Primary Instrument: Piano
Soren Moller Bio
Some jazz musicians do one thing well, but that one thing is all that they do. Not Soren Moller. Flexibility is the driving force that motivates this Danish-born pianist-composer to continually explore. Moller is as comfortable playing his original compositions in a duo or quartet configuration as he is interpreting the work of Miles Davis or Rachmaninoff in a trio format or leading a big band.
Nor does Moller believe in surrounding himself solely with collaborators who share similar backgrounds and outlooks. Although he is from Copenhagen, Moller delights in working with musicians from locales as far-flung as Mexico, Zimbabwe, New Orleans, Scandinavia and China, in order to bring a global glow to the music he envisions.
The result has quite often moved fans and critics alike. Moller’s recordings, including The Clouds Above (2009), A Tribute to Trane (2007), Playlist (2006) and Storytelling (2005) have all garnered praise, as have his heralded performances in Africa, Europe and New York City, where he has resided since 2002.
Now, on Christian X Variations, Moller’s latest release on Audial Records, this forward-thinking artist has created his most ambitious work to date, incorporating instrumentation and concepts from both the jazz and classical milieus. As he’s done several times since 2005, Moller called upon saxophonist Dick Oatts for assistance, and the pair is joined on the album by bassist Josh Ginsburg, drummer Henry Cole as well as Denmark’s Kirin Winds quintet.
Says Moller about the creation of Christian X Variations, “It was very important for me to have versatile musicians who are open to going in any direction. If you hear the record from beginning to end you'll hear several diverse influences.”
In addition, says Moller, who notes that his drummer is from Puerto Rico, the bassist from Brooklyn, and that the members of Kirin Winds represent four different nationalities, “I feel my Danish roots while composing, but I like the idea of people from all over the world interpreting the music I have composed. It creates a special sound that you can’t really find anywhere else, since it’s no longer attached to any geographical context.”
For Moller, the road to Christian X Variations has been a long and twisting one. Now 34, he began playing piano at age 8, and by 16 he was advanced enough to make a living as a piano teacher and accompanist. At 19, Moller was admitted to the Rhythmic Music Conservatory in Copenhagen, continuing his studies at the Manhattan School of Music in New York after his relocation to the city. In New York he studied with piano greats Kenny Barron, Garry Dial and Fred Hersch as a Fulbright Scholarship recipient.
Moller quickly built his reputation as a formidable piano talent within the highly competitive New York jazz scene, hosting an ensemble of some of the most talented musicians from the Manhattan School of Music at a performance at Carnegie Hall as part of the esteemed venue’s Workshop for Jazz Ensembles. Together with trombone player Chris Washburne and saxophonist Ole Mathisen, Moller founded the NYNDK Jazz Collective, an ensemble consisting of established musicians from both Scandinavia and New York. The group, which has toured extensively in Scandinavia and performed at Manhattan’s Jazz at Lincoln Center, was described by The New York Times’ Nate Chinen as a “pointedly cosmopolitan post-bop collective.”
During his prolific career, Moller has contributed compositions and arrangements to ensembles of various sizes, including the Soren Moller and Dick Oatts Duo and quartets featuring drummers Antonio Sanchez and Jason Marsalis. In 2007 Moller premiered his big band suite “Speeches” at the Copenhagen Jazz Festival. The original composition is based on historic speeches made by South African icon Desmond Tutu, the late Czech President Vaclav Havel, Robert Kennedy, Mahatma Gandhi, President Barack Obama and the late Swedish Prime Minister Olof Palme at significant times in history.
The working relationship between Moller and Oatts has been an especially rewarding one through the years. Says Moller, “When we met at the Manhattan School of Music we immediately felt we had a connection that led me to later call on Dick for our first duo album, Storytelling. We shared the same interest in melodies and particular harmonic structures from certain classical periods: the Romantic period, Impressionism and also American Minimalism. The bond that ties us together is our enjoyment of expressing this. Oatts has worked mostly in the American tradition of jazz, recording many standards, and what I do takes him out of that repertoire. It’s a new way to hear him play and it comes across very strong. I think he is a fantastic player.”
On Christian X Variations, says Moller, both he and Oatts tried to achieve something new with their collaborative music, to bring each other to musical places they hadn’t visited before. “When you listen to my music I think the most apparent thing is how melodic it is,” says Moller. “I’m trying to appeal to your emotions through my music, and I’m looking for musicians who also have this interest in the music being melodic and emotional, and who know how to respond to music in an emotional way. I think this is one of the places where you can clearly hear a difference between musicians’ personalities. Do they approach the music in an emotional way or do they approach it in a more mathematical way? I hand-pick musicians that I know have an interest in emotion when they play.”
That emotion shines through on Christian X Variations, in the way Moller and Oatts interact with the stunning rhythm section of Ginsburg and Cole and with the Kirin Winds, whose colorings add several dimensions to the music, produced by Moller in Copenhagen in 2009. It’s a recording of great depth and significance, but Moller prefers to let it speak for itself. “The music of Christian X Variations is a celebration,” he says without elaboration, “and I hope people will celebrate it with us.”