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New Jazz Guitar Today Interview With Finland’s Martin Soderbacka



JGT contributor Joe Barth interviews one of Finland’s finest jazz guitarists, Martin Soderbacka.

Martin Soderbacka is an outstanding guitarist who makes his living in a remote area of Finland.  Martin is based in Kokkola which is a five-hour drive north from the capital, Helsinki.  Martin keeps a full schedule of playing and teaching and co-leads several groups with his wife, jazz bassist Eevalotta Matkainen.

JB:  Talk about when you started to play guitar and what inspired you to play jazz guitar.

MS:  I started to play guitar at age eleven, inspired by my father, playing mostly blues and rock music at the time. I first took classical guitar lessons for a year and then started to attend classes at a pop/jazz school for kids. There I started to listen to jazz and got introduced to the records of Miles Davis and Charlie Parker. At the same time, my guitar teacher introduced me to Robben Ford, Mike Stern, Joe Pass, and Wes Montgomery and I was blown away by how jazz also could include elements of rock, blues, funk, and other genres. When I saw Mike Stern perform with his band at a festival in Finland, that really got me inspired to get into jazz guitar.

Bassist Eevalotta Matkainen, Martin Soderbacka and John Stowell.

JB:  Talk about the things you appreciated most about your studies in Yrkeshogskolan Novia in Finland.

MS:  Going to music college in Finland was rewarding and the opportunities at the school were great since it is a relatively small college. I got to choose who I’d like to learn from and took lessons from several great teachers. I really appreciated all the workshops with guest musicians and bands that visited the college. Outside of school I also got to play gigs with fantastic musicians who were all better than me – that was really inspiring! I think the most important thing with music college is learning how to learn and how to practice, so you have the tools to keep at it for the rest of your life.

JB:  To you, what are three of the most influential jazz guitar albums and why?

MS:  Joe Pass: Virtuoso (1973). Joe set such a high standard of what was possible to do on solo guitar. I remember when I heard this album for the first time as a kid, it was jaw-dropping. The virtuosity, flow, and clarity of Joe’s playing is amazing and his versions of these standards are timeless. Also love the fact that you can hear the acoustic sound of the guitar on the record, just beautiful.

John Scofield: A Go Go (1998). A game changer for me, John is a master of playing melodies with such depth. I really like the interesting nuances of groove and beats combined with Scofield’s compositions. In my opinion, for this style of music, John’s way of improvising combines a perfect balance of pentatonic, the blues scale, playing out and building interesting melodic and rhythmic motifs. The way he utilizes funky effect pedals, like the heavily chorused sounds (almost vibe pedal-like sounds) is so inspiring. Scofield is really utilizing many aspects and nuances of the guitar with different kinds of picking, using thumb and fingers, pinch harmonics, bending, slides and slurs, etc. The tunes on this album are legendary and the dirty electric guitar sound is great.

Pasquale Grasso: Solo Standards (2020). Pasquale raises the bar of what is possible to do on the guitar. Really amazing solo jazz guitar playing, the level of virtuosity and flow is incredible. Pasquale’s down-to-earth clean, dry, and dark tone is beautiful. The impeccable bebop lines and Art Tatum’s style of playing the guitar are amazing. Pasquale’s timing, comping, and solos are just incredible on this album. All of Pasquale’s records are great and I’m looking forward to hearing what he’ll do in the coming years!

JB:  Tell us about your goals in making your most recent album Soul What? What Lies Ahead?

MS:  My wife, bassist Eevalotta Matikainen, I composed the music with these particular musicians in mind. They all have unique voices as musicians and we wanted to bring out their strengths with this album. We also wanted to incorporate elements of contemporary jazz, soul music, and funk making it into a melting pot of music that could go any direction.

JB:  You have performed and recorded with guitarist John Stowell.  Talk about John’s impact on your playing.

MS:  I’ve been following John’s work online for several years and I’m happy to have had the chance to play with him. His approach to playing chords and harmonies is phenomenal and so inspiring. He’s also a very sophisticated improviser and has a great tone on his guitar. John inspires me to explore new voicings and voice leading on changes, to bring clarity to my improvisations, and to expand my knowledge of chords and harmony.

JB:  Tell us about the guitar you play.

MS:  Currently I play a The Loar LH-700 archtop guitar with a floating DeArmond rhythm chief 1100 pickup. It’s a replica of an early ´30s L5. At the moment the Finnish luthier AJL-Guitars is building a customized 15” archtop guitar for me based on his Nuages model. I’m looking forward to start playing that guitar in a few weeks!

JB: Those Loars are fine “old style” traditional archtops.  The 15-inch AJL guitar looks very interesting as well.  What amp do you use?

MS:  I use a Henriksen Bud SIX for solo, duo or trio shows and when I’m playing with a band I use my hand-wired Deluxe Reverb clone, made by the Finnish company Uraltone.

JB:  With such a mass of talent coming out of the music colleges each year, what’s the best piece of advice you’d give these guys for building an international career?

MS:  Be open to collaborating with other people. It’s a great way to meet new people, visit new places, and get connected.

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