Ruben Hein – Hopscotch

‘Jump out, you’re in the grave
In the boxes and you are safe
but never saved’

Hopscotch is a children’s game with consequences. If you step on a line, your turn ends. Stay inside the line and you are safe. And if you want to progress, you need to take risks.

What Ruben Hein (Nijmegen, 1982) is trying to say is that he has skipped a square further. Loose Fit, which debuting on Blue Note, has already been around for two years. The pianist, who at the insistence of Benjamin Herman could also sing, has learned a lot. He has played together with various artists, from Hans Teeuwen to Oleta Adams and from Het Metropole Orkest to more recently, the Amsterdam Sinfonietta. He has performed at festivals such as Noorderslag and North Sea Jazz. And if that doesn’t underline his versatility enough, he was nominated for two 3FM Awards, the Edison People’s Choice Award and he won the Radio 6 Award for Best Soul Artist.

Hopscotch is neither a jazz album nor a pop album, nor Ruben’s view of funky afropop. It is a bit of everything and well thought out. The sound, the role of the musicians; Ruben got down to business. In an e-mail to the musicians on the album, guitarist Paul Willemsen (also the producer of Hopscotch), drummer Bram Hakkens, bassist Hugo den Oudsten and guitarist Jesse van Ruller, Ruben expressed his ideas for the record. Keywords: warm, groovy and spacey. “My voice is smooth enough, so everything around could stand to be more raunchy.” In the e-mail Ruben named four artists as references for his new record: Paul Simon, Ahmad Jamal, Tony Allen and Fink. “Paul Simon is a brilliant songwriter. On Graceland he combined beautiful songs with a fantastic groove. That’s what I wanted. Not searching for the moment when the solo comes, but letting guitar patterns intertwine. Afrobeat architect Tony Allen taught me that there is more than boom-tick, as accents a drummer normally plays on a hi-hat can also be played on your kick drum. Jazz pianist Ahmad Jamal has been a hero of mine for years, he showed me how you can create space in a song, how emptiness can work in music. And singer-songwriter Fink is someone who plays very softly, is very cool yet also can sound very warm.”

The outlines were clear to everyone. The first demos were recorded in a studio in Amsterdam North in the summer of 2012. “Hopscotch was one of the first numbers we recorded, and then everything fell into place. That’s why I also named the album after the song; the version on the record is the demo version. With all the musicians in the same space, arrangements and effects sometimes came together on the spot. We often needed just a few takes.” The interlude ‘Good Ol’ Jam’ is proof of the mood and way in which the four musicians worked well together – Ruben was in the control room at the time. “I put the fragment on the record as a kind of tribute.”

The songs are about things that Ruben has seen, felt and discovered over the past years. The various subjects range from a renewed seduction attempt (‘Try Again’) and the lesser pleasant aspect of musicianship (‘Tough Crowd’) to literally walking on eggshells in a relationship (‘Wall of Silence’). He wrote the songs with various partners. ‘How I Wish’ was written with living legend Lori Lieberman, mainly known for the evergreen ‘Killing Me Softly’. ‘Tough Crowd’ was written with Swedish blue-eyed soul hero Magnus Tingsek, three numbers, including ‘Little Life’ were written with English composer and keyboardist Richard Causon who worked with Tom Jones, The Jayhawks and Rufus Wainwright. “Actually it was kind of crazy having a writing meeting. You know each other a bit from Facebook, you go over to their place, someone opens the door, and you shake hands and make small talk. Then you dive in deep, you get intimate very quickly and at the end of the day you have one or more songs,” Ruben explains

Ruben has every right to be happy with the results, with the square he’s standing in. Square number two, that is. Hopscotch is made up of the words ‘hop’ and ‘scotch’, the latter meaning ‘scratch’ from the lines that make up the game’s squares. With his second album Ruben Hein has drawn his lines and made his scratches on his way to, well, where to? He had this to say about his own path: “the road is more important than the destination. It’s good to know that Hopscotch in Germany is called ‘Himmel und Hölle’, Heaven and Hell. You start on the square called ‘Erde’, Earth, then you kick the stone to the next square, but you cannot stop in Hell. You have to go to the last square until you reach Heaven.