Dutch saxophonist and composer Marike van Dijk has no qualms about dividing her time between Brooklyn and Amsterdam. In fact, she’s built a project around it. Her upcoming album features a collaboration between her large ensemble and two singer-songwriters, Jeff Taylor (USA) and Katell Keineg (UK). The Stereography Project feat. Jeff Taylor and Katell Keineg was recorded in Brooklyn and Amsterdam, funded with help from the Dutch government, and the album was made possible via Kickstarter. The feeling of support and collaboration resonates throughout the album.
Marike nan Dijk and The Stereography Project will visit The Jazz Gallery on May 3rd to celebrate the release of this new album. The show will feature singer and guitarist Jeff Taylor. This will be one of the group’s only two appearances, the second being in The Netherlands in July. We caught up with van Dijk to talk about the project’s journey.
TJG: Take me back to the beginning of the The Stereography Project. How did it start, and how has it grown?
Marike van Dijk: I was at NYU, studying saxophone and was taking composition classes. There was one class where we had to compose for large ensemble with strings. I wrote something for the class and I really liked the sound. After some adjustments to the instrumentation, I started writing more charts and doing reading sessions, just because it was fun. I decided to do a couple of those songs at my graduation concert at NYU, and then I thought, “Might as well make a record.” It wasn’t quite as simple as that, of course, there were different versions of the band, and we played with different people. In 2014 we recorded our first album and released it in 2015, over three years ago now.
TJG: Interesting things have probably happened in those three years. Has the project grown in unexpected ways?
MVD: Yeah. The biggest thing was getting the idea to work with singers. At some point in time I found myself hanging out a lot at Rockwood Music Hall. I had been going to so many jazz concerts, and sometimes I just enjoyed listening to singers. Then I thought, “Why not do the jazz thing that I do with large ensemble and combine it with a singer?” I was fortunate to get a grant from the Dutch government, they supported me in a project to work with two singer-songwriters. I was able to travel a lot between the US and Amsterdam and work on the project on both sides of the ocean.
TJG: Talk to me about the pairing of Jeff Taylor and Katell Keineg.
MVD: The biggest influence in that pairing is the producer for this project, Ruben Samama. He’s a jazz bassist and a producer. He knew Jeff because he’s lived in New York for a long time, and had toured with him in Europe. I was looking for another singer and was reaching out to a couple of singer-songwriters, but there kept being conflicts because of record deals or other things. Then Ruben said, “You know, I’m a big fan of this woman’s record, maybe you could do something with her.” That was Katell. We first recorded with Jeff, and that was super scary because I hadn’t really arranged for a lot of vocalists yet. When you’re taking someone’s song and re-arranging it, you want to be super respectful of their material, because I know how close to your heart it can be. The same with Katell’s music. In the end it worked out pretty well, I think.
TJG: I’ve heard one of the songs from the album, “It Swell.” It’s so sparse and percussive, with bursts of horn and string orchestration, very dry and controlled. Does it translate to the album as a whole?
MVD: Yes, though that’s the most open arrangement, the rest of the album has more writing around it. It’s out on April 27th, so you’ll be able to hear the whole thing then.
TJG: Though the large ensemble probably has a flexible personnel depending on your location, I’m sure there are still challenges. Does The Stereography Project restrict you creatively?
MVD: Yes, definitely. Especially getting everyone paid, which is always my concern. At least, I want to pay everyone okay every time. In a practical sense, I always need people to say yes or no to opportunities, and to be on time when we have a rehearsal. There’s not a lot of space to move things around, and things are difficult enough just try to keep everyone together. The musicians have to be flexible, but they’re always super supportive. A lot of people want to play in the large ensemble, because there aren’t that many of them, and it’s really nice to play with a large group of musicians.
TJG: Tell me about your label, Hert Records, and how you linked up with Membran, a distributor in Hamburg.
MVD: So I approached a couple of labels. Some were genuinely interested, but they release their catalogs a year in advance sometimes, and I wanted to release the album sooner. I had been working on it for more than two years, and I wanted to go ahead and release it. During a gig in Salzburg Austria at a festival called Jazz & The City, Jeff Taylor spoke with someone who worked for the festival, and that guy wanted to support what we were creating. Jeff passed it on to me and I got in touch with this guy, who ended up being from this German company. He was super nice and does European distribution for larger labels, so I said “Okay!” It feels great with this company, the project is supported and we can all work together to make something cool happen.
TJG: That probably creates some opportunities for you to grow and expand with future projects, right?
MVD: Yes, exactly. It’s the beginning of a collaboration with them. They’re a label services company, and they said “If you can find a label, we can provide these services.” So I started my own label, and who knows what might happen with that.
TJG: You have a number of other creative outlets too, such as your trio Laika Into Orbit.
MVD: That was a fun project I did with composer/cellist Amber Docters van Leeuwen and pianist Helena Basilova for “A Trip To The Moon” by Georges Méliès. It was for a theater festival thing we played, and we did it at other festivals as well. I hope we will do another thing sometime, because it’s so fun to play with these amazing classical musicians.
TJG: What are some of your other creative outlets?
MVD: I haven’t been doing a lot else, aside from sometimes the occasional quartet gig. To be completely honest, I think I’ve been really missing playing the saxophone lately, because of all of the business things, sitting behind the computer, contacting people. It’s fun in a way, but I want to do more saxophone playing. It’d be nice for me to do more improvising, perhaps focusing on quartet or quintet gigs again after these two gigs with The Stereography Project. But I would love to keep this band going forever.
Marike van Dijk celebrates the release of The Stereography Project at The Jazz Gallery on Thursday, May 3, 2018. The group features Ms. van Dijk on alto saxophone, Jeff Taylor on vocals & guitar, Anna Webber on flute & tenor sax, Charlotte Greve on clarinet & alto sax, Jay Rattman on bass clarinet & alto sax, Alan Ferber on trombone, Sita Chay on violin, Meg Okura on violin, Eric Lemmon on viola, Susan Mandel on cello, Manuel Schmiedel on piano, Petros Klampanis on bass, and Bill Campbell on drums. Sets are at 7:30 and 9:30 P.M. $15 general admission (FREE for members), $20 reserved cabaret seating ($10 for members) for each set. Purchase tickets here.