Photo courtesy of the artist.

For someone who plays such a small instrument, Gregoire Maret makes music that covers a vast territory. It ranges from groove-based to polyrhythmic to vocal-centric, and what drives the harmonica player and prolific composer to create a body of work characteristically ungoverned by genre, comes down to feeling. “It all starts with the heartbeat,” he says.

“When you talk about the pulse and the drumbeat, you talk about the heartbeat. Then when you start talking about any other instrument, it’s basically a voice. I get back to those really, really essential elements [when I’m composing], and then I’ll go with what feels really true and honest to me.”

As a young musician growing up in Switzerland, Maret surrounded himself with as much live and recorded music as he could, eventually earning acceptance to the Conservatoire Supérieur de Musique de Genève. After graduating, he traveled to New York to study at the New School, where he began spending quite a bit of his free time with pianist and keyboardist Federico González Peña, who introduced him to the music of composers like Ivan Lins and Milton Nascimento. Through these sessions, Maret found himself instantly attracted to what he considers a music that satisfies the duality of his artistic expression.

“I’ve always been attracted to music that felt both simple and sophisticated at the same time. So, with a seemingly quite simple melody, you can have, underneath, a lot of complexity and a lot of elements that can feed the soul. A great example of that is Brazilian music; it’s a huge influence for the way I write music—Brazilian music and Brazilian composers, because I think they mix that really, really well. They sing incredibly simple melodies and, underneath it, if you really listen to the chords and the harmony, it’s quite sophisticated. And then, with a groove that is so beautiful—I don’t have the words to express it. It’s so embracing. Everybody wants to dance. That’s the thing about Brazilian music that really influenced me a lot is the fact that it’s so embracing—it’s so welcoming. You go in a stadium and everybody’s singing the melody—and it doesn’t matter if nobody can sing! It’s just this whole community in which we all embrace each other and are here together. It’s a beautiful thing.”

After he began spending time in Brazil, playing, Maret fell even more deeply in love with the music. He studied baião and other rhythms of the north and visited coffee houses and bars in Rio, retracing the hang culture of Jobim and other architects of bossa nova. Touched by the inclusive nature of Brazil’s musical tradition, Maret draws certain parallels between its cross section of cultural influences and that of American music—remaining inspired by both.

“When you talk about Brazilian music, you have different cultures that mix, from the Indians to the Black slaves to the Europeans—it’s all mixed, and it created what we know now as Brazilian music, which is an amazing art form. And then here in the U.S., it’s completely different but it’s also those mixes that created, really, what is the American music art form. And when you talk about jazz, you talk about R&B, you talk about anything—it’s really those mixes that made it so special.” (more…)

Photo courtesy of the artist.

Listeners would be hard pressed to find a sound that hasn’t already reverberated in Morgan Guerin’s mind’s ear. The saxophonist, composer and multi-instrumentalist from New Orleans has a habit of transforming the flap of a pigeon’s wing or the departure of a C train into seeds for songs.

After releasing two records as a leader—and working with such distinct voices as Nicholas Payton, Esperanza Spalding, Terri Lyne Carrington and Ellis Marsalis— Guerin has developed a sort of mantra: “Everything in life can be placed in a musical context.”

“I like the idea of having sounds more so than specific instruments,” he says. “I’m always down to create a sound. That’s why I’m so into analogue synthesizers and inanimate objects that create a sound that I can take back to my studio and completely alter, whether it’s [using] outboard effects or reamping.”

Using his own microKORG or the Prophet 6 he regularly borrows from a friend, Guerin busies himself manipulating soundwaves, seeking first to find something that he hasn’t heard before. And while he turns inward now and then when writing new music, his greatest source of inspiration for composing tends to be the sounds themselves.

“Some stuff comes from emotions, but some stuff comes strictly from having no emotions and letting whatever sound I’m messing with just take the wheel. There are some cases where I’d just be so deep in a vibe. A lot of people would be like, ‘I wrote this thinking about this or feeling this or this,’ and sometimes it can happen that way for me, sometimes it can’t. Most of the time, it can’t. I’m such an in-the-moment person and I can’t be like, ‘Oh this emotion that I felt last month inspired me to write this.’”

One exercise that does help Guerin bring emotional depth to his compositions in a deliberate way is the practice of lyric writing, a relatively new endeavor for him.

“Once I can strengthen that trait, maybe I can start tying emotions to my songs. I’m not saying emotions don’t exist in the songs that don’t have lyrics, but maybe I would write something with emotions in mind.”

As is the story with many artists, inspiration strikes Guerin without warning. Because he hears music in the context of his daily routines, he finds a multitude of ways to transform what he’s hearing into a composition.

“I could be walking down the street and I’ll hear something and record it on my phone and then come back to it later on the piano. I write a lot of songs on bass first, and I think I write the least amount of songs on saxophone. [The bass] is the most recent instrument I’ve dug into. And as I’m getting to know the instrument, all these ideas are coming—ideas that I wouldn’t have had, had I been writing on my sax or on the piano. So it’s kind of like, I’m figuring out the instrument in writing songs. It’s just fun to explore the instrument and write songs within the process of exploring the instrument, which goes back to [being] in the moment.” (more…)

Design courtesy of the Kaufman Center.

This Sunday, March 18, The Jazz Gallery is pleased to welcome ensembles from the Kaufman Music Center’s Face the Music program. Face the Music is a unique youth music program in that it focuses exclusively on performing work by living composers. The program features several ensembles across many musical idioms and disciplines, and will be featuring three of their improvising ensembles under the direction of Aakash Mittal at the Gallery on Sunday—the Sound Bite Orchestra, the Samurai Mama Big Band, and a special Face the Music advanced project. Check out Samurai Mama cut their teeth on Snarky Puppy’s “Kite,” below.


Kris Davis and Ingrid Laubrock. Photo by Peter Gannushkin.

This Saturday, The Jazz Gallery welcomes saxophonist Ingrid Laubrock and pianist Kris Davis back to our stage for two sets of new music. Laubrock and Davis have been close collaborators for many years, playing in each other’s projects—Laubrock’s Anti-House and Davis’s Capricorn Climber—as well as co-led groups like Paradoxical Frog. Despite this regular collaboration, the pair have played as a duo relatively infrequently before now. This show at the Gallery is the beginning of a new duo project that Laubrock and Davis will record this fall.

It is rare to find musicians of such sensitive interplay and instinct for risky exploration—this performance is not to be missed. Before coming out to the Gallery, check out Laubrock and Davis performing Laubrock’s work at the 2017 Moers Festival with a host of other acclaimed improvisers and the EOS Chamber Orchestra Cologne.


Photo courtesy of the artist.

This Friday, March 16, The Jazz Gallery welcomes guitarist Miles Okazaki and his Trickster project back to our stage for two sets. The project began as a book of tunes premiered and honed at the Gallery in 2016, and came out on record last year to much acclaim, appearing on several “Best of” lists. Before Trickster’s return to the Gallery this week, we caught up with Okazaki to talk about how the music has continued to develop over time, and the notion of ideas versus information in a piece of art.

TJG: You first presented this music a little over two years ago. Has anything about it changed in that time?

Miles Okazaki: Well, everything changes, because people change, and they forget some things. And I forget things, or I change them, and things become less interesting. But that’s part of what this record was about. Not worrying about what you forget. I didn’t use any sheet music, for example. I’ll just play whatever I remember from what I wrote. And that’s what I’ll do this week, I guess [laughs]. I’ll just do whatever I can remember. I’m trying to remember but I’m not going to go look at the sheet music. Cause this particular set of music is an embodied type of feeling. I want it to be like that, like stories—I remember this story from my childhood, or from my relatives. Something about that has a meaning to me that’s internal.

I deal a lot with sheet music, and a lot of quite structured and determined things, and I’ve done a lot of things like that. My previous records are quite meticulous, and so I’m trying to let go of some of that, you might say. These are just little spaces, so you can just remember what that space feels like and go back into it.

TJG: You make a lot of allusions to mathematical forms—like in The Calender, with the inclusion of ratios of celestial movements—but on the top, the music has this very buoyant and tuneful quality. When you write, do these two things happen at the same time? Do you lead with a snippet of melodic content, or do you first sit down with a concept and develop some kind of systematic way of thinking?

MO: That tune was actually written on an airplane… all it is is just some notes moving, and some rhythms, and then a shape that it goes through. So yeah, you can say mathematical, but I never use that word to describe music. There’s no mathematical operations happening.

I mean, if you’re saying concerned with numbers, and you say that’s mathematical—well, you can say that’s numerical, but I’m not saying, “this multiplied by this, the square root of something.” I’m not doing any of those type of operations. Anything that you want to want talk about with pitches and discrete numbers of things, you can say is mathematical, you can enumerate them. And a calendar, and all these things things that we use—it’s a natural thing for humans to try to make order out of things. And for them to make order out of things, they make things like calendars. Something is repeating, there’s a cycle. It’s something that we a call a year. How long is it? We want to know how many days, why isn’t it this many days, how can we organize it in some kind of a way?

So, yeah, those are structures. But they’re largely metaphors for how we think and put order into things that are disorderly. Like pitches and rhythms—they’re organized. People are always looking for a dialectic, or a binary type of things. There’s something that’s soulful, and something that’s mathematical, and these things are sort of opposed somehow—and I think that’s all bullshit.

That being said, yeah, there are some structures involved and there are some hidden things, but I prefer to let them remain hidden. It’s more about how it feels. I do, personally, get very interested in music theory and stuff like that, but nobody in this particular band cares about what theory is behind it, at all. They just wanna play, so I have to make things playable and easy to memorize.