I’m a jazz bassist and composer, and occasional educator. I perform mostly acoustic improvised music, in a variety of Bands throughout Europe.
My new album ‘Value’ was recently released on Nwog Records.
Please scroll down for various links to listen and buy ‘Value’. Also check the concerts section to see what I’m up to in the next days and weeks.
I hope to see you sometime at a concert soon!
A sound that penetrates deep into the earth and suddenly returns from the center of gravity to the surface – often exactly where it is least suspected. A sound that is suddenly there, hypnotic, compelling, vehement and indispensable. Actually, there are four tones, but the individual timbres of bassist Phil Donkin, alto saxophonist Wanja Slavin, bass clarinetist Joris Roelofs and drummer Martin France merge with such force to a symbiotic unity that the word ensemble in the traditional sense is fraught with considerable blurring.
Bassist Phil Donkin has come a long way with his 38 years. Home grown in English jazz life, he played there with anyone who had rank and name. At the age of twenty nine, he moved to New York, where he also quickly made a name for himself as a sought-after sideman. For a few years now Berlin has been the third pillar, where it has become a fixture in the ever-changing scene. The long list of musicians he collaborated with ranges from John Abercrombie to Nils Wogram.
Donkin’s new album “Value” marks a turning point. After embracing musicians from his New Yorkbased environment on his previous album “The Gate,” his band Masterfrown focuses exclusively on European colleagues. There is no instrument of harmony, but Donkin relies on the design possibilities between three melodic instruments.
These are some projects that I am playing with regularly at the moment. Please read on to find out more!
The Gate is the debut album from Phil Donkin, one of the preeminent bassists of his generation in jazz and improvisation-based music. Originally from the UK, he established himself in London and subsequently made the move to New York City where he lived for a number of years. Currently based out of Germany he maintains a hectic international touring schedule and has performed with many of world’s marquee artists including Kurt Rosenwinkel, John Abercrombie, Kenny Wheeler, Julian Arguelles, Evan Parker, Nils Wogram, Marc Copland, Bill Stewart, Ralph Peterson, Nasheet Waits, Edward Simon, Kevin Hays and others.
Featuring Grammy-award nominated saxophonist Ben Wendel, drummer Jochen Rückert and pianist Glenn Zaleski, The Gate is a debut of depth and maturity with ten original compositions and two covers (Thelonius Monk and Dmitri Shostakovich). With plenty of wit and intelligence the pieces are navigated expertly by the four members, displaying a myriad of textures and emotions.
Phil explains: “I wanted to create a program of music that anyone can enjoy, but doesn’t dumb down to a notion that non-jazz audiences need to be condescended to. I think good music regardless of genre communicates on a human level, and the dividing forces that have been created artificially by the music press and industry now dictates how people are allowed to enjoy and receive music. I think that notion is wrong and I want my music to defy it.”
The Gate doesn’t hold back; it both challenges and engages the listener. Pieces like ‘Matriarch’, ‘The Lost Shoe’ and the title track show a somewhat subdued and melancholic subtextual nature, pulling at the listener’s heart-strings but somehow with a fiery visceral energy that creates a juxtaposition of emotions. ‘La Jurona’ and ‘Introspection’ display some of the rhythmic subtleties for which Donkin is known, displaying the bass player’s uncanny ability to glide effortlessly through forms and time changes with poise, elegance and muscularity. Complemented by Rückert the rhythm section excel throughout, playing off each other astutely; one hears the depth of listening, sharing responsibility to drive the band while taking turns in directing the music and supporting the others as risks are taken, of which there are plenty.
Donkin explains “This music is in no way safe. We’re all taking risks and supporting each other at the same time. For me, that has always been the most exciting thing to listen to and to play, because it’s human. I don’t want an album which has been perfectly edited and so therefore shows no sign of weakness. That is boring and doesn’t show anything of the soul of the music. I need there to be both empathy and bravery for me to enjoy it. This obviously requires intense listening, and I think unfortunately that doesn’t happen enough in jazz now. What I hear a lot of is virtuosos who have become a self-sufficient tower of strength, who somehow aren’t responsive to their musical environment. Of course we all want to be as good as we can be, but when playing with others we are vulnerable because we don’t know what’s going to happen. To overcome that problem we must trust, and have faith that amazing things can happen if we let go and listen. One would hope that through years of playing and practicing, our hands know what to do, so listen and let the heart take over.”
There’s a healthy amount of swing on this record as well. ‘Macon Groove,’ named after the street in Brooklyn where Donkin lived, displays his ability to play an extremely nimble melody resonant of Warne Marsh and Lennie Tristano. Other pieces like ‘Butterfingers’, ‘One for Johnny,’ and ‘Yesterday At My House’ are quirky tunes which invite creativity from the entire band, something they do with aplomb throughout the record. With The Gate Donkin not only showcases his virtuosity as a bassist, but arrives as a notable composer of breadth and originality.
Phil Donkin enjoys an extensive touring schedule with international cutting edge artists. Phil’s latest offering as a leader is ‘Value’ (2019 NWog Records). This follows his earlier release ‘The Gate’ (2015 Whirlwind Recordings). When Phil is not leading his own bands, he can been seen and heard touring with the likes of Oliver Steidle, Tom Challenger, Philipp Gropper, Frank Möbus, Kalle Kalima, Jim Black, Wanja Slavin, Johannes Enders, Bastian Stein. Phil has toured throughout Europe,North America,Africa and Asia. In recent years Phil has also performed with John Abercrombie, Marc Copland, Ralph Alessi, Joey Baron, Kurt Rosenwinkel, Mark Turner, Chris Speed, Dan Weiss, Ethan Iverson, Bill Stewart. He currently lives in Berlin.