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Album art courtesy of Sunnyside Records.

Dan Tepfer, a Jazz Gallery regular, will release his new record Eleven Cages (Sunnyside) this week. The immersive album features drummer Nate Wood and bassist Thomas Morgan, working through the challenging and probing compositions of Tepfer, as well as several unexpected covers. As always, Tepfer’s playing is remarkable, exhibiting grace, dexterity, and a sharp, mindful approach to improvisation. Along with Morgan and Wood, the three approach Tepfer’s music with levity, enthusiasm, and hyper focus.

For this two-night release, the Dan Tepfer trio will include Wood on drums, as well as bassist Or Bareket. We spoke with Tepfer about the recording process, the details on developing his left hand technique, and some of his compositional concepts.

TJG: Diving right into the sound on the album—the drums have so much air, and the piano and bass meld together so well. The ‘live’ trio sound really pulls the listener in: Walk me through the preparation and recording process.

Dan Tepfer: I’ve made all my recent records at the Yamaha performance space in New York, starting with my Goldberg Variations/Variations record that came out in 2011. I’ve been a Yamaha Artist for the last seven years or so, and am lucky to have a relationship with them. For the most part, I’ve recorded these records myself in their space. For this session, Nate and I co-engineered it, using our own gear. It was literally just the three of us in the studio, which I love. If the music needs more space or time, it’s not going to cost more money. You’re not on the clock. I took a lot of time with the mixing process: I had a residency last summer at the MacDowell Colony in New Hampshire, where I was composing a piece for string quartet and piano. While working on that piece, I did my own mix of the album. I mixed it all again in New York with Rick Kwan, then Nate mastered it—he’s an amazing engineer.

TJG: A live record is a performance, in many ways. When we talked last about your work with Lee Konitz, you spoke about preparing for the moment, being ready to let go and be free on stage. Knowing that you’d be doing one-room recordings, did it inform your composition and rehearsal process?

DT: There’s a limited amount of editing you can do, sure. I wouldn’t say the recording method dictated the composition process: These are tunes I’ve written over the last five or six years. Putting this record out feels very cathartic for me. It’s a lot of music I’ve been wanting to get out there for a long time. Above all, each tune is an idea, a system of constraints that we work our way through. But there are actually a couple of free tracks on the record that have a lot to do with the space we’re in. Those are some of my favorite tracks on the record, because there’s nothing preplanned about them. We’re just listening hard and playing together in the space.

TJG: I’m glad you brought up the concept of the cage, of constraints. The album has eleven tracks; eleven cages, eleven different confines to explore?

DT: That’s kind of the idea, that cages make you more free. In the United States, we have ‘the tyranny of choice’ in many ways. I’ve gotten so much out of restricting my choices and seeing what can happen in that environment.

TJG: How have you personally found positivity in understanding and growing within your limitations?

DT: Well, I wouldn’t call them “my limitations,” per se; they’re limitations I choose to impose on myself. I see it as a positive thing: I think we’ve all experienced this, especially people who’ve grown up on the boundary of the internet age. The internet is just constant stimulation. So, one thing the internet never gives you is the opportunity to be bored. I grew up without a TV, and as an only child, being creative was something I did to entertain myself. When you restrict your options, it allows you to get bored, and subsequently fight your way toward something new. It’s all about keeping yourself psyched. The problem with having too many options is that you don’t have to work very hard to keep yourself psyched.

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Photo courtesy of the artist.

Starting this Tuesday, May 23rd, and continuing through the month of June, The Jazz Gallery is proud to present tap dancer Savion Glover in an improvisational dialogue with jazz instrumentalists. It’s not an overstatement to call Glover the world’s most famous tap dancer. From his regular appearances on Sesame Street, to his scintillating performance in the Tony-winning Bring in ‘Da Noise, Bring in ‘Da Funk, to his motion-capture work in the Happy Feet films, Glover has brought the tradition of tap dancing to every corner of the world.

Always looking to expand his art in new directions as a performer and choreographer, Glover will explore the relationship of tap to the rich rhythmic tapestry of jazz by improvising with a series of rhythm section players at The Jazz Gallery. This Tuesday, May 23rd, Glover will be joined by drummer Marcus Gilmore, one of the most adept and influential rhythmic thinkers today. To get a sense of the rhythmic fireworks these two performers can unleash on the Gallery stage, check out some extended improvised solos below the fold, and imagine what will happen when these rhythmic wizards come together. (more…)

From L to R: Matt Mitchell, Kim Cass, Kate Gentile. Photos courtesy of the artists.

Phalanx Trio consists of Matt Mitchell on piano, Kate Gentile on drums, and Kim Cass on bass. The trio is the rhythm section for Mitchell’s band Phalanx Ambassadors, the same musicians appear in Mitchell and Gentile’s project Snark Horse, and Mitchell and Gentile can often be found playing Cass’s music. All of this is to say, these musicians are no strangers to each other, and have immersed themselves in a new, open, and collaborative body of composition. Rhythmically complex, rigorously structured, and wildly exploratory, Phalanx Trio represents a dynamic and mercurial collective of rigorously rehearsed ideas. We spoke with all three members of the trio about the material they’ll be bringing to The Jazz Gallery this Saturday evening, their rehearsal practices, and their mutual fascination and affection for polyrhythms.

THE MUSIC

Kate Gentile: We’re excited to be playing two sets back-to-back. We love the music we’re playing. There’s a lot of written material, a lot of ink on the page. It’s fun to play compositions; we love improvising, but we also experiment with keeping it concise, while still going crazy places. We’re playing a few tunes from Matt’s last project, ‘A Pouting Grimace.’ On the record it’s a totally different instrumentation, with a large ensemble of eleven musicians, which included me and Kim [Cass]. In the original piece on the record, all of the improvisation is fixed in length. At The Gallery we’ll break things apart and go different directions. We vamp, we improvise, we play the ink.

Matt Mitchell: I didn’t want to repeat material from set to set. If you stay for both sets, you’ll hear two distinct sets of music. Most of this material is still brand new, even to the avid-listening general populous, but for myself and the trio, I wanted to expand. I have a lot of music that doesn’t get played as much. This show I’m excited for, because there’s stuff that hasn’t been played a huge amount live. One of the tunes we’re playing is actually just a piano trio on the record, a bizarre head, so we’re taking that and making it its own free-standing piece on Saturday. There’s another piece called Brim, and that’s a piece where everything stems from a piano part I’m playing. Basically, it’s nineteen variations on the same short piano phrase. I’m using that as a chance to move through and play freely over each of the variations, hang out in each of the zones for a while. With this trio, it’s a chance to play the music I want to play, to keep the music going, and to give me ideas to bring to larger groups.

Kim Cass: It’s this kind of anti-gravity underwater vibe. It’s what I would want to hear as an audience member. You often can’t find the beat if you don’t know where it is, which means it has to be super accurate. That’s the thing about playing really hard music. It has to be stress-free, and we’re finally getting there. We’re all interested in the same thing, which is really practicing rhythm a lot, to the point where it’s natural, if not easy. We know this material in a way where we don’t have to be freaked out to play it. If we threw this in front of someone, the results would be messy, even stressful, but the goal that we’ve had in mind is to get to a zen kind of place with it.

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Photos courtesy of the artist.

This Friday, May 19th, The Jazz Gallery is proud to welcome a diverse collective of musicians dubbing themselves Music Quartet to our stage. Featuring Shai Maestro on piano, Joel Ross on vibraphone, Rick Rosato on bass, and Nate Wood on drums, this quartet stretches across musical communities and generations to create a distinctive sound greater than the sum of its formidable parts.

To get a sense of what these players can do in pickup situations, check out Maestro and Rosato putting the Gershwin classic “Embraceable You” through its paces with drummer Ari Hoenig.

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Photo courtesy of the artist.

Already a MacArthur “Genius Grant”-winner and a multiple Grammy-nominee, drummer and composer Dafnis Prieto is still not done pushing his art in new directions. This summer, Prieto will head to the studio to record his first big band album, Tribute, featuring all original compositions and guest appearances from the likes of Steve Coleman, Henry Threadgill, and more.

This week at The Jazz Gallery, Prieto will convene his long-running Si o Si Quartet for two nights of performances, including a special reception on Thursday evening where you can get a chance to meet Dafnis and help bring this exciting new album to fruition. We at Jazz Speaks caught up with Dafnis by phone to talk about the challenges of writing for this new medium and the importance of the big band sound to the Cuban jazz tradition.

The Jazz Gallery: This is a blunt question to start with, but why put together a big band and why now?

Dafnis Prieto: It’s a combination of a few things. First, it’s that I’ve had the experience of playing with a few big bands in the past—I did a recording with the Bebo Valdes big band, for one—and I’ve always been curious about how my music and my ideas would sound in a larger format. I’ve also written a few pieces for Arturo O’Farrill’s Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra and I liked the way they came out. After that, I got a call from my co-producer Eric Oberstein, who became a great friend and partner on this big band project. I’m really excited to have the guys play my music and to have the experience of my music done in this way.

TJG: Were those pieces for the Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra the first time you had written for big band?

DP: Yes, they were. At that time, they were working with Jazz at Lincoln Center and they commissioned me to write something for their concert. The resulting piece was called “Song for Chico,” which was dedicated to Chico O’Farrill. That was my first experience writing.

TJG: What did you learn from the Afro-Latin Orchestra commission about writing for big band, or how your compositional voice transferred to this new medium?

DP: I really learned a lot about the possibilities that the instrumentation provided, especially in terms of textures and voicings. I had new ways of manipulating how a musical idea comes out, making it sound as rich as possible with all the various timbres of the orchestra. There is of course a lot of richness in terms of pure sound, but I also sought to have a richness of rhythmic ideas between all of the parts.

TJG: When you were translating some of your preexisting music for smaller ensembles to the big band, how did the instrumental forces change the impact of the piece?

DP: Actually, I felt that many of the pieces that I adapted from other bands were the most challenging to work with. I already had a sense of completeness with these pieces, whether they were for a quartet or sextet. I hit a wall a few times trying to figure out what else to do with them. At those points, I had to let myself go, open myself to new possibilities, and let my imagination come through, and I eventually figured out what else I could do with those songs. A few of the older songs that I re-did for this project have completely new introductions, for example, and then some of the original material for smaller ensembles are embedded within the arrangement.

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