In Eureka Springs, Arkansas, on March 8, 2002, John Jordan unleashed another one of his unique musical creations, a little gem called "The Mysterious Quartet From Helsinki". The CD featured 5 songs and only 200 numbered copies were made. The band was an extension of the John Jordan Trio, John Jordan on bass, Alex Coke on saxes and flutes, Jimmy Way on drums, and featured Chris Duarte on guitar. The project was cut in two days and pressed and released a month later. The five songs (plus a ghost track at the end!), all original compositions, are jazzy instrumentals that swing! The MQFH project reunited Chris Duarte and Alex Coke, who hadn't played together since their days in Arson back in 1989. It's wonderful to hear Chris Duarte playing jazz licks and jammin' with the great horn playing of Alex Coke. Another colorful feather in the cap of the great composer, John Jordan! I asked John about the sessions while we ate at an Italian joint down the street from the Gothic Theater in Denver, Colorado. I also talked to him again in Eureka Springs on March 9th, after hearing the new CD, and also briefly talked to Alex Coke. Here's what they had to say...
You recorded all of this new CD at Jimmy Way's studio in San Marcos?
Yes, at his home studio called Rancho Jimmy.
Were all the songs your compositions
or did Alex and Jimmy bring in material?
No, this was all my crazy idea. I didn't want to commit anyone to anything like that. I wanted to provide everyone an easy way to come in on the same turf.
Was it recorded with everyone all
together or as layered tracks?
All at once, it was a live recording. Jimmy is set up where you can do that. We couldn't have done that in my little studio.
I noticed in the pictures you sent
that Chris is on a stool in the kitchen.
Yeah, and Alex was on the porch!
How long were the sessions? Over
a period of weeks? Days? Hours?
2 days. And the 1st day we didn't record anything. It was a rehearsal day and we made sure that all of the levels were set and the technology was together. Then we did everything the next day.
It sounds like everything came together
really well for it to be recorded in only two days.
The day the sessions started was the 12th of February, Chinese New Year and Abraham Lincoln's birthday. Two of the songs, "New Moon" and "Abraham", are named for that. Chinese New Year begins with the new moon. The song "Mitzi" is named after Cleve Hattersley's mom who had passed away the Friday before.
Are you happy with the results?
I remember you told me when you first
heard the final mix of "Only One" you sat in the dark on the floor
and wore grooves into the carpet. Was this like that?
The technical quality and the vibe of this is a lot different. It's much happier and not so intense, but there's a lot of intense playing!
You wrote "Only One" in
a much different period in your life, too.
Yeah, this was more in the spirit of guerilla artmaking, sort of like a Jackson Pollack painting. It was kind of like that with "Only One" too, but with much different players. Frosty is a totally different drummer and Alex, well, what can you say about Alex?
And you rehearsed! Did this project
incorporate any of the material you've been writing for the John Jordan
No, we're still in the process of recording tracks for the JJ3 album. I was trying to have the JJ3 record done in time for Eureka Springs, but when Chris asked me to do this tour it was just too critical a period of time.
You were planning on having Chris
on one track of the JJ3 record. Was that recorded during this two-day MQFH
session or will he come back later for that?
No, I've written a song especially for that and I haven't even shown it to him yet.
Is all of the material written for the JJ3 album or are you still working on it? No, actually it's not. I have enough material for it, but I've come up with a couple other ideas since it got deferred. There's a couple things I might substitute on it.
Are Jimmy or Alex writing material
for the JJ3 album?
Actually the one thing that is completely done is an Alex Coke tune. I don't know what it is called, Jimmy and I call it "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Coke" because it starts out like this really happy swingin' thing and then it goes completely nuts! It just freaks out and then stops and goes back into this swingin' thing again. It's a totally bi-polar composition! The form and everything about it is wide open and left to the discretion of the musician. Jimmy and I went just as crazy as him. It's hard to describe it, it's just an amazing composition and a really cool performance.
Have you done any gigs in Austin
since I saw you in September?
No, just rehearsing and recording. Alex was gone for over a month on a tour in Europe.
Since you've gotten Cleve Hattersley
as manager are you planning on taking the Trio out on the road?
We had a small tour booked that would've ended up at Eureka Springs to meet up with the Chris Duarte Group, but I had to cancel it to do this tour with Chris.
But there will be a JJ3 tour in the
At some point, but I don't know when. But we will - it's just too much fun!
Did you use ProTools again to record
the MQFH CD?
No, this was recorded with Jimmy's software which was Q-base, a PC-based recording software he uses with his Kurzweil machine. It's similar, with wave files and stuff. We've been working together on it.
Is it all mixed and finalized?
No, before I left to go out with Chris all I had time to do was the editing and get it all put together. Choose which versions to use and deal with the endings and stuff the way I wanted to. Some songs we have 2 or 3 versions of. I gave Jimmy real specific notes and mix points because I didn't have time to mix it. So he's mixing it and we're keeping in touch by phone. I've heard it, in a rough form, but it's all still really fresh to me.
Who's doing the cover artwork?
A guy named Tim Bartlett is doing it even as we speak.
Are you going to be playing the MQFH
material in Eureka Springs?
Oh yeah, we'll get up and do a lot of it.
Was it a big departure playing European
No, you'd have sworn we wrote it - like a Star Trek parallel universe thing. Even the names had an uncanny similarity, except Lulu of course!
Had Chris and Alex seen each other
before these sessions since Alex moved back to Austin?
No, not at all.
So that was their first meeting,
with instruments in hand?
That seems to be my function, to reunite people sometimes. It was fun to watch them interact and respond to each other's playing.
Are there gonna be any effects added
during post production?
A little bit here and there, probably some reverb and delay and other studio stuff.
The cut you played over the phone
sounded like Alex was using some effects with his horn.
Those effects were done as he played, using pedals and stuff. Crazy!
Were the songs tightly structured
or was there a lot of room for improv?
Everything was charted out on this, but there was a lot of room for improvisation. It was very much like jazz session in that everybody had their charts and I had it all prepared beforehand. There was a lot of transposing I had to do on the charts because everybody tunes differently. Saxophones are in B Flat, Chris is down a half-step, and I'm tuned to C. So everyone's chart was in a different key. I had also sent everyone a Midi file via e-mail so they could get a feel for what the songs would sound like.
Had Jimmy and Alex been exposed to
any of this new MQFH material in the John Jordan Trio?
No, everybody was in the same boat, including me. That's my odd theory of composing. I was holding myself to the same standard, even though I wrote the material. When I sent the Midi files to everyone is when I sat down to learn what I had written. There was one song, "New Moon", where Jimmy and I went in and recorded as a duo, before the sessions, a drums and bass intro, very ambient and arhythmic. I'm happy with it, I think it'll be a cool little record and I can't wait to hear it.
Did you use your big acoustic bass on any tracks?
No, I didn't. What governed my choice of instruments was practicality. I had to drive Alex and Chris and their instruments, plus mine, in my little Toyota to the sessions at Rancho Jimmy in San Marcos, so there was no room for a stand-up bass. Alex used all four of his main instruments, flutes and saxes, because I had written his parts with those in mind. There's a soprano tune, two tenor tunes, a bass flute tune and another flute tune. There's five compositions. And he used his pedals, too.
What instruments did Chris play?
He brought his '63 strat and the green Epiphone. I don't remember what songs he used what on.
I can't wait to hear this CD! You're
pressing only 200 of these?
Yeah, 200 are being done, literally up to the last minute. Alex and Jimmy will bring them up to Eureka Springs. We're gonna number them and then mix them all up, maybe sign them if there's time. It's just a one-time deal. I think it'll be cool and fun for everybody. It's just a playing thing, more like a picking session. The "Only One" session was more like pulling back the rusty hinges of Hell! This was more like four friends getting together and just playing. It's real loose and real good-natured.
It really sounds incredible John
- and I haven't even heard it yet!
A BRIEF FOLLOW-UP WITH JOHN JORDAN
IN EUREKA SPRINGS, ARKANSAS 3/9/02
John, I was flat-out blown away when
I heard this MQFH CD! You didn't hear the final version yourself until yesterday,
Right. Last night in my hotel room on my cheap little CD player.
I like the mix, you can hear every
little detail, and the playing is outta' sight!
It's great to listen to on headphones. I'm really happy with the record.
Bob and Lynn and I drove around the countryside with it cranked. It's solid from start to finish. My compliments to you on a job well done!
And I talked to ALEX COKE just before soundcheck on March 9th, 2002, too...
Was seeing Chris at the MQFH sessions
the first time you had seen each other since being in Arson together?
Yes, except for once in Amsterdam when the Chris Duarte Group came through and played with Frosty on drums. They played at the Paradiso and I came out to see them. I was shocked because I had no idea he was playing in a trio, doing that heavy blues thing.
Did you sit in with them?
Oh no, I just came out to see them. Up until these recent sessions we hadn't played together since Arson. Chris is so musical.
John said he had given everyone charts
of the songs. What did you think when you saw them?
The structure and the foundation were there and I just decided what to cover it with, what color to paint it. There was a lot of room for improv. He picked all of the instruments, too. He wrote specifically for the instruments to get certain tones and color.
How's the John Jordan Trio album
coming along? Anything in the can?
A couple of things. It's a major work-in-progress. Every time we do something we think of something else!
John said you were writing some stuff
for the album?
Yes, I've been working on a few things but we haven't gone over them yet. I had to go out on the road for awhile in Europe. And then this MQFH project came together fast.
I think it sounds great. It's a trip
to hear you and Chris together!
Yeah, it is a good album. You have John to thank for that. He organized the whole thing. He sent me the music, e-mailed it, and Midi files to practice to. Thank God he did that because it would've taken a lot longer to sit down and figure it all out.
Did you alter the charts or give
him any suggestions or feedback?
Yeah, we talked about a couple of things, rhythms and melody notes. He's very easy and the stuff he wrote was very good anyway. I had faith in it and just played. John did a real good job with it. It was a lot of fun.
AND RUN, DON'T WALK, IF YOU ARE LUCKY ENOUGH TO SEE THE MYSTERIOUS QUARTET FROM HELSINKI PERFORMING IN CONCERT...
The MQFH performed live in Eureka Springs, Arkansas, on 3/8-9/02 and at Antone's in Austin, Texas, in May. Both times they blew the roof off of the place. MQFH live is truly something to see, performing not only their material, but also digging deep into the incredible "Only One" album, as well as jazz classics by Miles Davis and John Coltrane. The musical talent and interplay on stage is really something incredible, all of the musicians listening intently and playing off of each other with an energy rarely seen anywhere. Don't miss it if you get the chance!