Meet the next great jazz innovator, Winnepeg’s Daniel Koulack. His instrument? The banjo.
Though his forthcoming album, Frailing To Succeed, is anchored by his much lauded clawhammer playing style, Koulack surrounds himself with traditional jazz instruments– soprano saxophone, alto saxophone, clarinet, flute, violin, marimba, percussion, and drum kit—to present a new kind of fusion. But though the mix may seem unusual to new listeners, Koulack himself has spent his career working in Winnipeg’s eclectic music scene, playing with jazz, African, Klezmer, French-Canadian and classical musicians.
The eleven tracks of Koulack’s new record, which releases in the U.S. on December 9th, burst with energy, warmth and the exuberance he’s brought the instrument since he first picked it up at the age of 11. He’s supported in his new effort by the Knappen Street All-star Band, made up of versatile saxophonists Bill Spornitz, Jonnie Bakan and creative percussionist Dan Roy, as well as Don Benedictson on bass and Sterfan Bauer on marimba.
Today, we’re premiering “Happy Tune,” the cheerful opening track of the album. Koulack tellls Elmore, “I think the “Happy Tune” was either the second to last or last tune that I wrote when I was preparing to record… so my juices were flowing. I had been plugging away at some complicated arrangements, and I decided “Okay, let’s write something really simple!” This tune jumped out. When I arrange, I often mull over, and write and rewrite, but in this case a bass part revealed itself immediately, and then the written horn and fiddle parts (the lines played in harmony) popped into my head. With some sections left open for the horns and fiddle to play a little it all made sense. I love the way Ben (fiddle), and Jonnie and Bill (horns) played on this tune. As is common in the old-time banjo world, I use many different tunings, each with its own flavor: this tune is in what I think is one of the sweetest… the “Last Chance Tuning.””
The piece is mesmerizing in its joyous repetition. Each instrument gets a moment to shine, from the soaring fiddle part to the conversational horns that seem to laugh and bounce as they rise out of the ensemble. In between, Koulack roots the track with the gentle twang of his banjo.
Follow Daniel Koulack on his website and listen to “Happy Tune” below.