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Theo Travis: "My new album is very much new prog rock - no elves in sight"

In-demand prog jazz saxophonist and flautist Theo Travis is busier than ever. He takes time out to tell us exactly what he’s been up to...

With a foot in both jazz and progressive rock, Theo Travis is one of the busiest sax and flute players on the scene at the moment, having recorded and toured with luminaries such as Steven Wilson, Robert Fripp, David Sylvian and Gong. In addition to leading his own quartet, Double Talk, he’s also been a member of Soft Machine since 2006. He’s just released Open Air, an album of solo flute processed via effects pedals and looping technology. Although on holiday in America, he took the time to chat with Prog...

Your new album Open Air is very hypnotic in its use of loops. How did you get interested in that way of playing?

I’ve always been very attracted to slow, hypnotic music, although you wouldn’t necessarily know that from my jazz stuff. I can probably date that interest back to two artists. I remember getting into John Martyn and his use of Echoplex sometime in the 80s. Then I started going through his back catalogue. It blew me away.

The other artist that got me involved in that whole sound world was Brian Eno with Music For Airports and On Land. That last album had a three-dimensional quality. It wasn’t just an ‘interesting sound that was as ignorable as it was listenable’ thing – I found it very musical. If you actually reduce the whole thing to the harmonies and melodies on a piano, it’d be very sparse, but there’s also a whole lot going on.

You released an album of solo flute music back in 2003, called Slow Life. How does Open Air differ?

I suppose what’s different is me. In the intervening years I’ve done a lot of exploring in that looping sound world, particularly with Robert Fripp. Robert has his whole distinctive soundscape world and being able to work alongside and with that helped me develop the concept for a new album. Whether it’s solo or with Soft Machine, The Tangent, Steven Wilson, or with Cipher, I’ve done so much since Slow Life I was keen to try to explore an album of that kind of music by going in as deep as I could.

With Open Air I’ve explored quite a few different flutes – bass flute, concert flute or various wooden flutes. It’s broadening the texture and using a little bit more technology as well. The core sound, though, is coming from the same place: texture, harmony, melody and a bit of three-dimensional slowness.

Are you planning on working with Robert Fripp in the future?

Well, we’re going to release a three-CD Travis & Fripp set soon. I loved working with Robert. It was very easy going to work with him. We locked in very comfortably. Working with textural, slow music, Robert is one of the pioneers and playing those concerts in the church environment, it just changes everything [the duo recorded a series of live shows in churches and cathedrals in 2009‑’10]. You approach the music in a certain way; the audience listens differently. It was a very special way of making music. Working with Robert was very easy, which doesn’t sit well with a lot of the public’s perceptions of him!

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