Aron Ottignon - Biography


Aron Ottignon is an extremely gifted pianist. Prizes have been rained on him ever since he began playing, and he could have fallen into the virtuosity trap and lent his talents to Rachmaninoff and Ellington, hiding behind those ten fingers. But an authoritative persona and some remarkable artistic convictions were maturing beneath the surface in this child prodigy, and today, from Auckland (where he was born in 1982) to Paris, and from Woodkid to Stromae, people have seen that the winding path he's taken was guided by an arrow-straight ambition that finally materialised in a first album.

Speaking of a pianist with a liking for repetitive motifs, it is tempting to say that Aron Ottignon has come full circle. From Blue Note to Blue Note: the label, on which the New Zealander makes his arrival, was also home to jazz pianist Andrew Hill, one of his first teachers. The story goes back to his childhood, and to a family where music was no stranger: his grandmother tickled the ivories in London's first silent-screen cinema before caressing the strings of a harp behind the eccentric Liberace; as for Aron's father, he played saxophone in Manfred Mann's quintet and, when accompanying visiting jazzmen playing concerts in Auckland, he used to invite them home to give advice to the young Aron. Andrew Hill was one of them; he met Aron when the prodigy was just ten.

Improvisation — Andrew Hill was a master — comes as second nature to Aron Ottignon. Chord charts, partitions and scores were never enough for him. As far back as he can remember, when he returned home from school nothing interested him more than picking up some jazz and blues charts and reel off note after note, sitting at the family's grand piano for hours on end. That taste for freedom, associated with his academic tastes and a precocious appetite for composition, irrigates his music today just as much as his eclecticism, his cosmopolitan nature, and some deeply entrenched opinions on the goals he seeks. The threads he continues to spin are anchored in his first project, Aronas, the group founded early in the new millennium after a concert by Australian jazz trio The Necks. On that night in Sydney, Aron Ottignon discovered that daringly ambitious modern music is possible when the audience is young and enthusiastic. That revelation triggered his vocation as a leader, and in 2005 Aron released the album Culture Tunnels, which laid down the bases for a form of jazz sustained by a powerful groove — it has a rock edge — with a bass and two drummers. "South Pacific Groove" was the phrase that Aron would use to define a form that also called for Polynesian rhythms.

Since those days, Ottignon first went to live in London, where he became a less frequent sight in jazz circles, preferring to keep company with the West Indian community and musicians playing steel drums (they've since become one of his signatures.) And then he moved to Paris, after a tour with Woodkid, and his piano was to be heard with Abd Al Malik now and then, and, as if further proof of his protean talents were necessary, his name appeared in the credits of Papaoutai, the hit that he wrote together with Stromae. Even so, despite calls to go out on the road, or a summons to a studio session, Aron hasn't deviated an inch from his priority: to compose, develop and spread his own music. In 2015, one after another, came two EPs (Starfish and Waves) that left quite an impression. They were a foretaste of 2017, which is shaping up to be a pivotal year for Aron. It begins with a new EP, Nile, whose title-track is a composition he has dedicated to his sister, singer Holly Ottignon. It's all there: the breathing melody and the power in the rhythm, loops of organic piano inherited from electro, the shimmer of steel drums… Many compositions, incidentally, are structured around a drum motif: Aron has a fantasy in which each of his fingertips is a drumstick.

Dividing his time from now on between Paris and Berlin, Aron Ottignon has been recording Team Aquatic these past two years in the company of producers Paul “Seiji” Dolby and Rodi Kirk. As his first album under his own name, Team Aquatic takes up the tale exactly where Aronas left it, even to the point of having its eponymous title-track dedicated to the good times enjoyed by the group during its London years. Starfish, by the way, was composed during that period, with its 6/4 rhythms enacted on wooden drums from the South Pacific. So this musician's credo is marked by absolute cohesion, but also by the spirit of adventure: Rivers is nourished by Peruvian traditional music, while Waves and Ocean draw inspiration from a voyage to Reunion Island accompanied by kayamba rhythms. Sustained by heavy electronic claps, The Jungle was born the day before Aron went to Calais: at Christmas 2015 he arrived at the camp to assist refugees for a week. The eleven-title album – and three bonus tracks – fades to a close with the sublime ballad Rothesay Bay, named after the beach where his grandparents have always lived. He was born there, another circle complete.

Against all mercantile logic, Aron Ottignon has chosen to produce instrumental music that combines the ambition of jazz with pop melodies, echoes of world music and electronic effects. A dizzying plunge, in the image of the aquatic visuals entrusted to photographer James Fisher and another protean artist, Yvo Sprey. Let's trust in Aron and take the plunge with him.