Jazz in a Balkan key

A little over two years ago, Slovenian guitarist Stan Paleco arrived in Phnom Penh from Chiang Mai. He’s been spending time taking a look at the scene, gigging with a number of ensembles, jamming around the open mics, searching for collaborators, and is now finding more ambitious projects to tackle. Stan spoke to Leng Pleng about his journey.

“My first instrument was the accordion, kind of the national instrument of Slovenia – my grandfather and my father both wanted me to play it. So I did it six years of accordion, but I always wanted to be a guitarist, ever since I was a kid, when I saw my first rock video, a heavy metal guitarist with long hair, I thought: I want to do that.” The accordion, however, would prove to be useful later on, giving him a grounding in music theory.

“I started to play guitar when I was 18, around 1988, 1989. I learned a few chords, and I realised I didn’t want to be a singer, I wanted to solo. My guitarist friend of mine showed me the pentatonic scale and some riffs, and then I started to improvise. I was never in any cover bands – even in my first band it was my own music already.   We set up in the garage and had a few beers and created music. No recorders, though, so much was lost.”

After a start in rock, his hometown’s big band excited him to take up jazz. “When I saw them playing, such a big sound, I knew I wanted to play in a big band, and for that I have to be a jazz guitarist. So I prepared myself for the entry exam for the conservatorium in Ljubljana, and the first year I failed, because it was really difficult classical guitar pieces. At that time the classical teachers looked down on jazz. I was persistent, I practiced, and then the next year I sat another exam and passed. I was probably the only one of that generation who played their own songs. I studied four years in the conservatorium and played in the big band.”

After graduation, he didn’t commit himself totally to music initially, unsure whether it was going to be a full time occupation. “But then I started to travel – when you travel it changes your head, and you observe other cultures, other people, you see other things. My first trip outside Europe was to Brazil, and Brazil is very musical.” He visited South East Asia on the recommendation of friend in Thailand. “At that time it was still cheap, nice weather, good food. After the first trip I felt that I had left something behind in Thailand, and I was just waiting again for my next holidays to go back there. After the third time I realised I should move more permanently. But it’s a big move, when you’re a small town boy, growing up in a traditional Catholic community. I probably wouldn’t have done it if I hadn’t met my ex-girlfriend – life is a search for love – and that made me strong enough. It didn’t work out but I’m happy that I met her to make that step.”

After six years in the lively music scene in Chiang Mai, he found the increasingly difficult life of a farang in Thailand too much, and he came to Phnom Penh and began gigging. After a while, though, he gave up the more commercial bon appetit gigs and spent more time practicing and exploring himself musically, as he says: “Searching for an inner peace. And suddenly I started to write new songs, the ideas just started to come. Now I want to put them out there, I want to see how they work. The songs are consequences of my Cambodian life, feelings, things that happen. It’s everything from fusion to contemporary jazz to some ethnic Balkan songs.”

On Friday he teams up with bass player Andrey Meshcheryakov, from St Petersburg, Russia, for an event at Farm to Table titled Alone Together – a tribute to the sublime 1972 album of the same name by the guitar and bass duo of Jim Hall and Ron Carter. “When I first met Andrey, I heard him playing and I said, wow, I am lucky! But he lived in Siem Reap. Now that he has moved to Phnom Penh we have time more often to meet and play together. We are musical twins – we lock in. We both know this album, and we like the freedom it gives you, just bass and guitar, no drums.”

And maybe it’s not the end of the line for his first instrument either. “I have borrowed an accordion from Metta – I tried again but it’s not so easy. So in the future we have an idea for a another project, there’s a great Armenian Ukrainian violinist now in town, Mirab, who’s totally devoted to music, and he also plays duduk, the Armenian flute. So my idea is to do something along the lines of an ethno-jazz group.” He adds, with a smile: “And I will play a few songs with the accordion.”



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