In the summer of 1984, Jasper Van’t Hof, one of the best-known and dynamic pianists and keyboarders of European jazz, burst onto the club scene with the primal force of “Pili Pili”, a 15-minute trance recorded with the percussion formation Isaac Tagul Group of Guinea. The name of the track comes from a little red pepperoni, tried by Jasper in Kinshasa, that has really impressed him: “I can still feel it! It burned incredibly! It was like having a bomb in my mouth.”. The resulting musical piece turned out to be really hot as the record sold over 100,000 pieces. The group took on the name of its title piece and became a hit band, especially in the club and disco scene.
The musical origins of Pili Pili can be tracked back to 1982-83 when Jasper Van’t Hof embarked on a tour in Central Africa and discovered his love for the African Music. Since then he has been drawn back to the black continent again and again. He was the first foreign musician to be invited to the Arts Alive Festival and to play in various townships of South Africa before the end of apartheid, an experience which deeply influenced and inspired him.
Along with the African influences, Pili Pili tried to authenticate its music by including diverse African musicians. The band cooperated with musicians from various African countries, such as Mali, Kongo, Senegal and Guinea. In 2000, for the first time, Van’t Hof realized a project with South African musicians– the young Zulu choir Phikelela Sakhula from the city of Durban.
Pili Pili’s Style
At first sight, the music of Pili Pili can seem simple, but this is not the case. As Jasper explains: “[…] it’s an extremely complicated matter. The African drum only works when it’s got space. If it gets ‘wrapped up’ the energy is lost. This is not a band for playing incredible piano solos. What counts here is the groove. If you go at it with an intellectual approach, you are lost.”. This groove oriented music stems in Van’t Hof’s admiration for percussion and his ‘very percussive way of playing piano’. He elaborates on that by saying: “Percussion is so fantastic, you can express all of your emotions with it. If you’ve got problems buy yourself a set of drums and just let yourself go on them!”.
Pili Pili’s musical style could be best described as experimental mixing of the complex traditional rhythms of Africa with jazz, fusion, funk and dance. As Jasper once put it: “It’s an experiment. Even if Pili Pili were to exist for twenty years, it would remain an experiment.”. Albeit it’s earthly and archaic simplicity, there is always room for conceptual work. Such albums as “Nomansland” or “Ballads of Timbuktu” stay as a testimony.
Pili Pili’a Performance
After touring regularly in Germany, Austria and Switzerland, Pili Pili were invited to do a concert in Spain in 1999. For ten years the band has spent the cold, central European winter, spreading energy and esprit with their funky mixture of jazz, African rhythms and South American charm in highly acclaimed concerts. In the years to follow, the annual tours and festival appearances, e. g. at the Jazz Festival of Montreux, fortified the group’s reputation, particularly as an excellent live band. This can be confirmed by the review in Lipper Zeitung (Germany): “As hot as chili pepper the market place was turned into a dance-joint. The audience payed its fee by enthusiastic participation. Hardly anyone was able to stand still, as soon as the highly rhythmical mixture of African and Caribbean rhythms mixed with European jazz tradition started.”. In the same way, Sieger Zeitung (Germany) wrote: “Dance-Jazz under a good sign – What followed were two hours of rhythmical music, exciting and explosive. The multidimensional and wonderful vocals of Izaline Calister, the Caribbean bundle of energy, is the dot over the i of Pili-Pili’s music. The conclusion of a grand music event: excellent dance-jazz open air and in dry weather – summer festival atmosphere at it’s best.”. As the Westfälische Rundschau review (Germany) concluded: “[…] in the end everything had become rhythm, music, fire– simply Pili Pili.”
Jasper van´t Hof– piano, keyboards
Jasper was born in Enschede, Holland on June 30, 1947. The child of a jazz trumpeter and a classically trained singer and pianist, his great interest in music became evident at an early age. At fourteen he wrote his first compositions and became increasingly interested in jazz. His parents would have liked to send him to a conservatory, but he preferred to play live. At nineteen Jasper was already participating in various jazz festivals and raking in prizes. Before forming Pili Pili, Jasper was part of several acclaimed bands, solo projects and collaborations. His first ensemble, ‘Association P.C.’, was found in 1969 and reached European success by combining jazz and rock. ‘Pork Pie’ came to life in 1973 and similarly merged the technical-artistic virtuosity of jazz with the dynamic extroversion of rock. The year of 1976 marks the debut of Van’t Hof’s solo career with the album “The Self Kicker” followed by“Axioma” almost twenty years later. In this period he collaborates with Archie Shepp, Manfred Schoof, Wolfgang Dauner, Zbigniew Seifert, Toto Blanke, Stu Martin, Alphonse Mouzon and Bob Malach. As a result of these musical search, Jasper Van’t Hof has made more than seventy records up to this date. His work received the ‘Bird Award’– the highest distinction for jazz musicians in Holland– in 1997.For more information please click: Jasper van’t Hof.
Tutu Puone– vocals
Tutu was born in 1979. She started her professional career in Johannesburg (1997). She studied with Jelena Reveshin at the University of Cape Town, where she obtained a Diploma in music performance, and in 2002 she received a 2 year scholarship to study with Rachel Gould at The Hague Conservatory of Music and Dance in The Netherlands. Tutu has played a lot with well-known South-African musicians. She performed in New York as a vocalist with the South African National Youth Big Band and in 2001 she played with the Afro/Latino band Tucan Tucan at the North Sea Jazz Festival in Cape Town.In July 2004 she debuted with her European band in South Africa, at the Grahamstown Arts Festival and in 2008 they played one of the most successful concerts on the Cape Town International Jazz Festival.
Tutu has worked with the Brussels Jazz Orchestra as a guest vocalist for their project ʻWriting Billieʼ, a tribute to Billie Holiday. Because of this successful partnership, the BJO asked her to take part in a cross-over project between jazz and classical music with the Flemish Radio Orchestra.In 2010, The BJO and Tutu released an album called ʻMama Africaʼ, in honor of the legendary South African diva, the late Miriam Makeba.
Dra Diara– percussion, kora
Born and grown up in Mali, Dra lives in Groningen , the Netherlands since the 80ies when he joined Pili Pili, he stayed with Jasper van´t Hof in the band since more than 10 years and performs on most of the albums of the band. He is the only member kept from the old Pili Pili times. Beside this Dra is working as teacher for drumming and as studio musicians. He performs as well in a live project with Habib Koite. Dra plays as well the kora and he is an excellent singer.
Vasile Darnea– violin
Vasile Darnea was born in 1975, in Romania. At the age of 4 he began his violin lessons. His extraordinary talent helped him early on to win some prestigious competition at the national level. In 1993, Vasile went to Germany where he enrolled at the University of Arts in Bremen. His teachers were Prof. Maria Grevesmühl and Prof. Thomas Klug. Alongside his studies, he frequently was involved in diverse master classes with: Yfrah Neeman, Kolja Blacher, Walter Forchert, Martin Dehning, Birgid von Rohden, Alexander Baillie. As a result, Vasile Darnea graduated in 2003 with the highest distinction. In 2004, he found his first permanent settlement in the Theater of West Berlin. Nowadays, Darnea is the first violinist in the Zypressen-Quartett, member of the RoVaMe Trio, Consort Ensemble, the VaRoCo Trio, and Philharmonic Orchestra (Hagen).
His particular music understanding, the nice warm sound on the violin, and his extraordinary virtuosity have made him appear frequently as a soloist with diverse orchestras. The same extraordinary musical and violinist properties mean that the Romanian violinist is often invited for recordings and for the cooperation with well-known artists such as Jasper van’t Hof (Jaro Media), Valentine (Sony) or Stage Entertainment.
Anton Peisakhov– cello
In 2008 Anton left the orchestra, traveled to India for several months and, after his return to Germany with newly formed ensemble TOSHA recorded the first CD “whatever” with my own compositions. Currently Anton is working in project with the legendary Dutch keyboardist Jasper Van’t Hoff “Pili Pili”
Nicolas Thys– bass
The Belgian bassist, Nicolas Thys, was born on 27 August 1968. He graduated in 1994 from the Hilversum Conservatory (the Netherlands), where he also taught bass and double bass. Thys took private lessons with Dave Holland, Marc Helias and Marc Johnson. He received several awards, most notably the Golden Django award for best young talent in 2001. Thys performed live with Toots Thielemans, Garrett List, Judy Niemack, Mark Turner, Kris Defoort, Kenny Werner, and Mike Stern. He released his first CD with his band Alice’s 5 Moons in 1997.
Ulli Jünemann – sax
After studying 10 years piano, Jünemann began in 1989 his private study on saxophone ( among Leszek Zadlo and Wolhard Metz). Between 1991-1999 he went to the Netherlands, where he spent two years studying saxophone at the University of Arts in Amsterdam and completed his master studies at The Royal Conservatoire from Haag. He took lessons from Jan Menu ,Ben Hermann, but especially from John Ruocco. During his studies he received several scholarships, which led him particularly to Canada and Italy.
Back in Germany he worked on jazz- projects but also in the field of popmusic. He has performed at the North Sea Jazz Festival ( with Gerald Wilson) , The festival in Getxo and toured in Germany , Austria , Switzerland and Canada. Here he works with , among others, the well-known artists Ack van Rooyen , Adam Nussbaum , Ingrid Jensen, Slide Hampton , Jim McNeely , Hugh Fraser, Phil Nimmons and Jasper van’t Hof.
After working 8 years together with Adam Nussbaum, Jasper van’t Hof, Markus Fleischer, Uli Glassmann and many others, he founded in 2012 The Ulli Jünemann Quartet.
“Ulli’s music and skills as a jazz-saxophonist have matured to the point where he confidently addresses traditional forms with his own contemporary language. The rootedness of his music gives it historical context, and the freshness of it makes it an exciting listen. 50 years from now, his music will sound just as great as it does today.“ – Tim Armacost, NYC, August 23, 2012