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A look inside The Jazz Gallery

Photo courtesy of the artist.

At Hamilton’s Bakery in Harlem, Adam Larson shows up early for coffee. Purple Rain shakes the place at full volume, followed by Superstition. We sit and I ask him about the neighborhood. Larson quickly gives me a rundown: “Tazo Coffee on 157th, Tsion Cafe on 148th, where Wayne Escoffery plays some Thursdays, Sylvana on 116th, the old St. Nick’s Pub, now closed.” Larson is a living vault of venues, musicians, and opportunities in New York City. His knowledge of the industry extends beyond the names of clubs and owners. At only twenty six years old, self-managed and self-motivated, saxophonist and composer Adam Larson has turned the elusive art of booking gigs into a tangible science.

It’s all in service of the music. Larson, now a father, still premieres new work with new ensembles on nearly a monthly basis at venues across the city. His upcoming show at The Jazz Gallery with Can Olgun (piano/nord), Desmond White (electric/acoustic bass) and Jonathan Blake (drums) is presented in partnership with Composers NowOver coffee, between texts to his wife and calls to the plumber, a very busy and hyper-focused Adam Larson discussed his upcoming gig schedule, his thoughts on composition, and the ways in which he pursues personal and musical growth.

The Jazz Gallery: You’ve been living in Harlem for a while?

Adam Larson: About five years, yeah. I’ve steadily been moving north since I graduated. Next we may move to Queens. In the 2008 brochures from Manhattan School of Music, it was like, ‘Don’t go above 125th street’ [laughs]. Now it’s all different. I love this spot, Hamilton’s Bakery. It’s pretty hipster, but this is my spot.

TJG: Last time we talked was before your previous Jazz Gallery show in September, right before your son was born.

AL: We were expecting him on Halloween. The 30th came, and we thought he was going to be late. Then, late in the morning, my wife feels these kicks. Eighteen hours later, he was born. Healthy, happy, great.

TJG: You were saying that show at The Gallery would probably be your last for a while, so you could spend some time with your son.

AL: I didn’t travel until two weeks ago. I stayed in the city from September to early February, which is new for me. Usually I’m out every single month doing something. And I took a month off from performing outside of New York, aside from playing at Birdland in November. I knew I had that on the calendar months in advance, and I considered cancelling since I wouldn’t be able to get a big turnout. But I had actually drafted up all my press emails a week before he was born, so in the recovery room, I had my phone and hit ‘send’ on these emails. The music is important, but getting people to the show is one of my major priorities.

TJG: So what was it like to be away from your son for the first time?

AL: It was difficult, but it was only about 36 hours. I didn’t really have time to think about it. I was so busy doing stuff while I was away. I have to provide, it puts things in perspective. My wife’s a stay-at-home mom, and the financial obligations fall on me. It’s not impossible, but it’s not easy. It’s a pleasure to have opportunities to create. It helps a lot. 

TJG: You seem like someone who’s always done the most to capitalize on your time. What’s it like having your time squished even more?

AL: It’s all about managing expectations. I can’t play four hours a day, like I did in college. And it’s okay with me: I want to be a part of my son’s life. I’ve always been conscious of my time, but can compartmentalize things. I can look at the clock and say, ‘Okay, I have 30 minutes right now, and 30 minutes this afternoon. How can I use these minutes effectively? Am I going to write? Play saxophone?’ It’s a tightrope act, making sure I’m being a good husband, a good father, and am taking care of my music.

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Photo courtesy of the artists.

This Wednesday and Thursday, February 22nd and 23rd, The Jazz Gallery is thrilled to welcome the illustrious trio of Henry Threadgill, Vijay Iyer, and Dafnis Prieto back to our stage. As three of the most decorated composer-improvisers working today (with two MacArthur grants and a Pulitzer Prize between them) and longtime friends of the Gallery, Threadgill, Iyer, and Prieto need almost no introduction. Their regular appearances as a collaborative trio are among the most sought-after events on our calendar, and their performances this week are sure to be no different.

As you head over to the Gallery website to purchase advance tickets (the first set on Wednesday has already sold out), you can listen Vijay Iyer’s trio perform Threadgill’s knotty and energetic composition, “Little Pocket Size Demons.”

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Photo by Caterina Di Perri.

This Saturday, February 18th, The Jazz Gallery welcomes drummer Ferenc Nemeth and his two-piano band to our stage for two sets. A native of Hungary, Nemeth studied at Berklee and the Monk Institute before relocating to New York in 2003. Since then, he has established himself as one of the most rhythmically-agile players on the international scene, lending his talents to diverse groups led by the likes of pianist Kenny Werner, singer Jo Lawry, and oudist Dhafer Youssef. But Nemeth is perhaps best known for his work with guitarist Lionel Loueke, both in the collaborative group Gilfema and on Loueke’s solo records.

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Ingird & Christine Jensen. Photo by Randy Cole.

Come on, people, seriously,” was Ingrid Jensen’s reaction when she recently googled her name and found herself described as ‘Hard Bop Trumpet Player.’ Both Ingrid and her sister-saxophonist Christine have been pushing against assumptions and stereotypes throughout their brilliant and ever-changing careers. Through Infinitude, their latest release, the Jensens endeavor to give a sound to “the concept of boundless possibility.” With raw, empathetic interaction, the Jensens have created a powerful quintet, rounded out by Ben Monder on guitar, Fraser Hollins on bass, and drummer Jon Wikan. The Jazz Gallery recently spoke with Ingrid over the phone, who was returning from an educational tour and a residency with the Purdue University Big Band. We discussed her and Christine’s vision for the project, their expansive collaborative sound, and the nature of their musical relationship.

The Jazz Gallery: How did a quintet come to mind? Is five the ideal number for the kind of interaction you were envisioning?

Ingrid Jensen: Nope. A trio is the ultimate [laughs]. Or even a quartet. But in this case, because of who we are together, it can feel just like that, a trio. Or a big band. Because what Christine and I have is one voice that branches out into two. Or three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine. A lot of sounds come out of what we do. A lot of possible ideas can turn into a unison sound or a full orchestral sound, because of where our minds and ears can meet up in relation to the incredible trio playing with us, Ben, Fraser, and Jon.

TJG: Over the years, how have you and your sister worked to cultivate this unified voice?

IJ: It’s a series of relationships, layered on top of one another. Christine and I have a long relationship, many years of hanging out, listening to music, talking and sharing advice. My husband is on drums as well. There’s just a lot of stuff we don’t have to talk about when we play together, because it’s already there. There’s an inevitability. We know something’s going to happen, but we don’t know what. There are stakes, there’s a layer of trust within whatever direction we choose to go as an organism. It’s about what the muse decides to do when we start playing together. The choices are wide, but there’s a little bit of direction and orchestration.

TJG: Was that trust uniformly present on the album while you were recording in the studio? Or were there moments when you had to talk about some things more than others?

IJ: There were little organizing moments, like “Oh, let’s add another four bars here so when you guys trade it works out more evenly,” little things like that. Rarely were there discussions like “No man, that’s not the groove,” or “Hey, I think I want more of this.” That never happened. It was just, “Wow, that was that tune. Let’s try the next one and see what happens.” A lot of the album was first takes, maybe second. It was one of those records where at the end, even though we were exhausted because we did it all in one day after touring, we felt like we had more than enough material to choose from, even too much. It was a good problem to have.

TJG: While drafting the album and thinking about what you’d play, what you’d write, the other musicians, how did you maintain such a unified voice while drawing compositions from different sources?

IJ: It just happened. The tune of Ben’s we really wanted to do was something we had heard on Ben’s record, which has a vocal part. Christine and I took over the vocal parts with our collective sound. We recreated another version of an already-great tune. That’s probably what we put the most time into, in terms of how to adapt and play the vocal part without ruining it. It’s just a great tune. The rest of the music, I had been working on the rest of the music, and I felt it was time to try it, especially because the band was so open. It fell into place. And then the Kenny Wheeler tune. It all just really organically fell into place without much discussion at all.

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From L to R: Ches Smith, Mat Maneri, Craig Taborn. Photo by Paolo Soriani.

This Thursday, the 16th, drummer Ches Smith will bring his adventurous, battle-tested trio, with Craig Taborn on piano and Mat Maneri on viola, to The Jazz Gallery. You might have caught Smith, a drummer and vibraphonist, at the Gallery before, as a sideman for Linda Oh, Mary HalvorsonTim Berne and other new music luminaries. But this peculiar trio showcases his songwriting and arranging instincts, as well as an unbound freedom for chasing musical ideas to their extremes.

As a unit, the creative and risk-taking Smith, Taborn and Maneri crawl and race through sonic experiments: their album, “The Bell,” was released last year, contained chamber music-like counterpoint, placid pools of sound and furious grooves. “It’s difficult to remember ‘The Bell’ as a single entity after you’re finished with it, because it always seems to be moving somewhere different,” Ben Ratliff wrote in the New York Times. Before seeing the group’s uncanny interplay on Thursday, check check out a video here of their explosive communal music-making, below.

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