Goran Kajfes


"The Reason Why Vol. 3" by Goran Kajfes Subtropic Arkestra, is the third and last album of a trilogy that started back in 2013 and as Goran himself told us when we expressed our concern, he had already decided to end in his third part. Not because the musical dome that inspired him and influenced him to make this beautiful collection with covers of so many types of music has been emptied, but rather because "It was an incredibly satisfying experience for the sound and development of the band, it is now time look forward and see what will follow for Subtropic Arkestra". In other words, the band will continue to exist, but the music that the seven-piece will play from now on will be entirely based on its own compositions. "This is exciting because none of us knows what's out there", he says. In this album, one can find Croatian Goran's view of how he 'sees' a jazz adaptation of pieces of Ethiopian keyboard player Hailu Mergia, in compositions by the pioneer of French electronic music Bernard Fevre or even the odd pop of the American Panda Bear.

Goran's Swedish collaborators are particularly proud for an album that leaves the trilogy at an extremely high quality point. This is exactly what we felt, as well, listening to a seven-man orchestra playing freely and literally extending musical and sound boundaries to such levels, that you could not ever imagine. The album was recorded at the Svenska Grammofon Studio in Gothenburg, while the studio mix took place at Studio Rymden in Stockholm, and this is where the brass section of the great Per "Texas" Johansson was added.

The story began somewhere in the early 70's, when Goran was born of Croatian piano-playing parents and planned to emigrate to the American continent. Sweden was supposed to be just the family stop before the trip to New York, but they finally liked Sweden so much, that they decided to stay there forever. Since then, Goran would be attending a musical school and would be nurtured by jazz-like music, like those of the great Dizzy Gillespie trumpet. The sequel could not be different for a musician who, in addition to imagination, has the necessary appetite to listen to a lot of good music. The only criterion, as he told us, was to choose the content of the trilogy from which we met him.

We're challenging you to discover an artist who in 2015 ("The Reason Why Vol.2") covered 'Yet Again' of Grizzly Bear; a musician who listens from Turkish 70's folk jazz to modern pop, but nevertheless has his own musical philosophy, his own distinctive sound, but above all he enjoys observing the great musicians with whom he cooperates, expressing himself freely and at will.

That's all from us, here's the interview with this incredible jazz musician ...




The Basement: Hello Goran ! First of all, thank you for giving us the opportunity to know more about what you do as a musician. Stunning 3rd LP from your "The Reason Why" series. Please, introduce yourself to us.
I am a trumpet player but also produce records, write music for films and documentaries and collect synthesizers. I play mostly jazz these days in bands like Oddjob, Nacka Forum, Angles 9, Fire! Orchestra and tour all over the world.  I have studied in Copenhagen in early 1990´s and live in Stockholm right now, being a part of the vivd jazz scene in Scandinavia. 

The Basement: Your parents are Croatian but you were raised in Sweden. Tell us more about that family story. 
My father, Davor Kajfes, is a piano player and had a group called Zagreb Jazz Quartet that was one first jazz groups from Yugoslavia that made a success in Europe, they toured a lot and made some amazing music. He was touring with Scandinavian musicians in Sweden in the late 60´s and decided he wanted (together with my mother, who is actually also a pianist, and my sister) to leave Yugoslavia and move to Sweden. This was meant to be a stop on the way to New York….but they got stuck and after a while I was born (1970).  

The Basement: Does "Subtropic" mean something particular? How did you form the band and how did you come up with its name?
Well, the name was actually connected to the music that I made on the X album (from the double album X/Y) that I felt had a spiritual relation to warmer parts of the world like Africa, India and the Middle East rather than to the Scandinavian coolness and gloominess. This album was also the birth of Subtropic Arkestra.

The Basement: You're a trumpet player, so let us know about how the love for this instrument came to you. What were your influences as a child and when did jazz come to your ears at first place?
At first, I wanted to play the trombone, but at the music school, the teachers told me my arms were too short, and suggested the trumpet. Actually, they needed a trumpet player for their orchestra so they just fooled me (don’t think I have especially short arms…haha), but I am pretty happy about that today. My parents often played jazz at home so I grew up listening to a lot of great jazz records and my first favorite trumpet player was Dizzy Gillespie playing Manteca.

The Basement: Is there a central idea behind the project of "Reason Why"? How do you pick up the songs each time?
The central idea is to play music that we like from any genre and any era, not trying to be smart just to choose music we love. I can usually hear before we play it if it´s possible to make it fly and to make our own personal interpretation of it.

The Basement: At your press release information, you mention that this (Vol.3) is going to be the last one, cause you don't want to be described as a cover band. It this the only reason?
Yes. This has been so much fun to do and it could go on forever, but I like new challenges. I already decided this when we started recording the trilogy.

The Basement: Tell us more about the process of making this album. Who was responsible for the instrumentation?
I usually decide who I want to play on the album and what instruments I would love to have in there. When the instrumentation is right you can let everybody free and still stay in the right type of soundscape and mood that fits the music. I actually made less and less preparations for each album because we had found our sound and I liked the surprises that could happen on the way in the studio instead of having a risk making it a boring studio album. It´s not about playing right it´s all about making some interesting spontaneous music. 

The Basement: How can an Ethiopian keyboard player as Hailu Mergia, a French electronic music pioneer as Bernard Fevre and even Panda Bear coexist in the same album?
It´s all good music ;)

The Basement: Do you work with other musicians every time you compose your own music ? Who are they ? What about the arrangements for the covers you make?
I usually have a general idea of how it should be done and then work it out with the musicians during the recording. When you are playing with great musicians which I am fortunate to do, you always want their personality to shine so it is important to give them some freedom in how to play the music. Also, I like the tension in the studio when you just don´t follow a piece of paper but embrace the openness in the music and let things happen in the spur of the moment. 

The Basement: We liked so much the cover on Grizzly Bear's Yet Again. Was it difficult to reserve the royalties for a cover? Which was their reaction when you asked for it?
When you play instrumental music you are actually more free to make covers. I haven’t heard what they think about it but I have a friend who is touring with them right now so it would be interesting to hear what they say.


The Basement: In the years, you've already collaborated with many major artists from all over the world. Can you pick one that marked you? Any "dream" collaboration you have in mind for the future?
If you by 'major artist' mean big pop-artists, it´s usually a kind of hired gun-job where I come in to the studio and play a couple of hours…. so it´s seldom a life-changing experience. But it is always interesting to see how some artists work of course. That can be inspiring and sometimes I think: why the hell are they going in this direction? Regarding dream collaboration, I would like to do something with Bassekou Koyate, David Byrne, Selda or Frank Ocean.

The Basement: Life in Sweden, how do you like it? Do you make a living out of your music? Do you have any free time?
I like being in Sweden even if it´s a little bit cold and boring sometimes, yes I have made a living out of it since 1994 and hope for many more years on... No, it´s actually hard work most of the time, but when I am free I spend it with my lovely family or with my modular synthesizers.

The Basement: Do you have a favorite jazz band from today's artists?
I love Atomic, Per ”Texas” Johansson and a Swedish band with young musicians called Kvintetten Som Sprängdes. And then there are a lot of really inspiring and kick-ass musicians in Sweden, especially all of the young women popping up like Anna Lund, Anna Högberg, Malin Wättring and many more. The list of good musicians in Sweden is looooong! ;)

The Basement: Are Swedish people keen on listening to jazz? We surely know many jazz and experimental jazz projects that come from your country.
Not maybe so much that the Swedish people listen to jazz, but Sweden has a lot of great jazz musicians and a very active scene. 

The Basement: Propose us any new albums regardless of genres, that you think we must have a listen to.
All of them aren’t really new (but pretty new, guess you don´t want old records;) here is a list:

Brightblack Morning Light - Selftitled
Jay Z - 4:44
Francis Bebey - Psychedelic Sanza (reissue)
The Budos Band - Burnt Offering
Dungen - Allas Sak
Joel Danell (Musette) - Kosmas Lament
Oddjob - Plays Weather Report


The Basement: Are you playing any gigs in your country or abroad in the next few months? 
Yes, I am doing a concert pretty soon in Stockholm where we will play the whole Vol. 3 album and where I also have a release of a new album with a quartet called Tropiques (that will play the first set that evening). Then we will play more in February 2018 and the rest of that year. I am really excited about that!

The Basement: Any long term plans? What are your ambitions for the Arkestra?
Well, I already have some ideas but would like to keep them for myself, so it will be a surprise for you and all of the listeners out there!

Thank you so very much Goran, it was wonderful talking with you. We wish you the best for the future!

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