Dutch musician Jasper Mortier talks about the new project of Tangled Eye and his blues experiences

"I really like about playing blues the way I do is however: every gig is like a new adventure." 

Jasper Mortier: Flying Dutchman

Jasper Mortier is a professional freelance Dutch musician mainly known as bass player but lately he found a new passion: playing drums !! Over the last ten years Jasper toured extensively over the whole of Europe. He worked with numerous great artists like Preston Shannon, ‘Sax’ Gordon Beadle, Monti Amundson, Philip Walker, Candye Kane, Sherman Robertson, Terry Evans, Long John Hunter, Eddy Clearwater, Paul Oscher, Doug Jay, Boo Boo Davis, Byther Smith, Boyd Small, and many others. Right now he is the regular bass player for Ralph de Jongh & Crazy Hearts and the Jimmy Reiter band.

Tangled Eye: Dede Priest on vocals & violin, Jasper on rhythm section and Jan Mittendorp on guitar. Photo by Gerrie van Barneveld

Jasper participates in  project of Tangled Eye. A new trio formed by three experienced musicians, one stranded American and two "Flying Dutchmen": Dede Priest on vocals / violin, Jasper on rhythm section and Jan Mittendorp on guitar. A unique line-up performing original songs. Raw and simple with a deep love for American Roots Music. These musicians have broad taste and an open mind, so a lot of musical influences come through. Despite the trio's short existence, Tangled Eye has already released debut album "Dream Wall" (2014) and performed in many different countries, including Holland, Belgium, Germany, Denmark, France, and Austria, with shows scheduled in other countries as well.

Interview by Michael Limnios

How do you describe Jasper Mortier sound and progress, what characterize your music philosophy?

I'm really a rhythm section guy. And I kind of feel like a craftsman - like a carpenter - or something.  I'm trying to get control over the craft: meaning more and more control over sound and feel - both on bass and drums. And for some reason I'm a sucker for early seventies sound and feels! That means my playing skills, choice of instruments and other equipment is strongly influenced by it. And it also means I've got a very strong idea about sound enginering both live and in the studio.

What do you learn about yourself from the blues and what does the blues mean to you?

I don't think I really know about 'the' blues. I'm born and raised in a very prosperous country and era. Completely different to most of the people who started it all. I had a choice. I could be making money in a different way, but I chose music.

What I really like about playing blues the way I do is however: every gig is like a new adventure. There's no rigid structure. Every evening is different in building up someone's solo for instance. In more pop based bands you have to stick to a song structure and a certain structure of the set being played. That's got its advantages too, but I really like to start 'all over' every evening again. And unlike to more pop related bands you can tour without a too big of a promotion campaign.

Which is the most interesting period in your life? Which was the best and worst moment of your career?

It sounds really gross, but at the moment I'm really happy. Bass playing is developing still and for my drumming - I started a couple of years ago - I'm still studying and working hard to get it at a satisfactory level. At the same time this helps my bassplaying too! I feel it keeps you young and fresh to start something completely new. The worst moment...... Hmmm. Once I travelled a long way to Tuscany my first time in Italy (about a 12 hours drive from Holland). Everybody raved in advance about going to Italy: the hospitality, the food, etc. We arrived at the club in this gorgeous medieval - or probably older - village: they just told us to leave, because they weren't done cleaning yet! They didn't have keys to the hotel either. We just had to hang in some bar. We came back after an hour or so: there was hardly any food to speak off. The rest of the evening was not really memorable either. And in the end they brought us to some old farm house with barely lights and they just left without telling anything about rooms, beds, breakfast or whatever: I felt like the lowest of the lowest!

How started the thought of Tangled Eye? Do you remember anything funny from recording time?

Jan Mittendorp - the guitarplayer - and I were already fooling around for a while both developing our skills: Jan just started out to play baritone guitar instead of regular guitar and me like I told learning to play drums. During this fooling around, grooves and ideas came completely naturally and after a while we just had a bunch of basic set-ups for songs: we only needed somebody to sing! We tried it for a while with a talented Dutch singer/guitar player - Ralph de Jongh - but he mainly wanted to play his own songs. So we looked for someone else. I knew Dede Priest already quite a while so we asked her and she really liked our approach. So we just started to play her our basic ideas and she had a bunch of lyrics and ideas that fitted this project so we had a bunch of completed songs in no time!

"I'm really a rhythm section guy. And I kind of feel like a craftsman - like a carpenter - or something. I'm trying to get control over the craft: meaning more and more control over sound and feel - both on bass and drums." (Photo By Stephanie Faber)

What’s the best jam you ever played in? What are some of the most memorable gigs you've had?

Every now and then I like to go to Osnabrück in Germany. That's not too far from where I live and I've got a lot of friends there and they are not only friends but also happen to be killer players! Pretty often somebody 'well known' on tour in that part of Europe will show up, cause it's got a real good reputation. This bluesjam is always fun and unbelievable: audience show up every week! Unheard of for a jam I think.

Which meetings have been the most important experiences for you? What is the best advice ever given you?

Just being able to play with somebody like Byther Smith who grew up in Chicago in the sixties and is clearly from that era: mean but clean so to speak! Being able to stand right next to his Fender Twin Reverb and feel the whole amp - and everything around it - shaking and rattling is something I will never forget. I once told him his sound and playing reminded me of Brewer Phillips (the 'other' guitar player of Hound Dog's Taylor and the House Rockers) and he was moved by that comparison. Later I found out he shared the stage lot's of times with those guys - among many others - and had a bunch of stories about them (and yes, there were guns involved in those stories!).

I once asked Michael J. Dohoney - one of the finest drummers (and singers) I've played with - how he got that beautiful yet powerful sound of his without playing too loud. And he told me: 'you shouldn't be trying to put it in the drums: you've got to get it out!'.

Are there any memories from Philip Walker, Eddy Clearwater and Jerry Portnoy which you’d like to share with us?

They all are the more bigger names I've played with and for some reason they are the most gentleman-like! Patient, never complaining, but totally clear about what they want and how they want it without being pushy or something. They really make you want to work hard for them.

"I love a lot of different styles of music, I play a lot of different styles of music but I don't spend time overanalyzing them."

Why did you think that the Blues music continues to generate such a devoted following in Europe?

What you see is what you get. In general no hyped nonsense, but just genuine music. So people show up even if they don't know the artist too well: they trust the judgement of the organization of the venue who on their part rely on the reputation of the artist more than on the release of the latest cd.

Make an account of the case of the blues in Europe. Which is the most interesting local blues scene and why?

I don't pretend to know everything about the blues in Europe. Wherever I come I meet people who are truly involved in this kind of music. In the older days you had to depend on certain bands coming to your town, but nowadays with most of the important stuff released on Cd's and of course via Youtube and all, everybody can really thoroughly work on this music and so it becomes more and more of a global culture instead of a solely USA based culture.

What do you miss most nowadays from the music of past? What are your hopes and fears for the future of?

I really don't care too much about things like that. Music is more and more easily accessible by all the different media whether old or new. You can totally choose what to listen to yourself. There will always be stupid commercial bands making tons more than I do, but that doesn't keep me from doing what I do.

Which memories from Long John Hunter, Boo Boo Davis, Byther Smith, and Big George Jackson makes you smile?

Thinking of Long John Hunter just in general makes me smile cause he never seemed to take the whole business too seriously.

Once on a gig with Boo Boo a really huge beetle hit the fan that was right above us. It fell on the floor and kept on crawling on its back on stage and Boo Boo - totally afraid of mosquito's, bugs or whatever - kept an eye on him the whole set through!

Byther once started to play something 'Take 5-ish' (the Dave Brubeck classic) in the middle of a gig. Of course we hadn't prepared something like that and he had no clue either. For instance he didn't play it 5/4 but he tried to make it into some bluesy 4/4 song or something. We had to stop after struggling for 5 minutes and we couldn't start something new for a while cause we all had to laugh so hard. Cracked up the audience too!

After telling Big George Jackson who much I loved his way of performing - e.g. being so superwarm and personal on stage - he gave me the biggest hug you possibly can get: Big George is really Big! I totally disappeared for a moment there! (Photo by Julian von Wirth)

What are the lines that connect the legacy of Blues with Soul and continue to Jazz and Rock music?

I'm sorry. I'm not a musicologist. That's not the way how I approach things by completely tearing them apart. I love a lot of different styles of music, I play a lot of different styles of music but I don't spend time overanalyzing them. My music collection for instance is by no means complete so I don't pretend to have these kinds of overviews over music history.

From the musical point of view what are the differences electric and upright bass? What are the secrets of?

In case you didn't notice: an upright is bigger! But also more vulnerable. You really have to think that through. It has to be the last thing that's going to be packed in the van for instance and forget about flying.

The electric has more sustain and is more direct and it's easier to play more fast arpeggio kind of stuff obviously. The upright on the other hand is way deeper and the tone seems to take a bit more time to develop but is then shorter lived. I started electric and added upright some years later. Playing a swing style blues was easier right from the start on the upright despite the fact it's more physical demanding. That laid-back deep push is right there whereas with the electric you kind of have to simulate this - by muting for instance - to get that sound. The secret to me is: as soon you have a strong idea about a certain sound and feel in your head you'll get it out one way or another.

(And on the technical side for electric players thinking about starting on upright: if you mainly play amplified, a good plywood bass can be better than a more expensive solid wood bass because it's often tighter. And please buy a good pre-amp for the piezo pickup - if you use one - because a lot of regular bass amps don't match the high impedance of a piezo and just work good for lower impedance magnetic pickups normaly found on e-bass!) Photo by Lieven Verhoye

Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really wanna go for a whole day..?

I think that would be New York on the day of the live recording of 'Voices Inside (Everything is everything)' by Donny Hathaway recorded early 70-ies in the Bitter End in Manhattan. 'Willie Weeks on the bass Y'all' and let's not forget the drummer Fred White (younger brother of the Earth Wind & Fire guys and later part of EWF too) who happened to be 17 during that recording!

Jasper Mortier - Home  Tangled Eye - Home

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