This Cardiff-based duo reunite Stephen Black, aka Sweet Baboo, and Paul Jones, jazzman about town. As Group Listening, they’ve landed on the concept of clarinet-and-piano reinterpretations of some of their favourite songs, combining pop and avant-garde sensibilities. Stephen answered some queries ahead of their March tour.
You two go pretty far back as co-musicians – about 20 years that I know of, so maybe even before that. What keeps you together?
I think it’s natural that you gravitate towards similar minded people. We’ve done a lot of different and fun projects together over the years and it’s helped us to create a musical relationship that stimulates and explores places we may not have done otherwise.
Why clarinet and piano specifically? Did you choose those instruments to fit the songs, or vice versa, or both?
As you mentioned above, we’ve known each other a long time and we first met at college – I studied the clarinet and Paul the piano. When we first discussed making music as Group Listening, we wanted to explore the limits and limitations of focusing on our instruments. It seemed natural to us. On the new album Clarinet & Piano: Selected Works Vol.2, we’ve actually augmented our sound on a few tunes with an 80s digital Rhodes, saxophone and drum machine.
What’s the criteria for choosing a song, or composition, to reinterpret as Group Listening – does it need to have certain qualities to work?
We have to both like it, and for it to translate well to clarinet and piano. Some tunes are scored out and interpreted very faithfully to the original and for others, we use a looser framework.
Have there been any songs you tried to reinterpret, but found they didn’t work for whatever reason?
I really wanted to try the song The Lamb Ran Away With The Crown by Judee Sill, but as soon as we started playing the beauty of the original was lost and it morphed into a strange French Christmas song. A good party piece maybe, but not to be committed to tape.
Have you found your tastes, listening habits, or avenues of musical exploration changing to fit the Group Listening aesthetic at all?
I think my listening habits have slowly been evolving for a number of years. I used to go looking for cacophony in music, but the older I get the more I’m appreciating the stillness and silence in music.
You’re touring the UK this month – is Group Listening a project you always envisaged being performed in front of audiences?
We’ve toured a fair bit since we first started, most recently supporting Jose Gonzalez on his UK tour. This will be our first tour promoting the new album – both Paul and I love gigging and we’re excited to get to finally play these songs live.
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What if any future plans do you have for Group Listening? Do you think it might pivot to original compositions at some point or is interpretations the specific aim of the game?
Who knows, let’s see where the wind takes us.
words NOEL GARDNER
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