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A look inside The Jazz Gallery

Tim Berne's Snakeoil (l-r): Berne, Matt Mitchell, Ryan Ferreira, Ches Smith, Oscar Noriega. Photo by Wes Orshosky.

Tim Berne’s Snakeoil (l-r): Berne, Matt Mitchell, Ryan Ferreira, Ches Smith, Oscar Noriega. Photo by Wes Orshosky.

For the next two Wednesdays, December 7th and 14th, The Jazz Gallery is proud to welcome saxophonist Tim Berne for a mini-residency. The last time Berne graced our stage, he performed with his group Snakeoil, which has been one of the most acclaimed improvising ensembles of the past several years. In an interview with Jazz Times, Berne explained the reasoning behind this particular assemblage of players:

[I like] the kind of people who wouldn’t be the first choice for something, who don’t obey orders very well, or don’t just do the obvious thing.

Even with three records for ECM under their belt, the group continues to take risks and stretch out in surprising directions, such as in the recent performance in Portugal, below.

For this mini-residency at the Gallery, Berne will be exploring new music with a trio featuring Snakeoil member Matt Mitchell on piano and relative newcomer to the Berne circle Dan Weiss on drums. Don’t miss this opportunity to see the inveterate explorer Berne set out on yet another exciting musical expedition. (more…)

Photo by Tak Tokiwa, courtesy of the artist.

Photo by Tak Tokiwa, courtesy of the artist.

Hailed by the likes of Pat Metheny and Kurt Rosenwinkel as the premiere guitarist of his generation, Lage Lund is a Jazz Gallery regular and a staple of the New York jazz scene. His magnetic sound engrosses the listener as Lund paints in broad strokes with wide intervals, carefully interwoven lines, and beautiful melodies. A winner of the Thelonious Monk International Jazz Competition, Lund has toured widely as a leader and sideman, and has released a number of acclaimed albums, most recently Idlewild (Criss Cross, 2015). On December 9th and 10th, Lund brings saxophonist Greg Osby, bassist Matt Brewer, drummer Tyshawn Sorey, and young pianist Micah Thomas to the Gallery to take some of Lund’s new music on a test drive. We spoke with Lund about his musical past, his approach to composing new music, and his take on competition in the world of jazz today.

The Jazz Gallery: How were the sets last week with Johnathan Blake?

Lage Lund: They were fun. Johnathan and I used to play a lot in Jaleel Shaw’s band, but it’s been about ten years, so it was nice to have a reunion. We were playing some of Johnathan’s music, as well as tunes by Kenny Kirkland, Mulgrew Miller, a few different things.

TJG: And what will you be playing this week when you bring your own group to The Gallery?

LL: We’re going to be playing all of my own music. I basically have the next record’s worth of music all done, so we’re kind of ‘road-testing’ it a bit. There’s not a specific concept behind it, but I’ve been playing with Matt Brewer and Tyshawn Sorey for at least the last three years, and have been developing this music for them and with them. We’ve been playing around town every few months or so, and I started some new tunes for those occasions. The tunes and the sound began to crystallize the more we played. This is all a part of that process. Usually we play in a quartet format, but for this one I invited Greg Osby, who I’ve been a huge fan of for a long time.

TJG: What are you particularly excited about for this upcoming show? Any tunes you’re looking forward to hearing in this new context, or any new sounds you’re eager to try?

LL: I probably have ten or twelve tunes that aren’t recorded yet, more than enough for what’s going to be on the next record. Some of these tunes haven’t been played a lot, so this’ll be a good chance to get more familiar with them. With Matt and Tyshawn, things are different every time. It’s always kind of a surprise, in terms of where things might go. I’m doing a record in May, and will definitely include Matt and Tyshawn. Regarding Micah, I came across some videos that floored me. I’ve actually never played with Micah Thomas, but have heard some things that were pretty stunning. Such an original sound. I thought it would be a fun opportunity to play together and see how he sounds on my music.

TJG: I’ve read that you wanted to be a professional skateboarder. Was skateboarding popular in Norway when you were growing up, and was there a soundtrack attached to it?

LL: It wasn’t particularly popular, it’s just what my friends and I were doing around when I was nine years old. But it definitely had a music attached to it. I was listening to all the music on the skateboard videos. A lot of stuff like Dinosaur Jr. and Minor Threat, the Southern California punk rock sound.

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Photo courtesy of the artist.

Photo courtesy of the artist.

Philip Dizack, one of the most sought-after trumpeters in New York these days, plays and writes with rare maturity and clarity. Having recorded several critically-acclaimed albums, Dizack maintains a full schedule of collaborations and commissions. Always thoughtful and aware of his predilections and predispositions, Dizack has been discussing his musical approach for years, as can be seen in this piece by NPR. We caught up on the phone and talked about how he approaches challenges, chips away at musical obstacles, and cultivates collaborations.

The Jazz Gallery: You played on Ben van Gelder’s Among Verticals album release at The Jazz Gallery. That was a great project, do you play with Ben often?

Philip Dizack: Let’s see, the first gig I ever did with Ben was with Melissa Aldana and Glenn Zaleski’s Sextet at The Jazz Gallery. He asked me to do his recording project and CD release. We’ve known about each other for a long time, but I didn’t get to know him personally until this past year. I went to hear him play recently. He’s one of these people where, if I’m not working, I definitely don’t stay at home. I always want to hear my heroes and contemporaries, people I admire greatly, and I always go if I have the opportunity.

TJG: Over the summer you were touring on the west coast and in Europe with a number of different artists—Kyle Poole, Dayna Stephens, Billy Childs, Myron Walden, and so on. How do you manage your busy schedule?

PD: For New York musicians, we’re always trying to have a busy schedule [laughs]. It’s not so much an issue of managing the schedule as it is an issue of managing sleep, dedication, and focus. There’s always a trade-off somewhere, and generally it errs on the side of no sleep [laughs]. For anybody really striving to create something of their own, and to be a part of something they care about, it’s like having your own baby. You have to sacrifice things because you care so much about what you’re doing. The sacrifices aren’t really “sacrifices,” and managing your schedule isn’t really “managing your schedule.” Those things you do are really about striving to have the most beautiful experiences you can as an artist.

TJG: Have you ever struggled with burnout?

PD: In terms of emotional burnout or lack of interest, I think there’s a season for everything. Have I really experienced burnout? No. But I’ve found myself in situations where I didn’t know exactly what my purpose was. Those situations have helped to clarify the things I care about. I’ve never gotten burned out on the overarching goal or passion, but I have experienced indicators of things I may not want to do, and those helped push me in the right direction. It’s not often that you find yourself in a position with consistency, variety, spontaneity, a feeling of importance and connection. When all of those things coalesce, you end up with a feeling of purpose in the moment. Those privileged moments have shaped and revealed who I am.

TJG: You’ve written that the discovery of Miles Davis at a young age was particularly formative for you, as it tends to be for young jazz musicians. What do you think it is about Davis’ language and approach that appeals to developing musicians?

PD: I think what was behind his playing, his story, was most important. His identity as a person and a musical actor was the most prolific thing about him, which is why he experimented and ventured into other art forms. He also paid attention to details which are mostly neglected. Everything he’s doing seems very simple, to the point that so many people can copy it. But to create it for the first time, that’s something. Anyone else just sounds like a copy of Miles. There’s a whole essence that’s missing when you copy it. There’s a depth to who he was as a person and as an artist that manifested itself in anything he did in music. Kind of Blue is a perfect example. Everyone has heard the record a hundred thousand times, bur if you listen to “Blue In Green,” it’s still unbelievable. You’re connected to it every time. He has an emotional connection that most musicians haven’t found. Not that I can claim otherwise, but most musicians have a hard time getting past the laundry list of theoretical and technical hurdles that we have to overcome and work on.

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Photo courtesy of the artist.

Photo courtesy of the artist.

This weekend, The Jazz Gallery is proud to welcome drummer Johnathan Blake and his quartet to our stage for two nights of performances. Blake is one of the leading drummers of his generation, holding down the drum chair in groups led by jazz luminaries like Kenny Barron and Tom Harrell (whose group is featured in the video below).

One reason that Blake is a top-call for so many bandleaders is that his playing is simultaneously unique and personal, yet fits into a wide variety of musical contexts. The kind of relaxed openness that Blake brings to his work as a sideman colors his work as a bandleader as well. In an interview with Jazz Times below, Blake talks about trusting the musical instincts of his bandmates, just as the bandleaders he plays with trust his.

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Photo by Peter Gannushkin, courtesy of the artist.

Photo by Peter Gannushkin, courtesy of the artist.

It’s hard to find a combination of forward-thinking jazz musicians that Tomas Fujiwara hasn’t played with—he’s relentless in his experimentation with sounds, compositions and ensembles. Fujiwara brings a brand new group to The Jazz Gallery this Wednesday and Thursday: a double trio with Ralph Alessi & Taylor Ho Bynum on horns, Mary Halvorson & Brandon Seabrook on guitars, and himself and Gerald Cleaver on drums.

Following this gig, the band will then immediately head into the studio to record their debut album on Firehouse 12 (here’s the Indiegogo campaign). The group includes some of his closest compatriots: he appears with Halvorson in groups like the Hook Up, Thumscrew, and Code Girl; he has a working trio with Alessi and Seabrook; and he shares a duo project with Bynum. But bringing these players together presents a whole other challenge. We talked to him about the upcoming show—here are excerpts from that interview.

The Jazz Gallery: The phrase ‘double trio’ might be misleading, because it hints at two separate entities. Are you writing songs for two trios, or one six person group?

Tomas Fujiwara: More as six voices and six distinct musical personalities. I like the fact that while each instrument is doubled, the approach to those instruments couldn’t be more different. I really have each player’s sound in my head very clearly. So when I write I can really hear how each one will play a particular piece of a composition. I’ve been trying to think about and utilize all the solo, duo, trio, quartet, options in an orchestrational and improvisational way.

TJG: So for instance, did you write two guitar parts, or one part specifically for Brandon and one for Mary?

TF: I wrote specific parts for everyone. There will be a lot of multiple ensembles happening. Maybe a duo is playing one section while a trio is playing another—and the sixth person is improvising.

TJG: Can you give me an example of how you play to a certain musician’s strength?  

TF: It’s not only their strengths; it’s also trying to challenge them. There might be things that sound very Brandon, and there might be other things I give him that may not. I want to see how he deals with that. I definitely don’t want to give anyone the role of just “this person.”

TJG: How much have you played alongside other drummers, and what have you learned from those experiences?

TF: I’ve done it a few times: in Living By Lanterns with Mike Reed; with Jim Black; and in a large ensemble piece with Joshua Abrams. I learned that if the other drummer is good and open and creative and into the idea of playing together, it’s always going to be a lot of fun. I haven’t experienced any challenges in terms of conflicting approaches or aesthetic dogma or time.

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