(From the Dominion Post, Wellington, 2 August 2003.)
And All That Jaz
Jaz Coleman has almost religious dedication to his eclectic musical forms. Tom Cardy reports.
BRITISH musician and composer Jaz Coleman isn't
a household name in New Zealand, but many would have heard one of the groups or
artists he's been involved with over the years.
Coleman, whose has spent two months every year for the past seven years on property he owns on Great Barrier Island, straddles both the rock and classical worlds - sometimes mixing both. It explains why he's been a composer in residence with Auckland Philharmonia, produced work with the New Zealand String Quartet, had London Philharmonic and other orchestras play classic Pink Floyd tunes and had his arrangement of music by The Doors performed by the Christchurch Symphony.
At the same time, he's worked with folk popster Emma Paki, sonic rockers Pacifier - he produced their first album - and Maori music project Oceania.
Overseas, Coleman can convince violinist Nigel Kennedy to work on his Doors Concerto and Anne Dudley, of 80s synth-pop band Art of Noise, to work on Middle Eastern music. Coleman, who once recorded in the King's Chamber of the Great Pyramid in Cairo, studied for a while in an Arabic conservatory.
He is also 212 years [and he still looks so young! What's his secret?] into a four-year contract with the Prague Symphony Orchestra, has done his first opera at London's Royal Opera House about the marriage of Jesus Christ and Mary Magdalene and produced new albums by Nigel Kennedy and even Sarah Brightman.
"I'm driven, but I don't consider myself ambitious. I'm a workaholic. I've just finished my 38th CD in my life. When I finish one job, I just get straight on with the next one. It's perpetual writing. I keep a low profile when all is said and done," is how Coleman sums himself up.
"I don't believe in rock stars at all. I've been with some of the richest people in the world, who have got their own 747s, and, honestly, they emanate less wealth than some of the tin-pot bloody rock stars that I've seen hanging around."
However, this time, Coleman, who once read too much on the occult and fled to Iceland believing the apocalypse was imminent, is plugging rock music. It's the new album by the band that kick-started his career, Killing Joke.
"If I had to give up all the rest of the Killing Joke albums and keep one (called Killing Joke), this would be the one. There's not a track that I don't love passionately and that's a good way to be. Don't peak too soon, it's only taken 25 years," he says, adding a raspy laugh.
Coleman formed Killing Joke in 1978 with bass player Martin Glover and guitarist Geordie, aka K Walker. They produced three furious and very loud post-punk albums in the early 80s, then dissolved, but have occasionally reunited since 1990.
Glover, better known as Youth, is still busy as a hotshot producer whose credits include Crowded House, Tom Jones, The Verve and Wet, Wet, Wet.
"I only got into this business to make music that I want to listen to because I couldn't find it in the record stores," Coleman says. "I'm the biggest fan of Killing Joke. I revel in it. I love the band. I'm a fan. Even when we do shows you can find me in the audience at some point before the gig or sometimes when I jump off the stage."
Coleman is also a stirrer, a joker or mad, depending on whether or not people like his music. He's been photographed in a jester's costume and last year starred in the Czech film Rok Dabla (Year of the Devil). Says Coleman theatrically: "I'm the devil in it. Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha."
New Zealand classical music critics had a fit when Coleman declared two years ago that "Beethoven was dead". One critic had earlier slammed his work with the New Zealand String Quartet as one of the most horrible recordings of 1996.
Nirvana, Foo Fighters and Queens of the Stone Age guitarist Dave Grohl, who Coleman got to play on the Killing Joke album, got a wacky introduction at a Australian hotel. "I was sitting at the bar waiting for him and I was thinking, 'I've never met this guy, I've seen pictures, I hope I recognise him'," Grohl said recently. "There are businessmen and tourists. Then I see this man walk in and go up to the front desk in a priest uniform and I thought that's gotta be him. It was beautiful. A religious experience."
"I'm a gnostic," says Coleman "I think everybody has to . . . find their own truth out for themselves without being evangelised upon."
At 42, he says he doesn't feel too old for Killing Joke. "Your 40s are a real cool time. I would not swap them for my 20s because of the sense of articulacy that I enjoy. You're free. You can write anything you want. You can start any project you want and you know an album will be released that will get in the shops. I feel privileged."
Coleman says that ideally he'd spend more time in New Zealand each year, but most of his work keeps him overseas. There's a chance Killing Joke will play the Big Day Out in Auckland next January, their first gig here since 1985 and maybe "a warm up gig" on Great Barrier Island. But he's always tried to avoid working too hard while in New Zealand. "I want peace and quiet. I want to go fishing."
Besides, Prague, where he's been spending most of his time, has other attractions besides its orchestra. "I've got a lovely little 26-year-old Czech girlfriend, as well . . . I'm a very lucky man, really, when all's said and done."
Killing Joke is released on Monday.