Powerful visual jazz from Berlin: this is Sun Ark 

Foto: © Johannes Mann (XJAZZ Records)
Five friends play jazz, what could possibly go wrong? Nothing, of course! Band leader Johannes Mann gives us his first interview—and explained, among other things, what Sun Ark has in common with Brian Eno.

»You know, I like moods,« says Johannes Mann, fiddling with his green baseball cap. The band leader of Sun Ark, a young jazz group from Berlin, is giving his first interview today. His debut album, which shares the same name as his band, is soon to be released on XJAZZ! Music. 

But first, to the origins of Sun Ark: Johannes Mann, in his late 20s, grew up in Magstadt—detached houses, fields stretching to the horizon, as German as you can get in Baden-Württemberg. At home, however, things are more international. »The whole fusion generation of the seventies ended up on our turntable, including Weather Report, Pat Metheny or … John McLaughlin, I even saw him in concert with my father recently!« 

Mann played the saxophone in his youth. He no longer knows why. »It wasn’t really my thing, partly because I was more into rock at the time,« he says, blaming his cousin: »He played guitar, a real metal axe from Jackson. He lent it to me. I was 13 at the time, and after that I just didn’t like the saxophone any more.« 

The World and the Game 

The guitar may have replaced his half-hearted sax playing, but the fusion remains. After all, it’s burned into my subconscious, says Mann. »It’s about colours and warmth. I like colours and warmth. It’s as simple as that!«. And that’s how difficult it was for him at school to find like-minded fans for his father’s record collection. It wasn’t until he moved to Mannheim to study that he realised: »There are other people the same age as me who love this music!« 

In 2017, Mann moved to Berlin and enrolled at the Jazz Institute at the University of the Arts. There he met the band mates who now play with him in Sun Ark: saxophonist Asger Nissen, drummer Marius Wankel, bassist Thorbjörn Stefansson and Povel Widestrand on keyboards. »All four of them are great musicians, who are great at improvising. That’s why we always play best as a group when we’re simply left to play.«

»As Sun Ark, we play visual music.«

Johannes Mann aka Sun Ark

It’s really magical when everyone’s into it—like in a world they’ve created themselves. By the way, he borrowed the word »world« from Brian Eno. »It was and still is important to him to create a world with his music that people can listen to,« says Mann. 

His love of electronic music is quite apparent on all the tracks on his debut album. Some intros are inviting, many of the outros are frayed. »I said to the guys, let’s do an ambient thing—ethereal, sonorous, with lots of effects.« What came out was nothing like the idea Mann had in his head. »But that’s the way it is, the ideas come together, we just commit to the moment«

Sun Ark bandleader Johannes Mann with his instrument © XJAZZ! Music

Super independent, pretty cool! 

He’s been listening to a lot of minimal music over the last few months, and a composer friend of his introduced him to this »world«—and there it is again. »It’s always about moods, and I also like the connection with images,« says Mann. »Besides, as Sun Ark we play visual music. That means something. That’s why I want to make our concert bigger.« 

Mann pauses for a moment. He grins because he knows what he wants to say: »Maybe we can project the images our graphic designer Ben Luu created for the cover as an animation onto us as we’re playing.« Mann shrugs. »But that’s all in the future,« he says. The record is what counts first anyway. It will be released at XJaxx!, which is a festival in Berlin, but also a platform where exciting music is released. 

»It’s all super independent, plus they release really cool artists. And we had Paul Kleber’s support from the start,« says Mann about the man behind Sun Ark’s signing, »I’ve known him for a while through some friends. We spoke on the phone because I had the album ready and he just said, »Great, let’s do it, man!«. 

Sun Ark In Concert
23Feb 24
Berlin • Donau115
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