextet, but what will be the next steps?

M.C.: I write a lot of music. I am trying to be a double bass soloist, and my career as a solo double bassist is going well. And this is one of the most difficult things in the world for me. First of all, because it is a double bass, and a double bass is not knew as a solo instrument, and then because you have to be able to perform a concert all on your own. It is very tough! But I like the challenge a lot, so I am pushing that. Then I would like to continue with the trio and the sextet. I think it is going really well and I’d like to record that. I would like to organise a British tour, actually. And then, I am doing a lot of work with the theatre as well. I am working at a company, independent company, with the playwright Conor McKee. We are working on new plays and I write the music. Although what we are trying to bring is live music on stage, with the actors. So that’s a very strong project we are doing for the next two to three years.

A date with Michael Cretu Sextet

As a solo, chamber, orchestral and jazz musician, Michael Cretu has travelled across Europe and South America, touring Holland, Spain, Brazil and Great Britain. In 2011, Michael premiered his new septet at the Romanian Institute of Culture in London. In the theatre, he has composed the music for plays like Thrasher and Burnt. 

This week, Michael Cretu Sextet will be performing as part of the Manchester Jazz Festival. A unique opportunity to enjoy a blend of traditional folk and jazz with classical and gypsy elements.

Date: Wednesday, 18 July, at Matt&Phreds (22.00). Entry: £5.

Band Line-up: Michael Cretu -Double bass, George King -Piano, Myke Wilson -Drums, Bartholomew Manson -Violin, Tanah Stevens -Viola and Rosemary Toll -Cello.

Where to find out more about him: If you want to listen some of Michael Cretu’s compositions, you can find him on: http://www.myspace.com/michaelcretu and http://www.conormckee.com/about/composer-michael-cretu/

Published by MattandPhreds: http://www.mattandphreds.com/blog/2012-08-21/%E2%80%9C-success-music-just-doing-music%E2%80%9D

Also by Manchester Jazz Festival 2012: http://www.manchesterjazz.com/2012/you-start-mixing-things-by-instinct-and-by-practice/

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