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A look inside The Jazz Gallery

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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Top: Talujon; Bottom: Ctrl-Z. Photos courtesy of the artists.

This Wednesday, February 15th, The Jazz Gallery welcomes two genre-defying ensembles to our stage—the percussion group Talujon and the electronics gurus of Ctrl-Z.

For well over two decades, Talujon has been expanding the scope of percussion music through commissioning and performing new work, as well as devising and improvising their own repertoire. They have released ten albums as a group, including works composer-luminaries Julia Wolfe and Tan Dun. For their performance at the Gallery, Talujon will be performing a diverse program of works, including the ethereal and ritualistic Aura by Icelandic composer Anna Thorvaldsdottir and John Cage’s indeterminate-improvisatory masterpiece Fontana Mix. In addition, Talujon will team up with the members of Ctrl-Z to give perhaps the first complete performance of Recording Piece by Lou Harrison, the esteemed west coast experimentalist whose piano concerto was recorded by Keith Jarrett. Ryan Page of Ctrl-Z describes how he came upon this forgotten Harrison piece:

Last year, I was handed a score of a composition by American composer Lou Harrison. There were two peculiar things about this; 1. I had never heard of the piece (I am very familiar with Harrison’s work) and 2. Harrison famously hated electronics. After speaking to Larry Polansky, the composer who unearthed the score, I found that there is no record of it having ever been performed. The work requires that an acoustic ensemble perform the score, while electronic musicians record, and then play back these recordings at notated speeds that are specified in the score, as the acoustic instruments continue to play. I eventually contacted Daniel Steffey about performing the work with our trio Ctrl-Z, and with 2017 being Lou Harrison’s centennial birthday year, it provides a great opportunity to bring this piece to life.

Written for five percussionists and electronics, the work is dated July 29, 1955 and what Harrison signed as “Out-of-this-world Day”, is the only known piece of Harrison’s to utilize electronics of any kind. The piece is dedicated to Bill Loughborough, who is credited as one of the inventors of the Boobams; drums made of long bamboo with a tuned head on top, making this work one of the earliest known scores written for the instrument. Harrison uses the idea of speeding up tape to alter the pitch of the tuned instruments, as well as the rhythms to create metric modulations and canonic structures. The recordings are also used by Harrison to further explore form and development, with repetitions and altering of the tape itself. While further research is still being conducted on the work and its history, we are lead to believe that Harrison wrote this for the Vortex Theater Group, with a possible premiere at the Morrison Planetarium in 1959. Because none of this has been truly confirmed, this is the first known and documented performance of the Recording Piece.

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Photo courtesy of the artist.

This weekend at The Jazz Gallery, Cuban-born pianist and composer David Virelles will return to our stage for two nights of shows featuring his group “Nosotros.” Like many of his projects, “Nosotros” explores Cuban folklore through the lens of abstract, adventurous improvisation. Virelles will be joined by some of his close musical compatriots, including saxophonist Roman Filiu, percussionist Keisel Jiminez, and bassists John Benitez (Friday) and Matt Brewer (Saturday).

Always moving in new directions, this weekend’s acoustically-inclined performances stand in contrast to Mr. Virelles’s most recent recorded work—an EP Antenna, released on ECM. Featuring a sprawling electro-acoustic group including the esteemed multi-reedist and composer Henry Threadgrill, drummer Marcus Gilmore, and guitarist Rafiq Bhatia, the music on Antenna takes Virelles’ folkloric sources and sends them off in fantastical, almost psychedelic directions. Check out the track “Rumbakuá” in the video below, and then come see Virelles take even more surprising musical turns this weekend at the Gallery.

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