Q&A/What to SEE/Music

What to SEE: Number Junky

12 August 2022

Accomplished Danish jazz guitarist Kristian Borring makes his local recording debut with his trio Number Junky. The album Earth Matters is released this month with a special gig to launch it in his new hometown.

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Kristian Borring moved to Perth with his young family five years ago, but it has taken time for his first locally produced album to emerge. He tells Seesaw’s Craig McKeough about the process of bonding with new bandmates amid the COVID upheaval and how to mesh the science of numbers with the art of music.

Craig McKeough: Earth Matters is your sixth album but your first since you moved to live in Australia. How did a highly regarded contemporary Danish jazz guitarist and composer end up living in Perth?

Kristian Borring: I met and married my wife, percussionist Genevieve Wilkins, in London where we were both living. She is from Perth and convinced me that we should try relocating here for a while. It was a bit of a lifestyle choice I suppose with better weather and a great place for raising our children. We gave ourselves two years, nearly five years on we’re still here.   

CM: Number Junky is a great band name. It conjures thoughts of maths nerds who are also deeply into jazz. How accurate is that?

KB: Thanks! I guess it is somewhat accurate, although I never strive to make music sound like a maths problem. We play complex time signature, polyrhythms, and experiment with warping multiple rhythmic streams, but often it’s done in a subtle way that doesn’t jump in your face. We are not trying to show off but instead are playing on listener’s perception while creating an underlying subtle rhythmic tension that doesn’t require a music degree to enjoy, yet at the same time may pose as a fun challenge to follow and count for those who can recognise the rhythmic schemes.  

CM: For non-jazz aficionados, can you explain how the use of odd time sequences manifests in the music we hear?

KB: Often music relates to an organisation of regular recurring beats. Beats makes us tap our foot or create a sensation of a steady pulsation in our mind and body. They occur always in a hierarchy of strong and weak (beat one is in our mind stronger than beat two even if the second beat is accented more heavily). These beats are spaced symmetrically in time and can be said to form a metric scheme that both musicians and listeners relate to (mostly referred to as time signatures). The notion of “odd time” belongs to types of meters that are somehow organised asymmetrically. For example, this could be when there are two different types of beats side by side throughout the music, where one is considered short, and one is considered long.     

Jazz and number junkies: Kristian Borring, centre, with Zac Grafton, left, and Peter Evans. Photo: Genevieve Wilkins

CM: This album comprises mostly your own compositions. People often think of jazz as largely improvised, but obviously there has to be a strong structure or framework beneath any improvisation. How does the process of composition work for you?

KB: The process varies but it’s time consuming and takes dedication. However, the outcome almost always fundamentally boils down to creating a song with a melody, chords, rhythmic ideas, a set form and so on. Improvisation is ingrained in the music and sections of the compositions or of the repeating form will be used for solos, and these will mostly be over a set of chord progressions, but we also have sections where we improvise around a key centre but with no chords. The beauty of jazz players is their ability to interpret music, so hearing the same song with the same chords and melody, it will always sound a little different.

CM: The “covers” included on Earth Matters are by Charlie Parker, obviously one of the jazz greats. What have you brought to his tunes to re-interpret them for a 2022 audience?

KB: The Parker tunes are metric and rhythmic interpretations of his music. Parker will always be incredibly relevant to the development of modern jazz, and I enjoy continuously recognising and honouring that. Odd meters wasn’t a thing in his day, so I find it really interesting to explore his strong melodic and compositional ideas in a different rhythmic context.

The cover of Number Junky’s ‘Earth Matters’ album.

CM: Number Junky was born as a trio in the early days of the pandemic. How did the physical restrictions and general mood of the time influence the direction and sound of the music you played and recorded?

KB: Hard to say. We have obviously had it good in Perth during most of the pandemic and have been able to actually meet up and play and even do some gigs, so that has been positive and a great artistic release. Personally, I was struggling to get to grips with the fact that I couldn’t go to Europe and play with my projects there, so hitting up with Zac and Pete regularly was a great motivation to generally look forward and engage myself more in my new local scene.

CM: How did you first get together with bandmates Peter Evans and Zac Grafton?

KB: In 2019 I started having different people over at my house to play tunes. Jamming and practising rhythmic stuff on standards and trying out occasional tunes of mine. Playing with Zac (double bass) and Pete (drums) brought out an interesting dynamic that I thought suited my compositional ideas well.

CM: And how did guest musician Cuban-American pianist Fabian Almazan become involved? What does he bring to the collective?

KB: I met Fabian and his wife Linda May Han Oh (who’s from Perth) through another great drummer I play with, Ben Vanderwal. The couple live in New York but were in Perth in COVID exile expecting their first child. Both are incredible musicians and when the recording date came up, I saw an opportunity to get Fabian involved on some of the more chord-heavy tracks, that I thought would age better on a recording with the inclusion of piano. I always enjoy inviting a guest for recording dates. It adds excitement and energy and springs up surprises on the day. Jazz recordings are usually done in one or two days, so it’s about maintaining energy, grasping the movement and letting sparks fly. We don’t have time to sit around and wait for inspiration. Unfortunately, Fabian won’t be joining us at the album launch, but we have stellar local pianist Harry Mitchell stepping in on a few tunes.

Earth Matters will be released digitally and on CD on August 26 2022 via Cool it! Records/Symphonic Distribution. Number Junky will pre-launch the album on 18 August 2022 at Lyrics Underground in Maylands

Pictured top: Kristian Borring on guitar. Photo by Genevieve Wilkins

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Author —
Craig McKeough

Craig McKeough is a writer and visual artist, with a lifetime’s experience in journalism, covering everything from the arts to horse racing, politics and agriculture. Craig has always been drawn to the swing; an egalitarian, grounding piece of equipment where you can go as high and wild as you want, but you’ll always return to where you started.

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