There are artists who honour us twice a year with an update of their work. And then there are those who debut with nothing less than their life’s work. On “Crianza”, the solo debut album of guitarist and composer Jacq Dorn, this is certainly the case, since the story of this extraordinary CD began more than 20 years ago. To put it another way: it reflects the entire development of the 45-year-old up to the present day.
The music on “Crianza” is, in the best sense of the word, classic guitar music – provided you are willing to take the liberty to not place classical music in the 19th century or earlier. A classical guitar as a solo instrument as well as in dialogue with an orchestra. However, it is not the hermetic type of classical music which is entrenched on the ivory tower of high culture, but rather lively music-making with numerous, conscious influences from other genres and a diverse range of life experience. For Jacq Dorn, the development of his compositions – from the beginnings up until today – has been a learning process. The individual pieces on the CD have developed over a long period of time, gained shape and meaning, and have grown with the character of its originator over the years. They are an expression of a permanent struggle for form, which is still nowhere near finished with this production. After searching for 20 years, the time had finally come for a break. “It was important for me to express my compositional as well as guitar-related development”, Dorn recaps.
“In the beginning, you don’t necessarily have a profile of your own; people do not recognise your playing as being different. You’re one of many, you lack technique, self-confidence, expression and strength. All of this has to develop. The time has now come for me to occupy a space as an individual guitarist and personality that I consider appropriate. However, I’m not entirely sure what I want or, likewise, what I definitely don’t want.”
Dorn enjoys artistic independence. He is fully engaged in his own music and doesn’t have the pressure of having to fulfil any tasks. This freedom requires courage to find out who he really is, as he can’t hide behind the requirements of a potential employer. However, he sees this courage as a privilege: “I have the luxury to be able to write – how and when I really want to. For me, there needs to be a musical core in every composition which to me is significant as well as clearly identifiable. For example, a theme which for me personally has the potential to be shaped into something independent, even if it is not new in the sense of new music – like someone who shares certain physiognomic similarities with everyone else, but still looks different. This was the case for each one of these pieces. MAJOR and MINOR are of course old principles.” Jacq Dorn deliberately plays around with what is known and familiar, because this enables him to engage with the listener. Although he doesn’t harp on about clichés, he integrates these in a subtle way so that the listening ear can settle down and tune into his musical framework. With his compositions, Dorn opposes the intellectualisation and de-emotionalisation which is all too often forced upon today’s listener: “I don’t separate my feelings from intellect, as this separation often causes arbitrariness. For me, pitch is still one of the most important parameters. Bach’s music was incredibly complex, but it was still emotional. My music isn’t free from platitudes, but I don’t just try to string these together; rather, I give these the kind of individual details that contrast positively with clichés.
Jacq Dorn relies on the nuances of rational feelings and emotional intellect instead of a polarisation between intellect and emotions. For this reason, he also never has to decide whether – in dialogue between orchestra and guitar – he concentrates on his virtuosity or favours the narrative strand. He is self-aware and knows his methods – for example, his highly cultivated tremolo and an emotive vibrato – just as specific as it is trenchant; but there are no vanities involved. Flamenco is an important source of inspiration for him. Some of his rapid runs are unmistakably inspired by flamenco. Here, he leaves the sterile soundscape of classical music for a significantly messier aesthetic.
“My guitar doesn’t always have to come across as being velvety smooth in the best occidental tonal culture, but should also be free to groan, hiss and creak. In the recordings, I deliberately left in some of the takes which perhaps weren’t the cleanest but whose expression spoke to me.” Apart from the flamenco influence, Dorn’s experience with the narrative structure of rock-n-roll is perceivable in his music.
For the son of Croatian immigrants, it’s never about pure aesthetics. Unlike what is common in the Classical period, the ear must never go in search of the music; rather – as in current forms of popular music – Dorn reaches out to the listener with his various sounds. This creates an emotional directness of approach which is rather untypical of classical music. Born into a migrant family and raised in the industrial town of Sindelfingen, Dorn was relatively late to music. Classical music wasn’t found on the musical menu of his family home. Growing up with the likes of Deep Purple, Jimi Hendrix and The Rolling Stones, he taught himself to play the electric guitar at the age of 15. While he was still a self-taught musician, Beethoven’s Violin Concerto brought him to the Classical period. From time to time, he still reaches today for his electric guitar, but in his classically imbued guitar music, both narrative styles merge. His favourite guitarist is Ritchie Blackmore, and if you listen very closely, you can pick up on trace elements of the once Deep Purple heroes in Dorn’s music.
The album title “Crianza” relates to a Spanish wine which is stored for at least one year in an oak barrel. This wine describes precisely the two coordinates between which Jacq Dorn is in and about. The wine itself stands for new elements that he wants to express, and the oak barrel for his origins in classical music and various playing traditions of the classical guitar. The bouquet consolidates all the other influences which are laid down like a bunch of background sounds in Dorn’s music. Everything new is always based on the old and–even over a short period of time– needs a phase of maturation to make itself complete.
In a radical way, Jacq Dorn is not radical. Stylistic diversity and mental flexibility are his unique characteristics. He doesn’t want to have to decide between a classical guitar piece, an AC/DC number, a flamenco and a Slavic folk song. His music on “Crianza” is therefore so authentic because it is so drawn from life.